Previous blog archive

Free speech, blasphemy and religious hatred

Posted by Tim on Tuesday, February 01, 2005 | View Comments (9)

"Is a tolerant society one in which you tolerate absurdities, iniquities and injustices simply because they are being perpetrated by or in the name of a religion and out of a desire not to rock the boat you pass no comment or criticism? Or is a tolerant society one where, in the name of freedom, the tolerance that is promoted is the tolerance of occasionally hearing things you don't want to hear. Of reading things you don't want to read. Where it is encouraged to question, to criticise and if necessary to ridicule any ideas and ideals and then the holders of those ideals have an equal right to counter-criticise, to counter-argue and to make their case. That is my idea of a tolerant society - an open and vigorous one, not one that is closed and stifled in some contrived notion of correctness".

Rowan Atkinson's speech in Lords regarding the proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred law can be read in full here. It's a law that needs to be opposed as it has serious implications for free speech.

Many Christian groups are also against this bill, wanting instead to keep the archaic blasphemy laws that this country - one of the most secular countries in the world - still has left over from past times.

Blasphemy is a strange thing - surely it only applies to people who actually believe in God? I mean, as an atheist I see it as a victimless crime. Actually, I'm not even entirely sure what the blasphemy laws are. Presumably people aren't going to be burnt at the stake as punishment anymore, but I couldn't find much in the way of what counts as blasphemy or what the penalty is (although my research didn't amount to much more that a quick google search and a browse of the Home Office website - any one got any details?)