- provides information on international blasphemy laws with particular emphasis on New Zealand law,
- backgrounds the history of New Zealand’s blasphemy laws — blasphemous libel and denigration of religion,
- shows the status of the laws,
- proposes changes to the law,
- provides background information on international law,
- lists recommendations from international experts, organisations, and significant persons.
Objective and detailed analysis of New Zealand’s blasphemy laws is provided.
This website seeks to inform, to provide knowledge regarding blasphemy laws in New Zealand and elsewhere, and to overcome apathy regarding the harm that blasphemy laws cause. Many people have little or no knowledge of the harm and suffering that blasphemy laws cause around the world, the very dubious laws in New Zealand, and the excellent work done by responsible bodies to repeal all blasphemy laws in all countries.
Blasphemy Law in New Zealand
From 1840 until 1893 the English Common Law Charges of blasphemy and blasphemous libel applied in New Zealand. After 1893 the Common Law charges were replaced by a charge of blasphemous libel under the Criminal Code Act 1893, and then from 1908 by the same charge under the Crimes Acts of 1908 and 1961. The maximum penalty was one year in prison.
In June 2015, the New Zealand parliament, in a retrograde step, and with no justification, created a new crime of denigration of religion with punishments greater than those that previously applied for blasphemous libel under the Crimes Act 1961. In what was a shocking turn of events, people in New Zealand can now face up to two years in prison if any individual feels offended by an electronic communication, perhaps just a few words on a website!
The new law in New Zealand contravenes international law and ignores international recommendations that existing blasphemy laws be abolished and that no new blasphemy laws are introduced. With the new law, New Zealand has turned its back on the modern world and indicated that it stands with those countries with primitive and punitive blasphemy laws.
To understand why, study this website.
An Outline of Blasphemy Law
Blasphemy has never been a real crime with real victims
In the distant past, blasphemy laws were introduced to protect monopolistic religions from all dissent, to prevent apostasy, to maximise the number of believers, and to maximise the income of a religious group and its priests or clerics. Blasphemy was punished variously with death by stoning, burning at the stake, hanging or beheading, lashing, piercing of the tongue and other barbaric and inhumane punishments. Now, blasphemy laws are largely restricted to Islamic countries. Over 125 non-Islamic countries have no blasphemy laws at all. Such laws are out of place in a modern secular and multicultural society. New Zealand is now one of a very small number of western countries with an archaic, medieval, and anachronistic law against blasphemous libel and an even smaller minority with a prison sentence for this dubious offence. In the modern world, blasphemy laws incite hatred and violence.
Blasphemy laws are incompatible with the
separation of religion and state
Blasphemy laws are incompatible with the separation of religion and state. When the state imposes blasphemy laws, the laws require secular authorities to adjudicate on religious matters. To achieve true separation of religion and state, the state should not interfere in religious matters and religions should not interfere in the workings of the state.
there is a trend to repeal all blasphemy legislation
Internationally, there is a trend to repeal all blasphemy legislation, to abolish common law charges of blasphemy, to prevent similar charges being introduced using other words, and to prevent de facto charges of blasphemy being laid against persons under other legislation. This trend is supported by expert international legal opinion, commissions, and bodies that consistently argue that blasphemy is not a crime and should not be criminalised.
There is no evidence that countries with blasphemy laws
gain any tangible benefit from such laws
There is no evidence that countries with blasphemy laws gain any tangible benefit from such laws, but there is plenty of evidence that real people are harmed by blasphemy laws. Blasphemy is victimless while charges of blasphemy make real people real victims who may suffer horrendous punishments. In Islamic countries, thousands of people have been arrested on charges that are usually false and subjected to torture and inhumane punishments.
In early 2015, only a few western countries retained a term of imprisonment for blasphemy. These countries were: Iceland (a sentence of jail for up to 3 months), Denmark (up to 4 months), Malta (up to 6 months), New Zealand (up to a year), Canada (up to two years), Poland (up to two years), Germany (up to three years), and Greece (up to three years). Since early 2015, Iceland repealed its blasphemy law on 2nd July 2015, Malta in July 2016, Denmark on 2nd June 2017, and Canada on 13 December 2018.
In the Freedom of Thought 2014 report, New Zealand has a rating of severe discrimination because New Zealand allows imprisonment for blasphemy.
Since 2008, the England and Wales, Norway, the Netherlands,
Iceland, Malta, France, Denmark, and Canada have repealed their blasphemy laws.
France abolished its blasphemy laws in 1881, except for the Alsace-Moselle region which was part of Germany at the time, and Sweden in 1970. In 1995, Australia abolished and repealed all blasphemy laws at the Federal Level. Since 2008, the United Kingdom (England and Wales) in 2008, Norway with Acts in 2009 and 2015, the Netherlands in 2014, Iceland in 2015, Malta and France (remaining laws in the Alsace-Moselle region) in 2016, Denmark in 2017, and Canada in 2018 have all repealed their blasphemy laws.
It is important to repeal blasphemy laws in western countries to show countries with very severe penalties such as flogging and death that blasphemy is not a crime and should not be punished. Countries with severe penalties have cited western countries with blasphemy laws as a justification for their own punitive laws that include torture and execution. There has also been a move by some Islamic countries to impose their blasphemy laws on Western countries to prevent valid discussion and criticism of their religion. Should this be implemented it would have an adverse impact on freedom of expression and may also prevent some scientific discussion.
Terrorists use blasphemy laws as a
justification for terror attacks
Terrorists use blasphemy laws as a justification for terror attacks in western countries because of the perception that blasphemy is a crime that should be punished, and terrorist organisations use blasphemy as a reason for murdering people in territory they occupy. Removal of blasphemy laws removes this perceived justification and the incitement to hatred and violence.
Blasphemy laws contravene international law
Blasphemy laws contravene international law. It is important to defend the internationally recognised human rights to freedom of religion, belief, speech, and expression. However, there is no international human right to have one’s beliefs protected against discussion and criticism. New Zealand’s blasphemy law conflicts with both New Zealand and international freedom of religion, belief, and speech provisions. Freedom of religion, belief, and speech laws are aimed at protecting people, not ideas and beliefs. Humans have rights while beliefs do not.
When blasphemy laws are enforced they inevitably lead to disrespect for the religions that enforce them or that they are designed to protect. Respect should be earned, not enforced.
blasphemy laws encourage the persecution of individuals and incite violence against individuals and property and crimes against humanity more generally
Blasphemy has never been a real crime with real victims, but blasphemy laws encourage the persecution of individuals and incite violence against individuals and property and crimes against humanity more generally.
Coalitions against Blasphemy Laws.
In response to international legal recommendations that all blasphemy laws be repealed, and blasphemy common law abolished, an international coalition, known as the International Coalition against Blasphemy Law (ICABL), was launched in early 2015 seeking to repeal and abolish all remaining blasphemy laws worldwide. This site was created by the New Zealand Coalition against Blasphemy Law (NZCABL) to provide information about blasphemy law in New Zealand, the relationship of New Zealand law to international law and international recommendations regarding blasphemy law, and to suggest improvements to the law in New Zealand.
For further information on Blasphemy Law see:
Sources: Information presented in this document may be verified from the original sources and by appropriate internet searches.
15 December 2018