New Zealand must repeal all blasphemy laws in order to promote freedom of expression, religion, and belief, and to remove conflict with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 18 and 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Articles 18 and 19, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 sections 13, 14, and 15, and the New Zealand Human Rights Act 1993 section 21 (see International/Legal Recommendations).
It is essential that New Zealand remove “religion” from the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 and repeal section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 to maintain international credibility and to set an example in international forums as a promoter of Human Rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion and belief; and to encourage other countries to repeal and abolish draconian blasphemy laws. While the blasphemy laws remain law in New Zealand, New Zealand has no credibility in international forums.
There is, however, concern that a simple repeal of section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 will lead some, who feel that they are offended or that their religion has been insulted or defamed, to seek redress under other sections of the law and that over zealous police and prosecutors acting on complaints will seek to use other laws to prosecute perceived offenders.
Because section 123 of the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 provides some protection against frivolous, vexatious, or over zealous use of the law, it is important to retain this protection.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. It is important and New Zealand is required to protect these rights in respect to religious discussion.
The present section 123 and examples from the Australia Capital Territory and New South Wales (see International/The Law in Other Countries) indicate that a Criminal Code or a Crimes Act can be used to protect against the misuse and abuse of the law in the absence of the present section 123.
It is therefore recommended that:
- all reference to “religion” be removed from the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, and
- all of section 123 of the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 be replaced with the following wording or similar to retain the present protection provided by subsection (3).
123 Discussion of religion not to be punishable in New Zealand
It is not an offence against this Act or any Act of New Zealand to express or to attempt to establish by arguments, satire, comedy, art, cartoons, or by any other means, orally or otherwise, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.