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New Zealand to repeal blasphemy law

Prime Minister of New Zealand
Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand is set to repeal its blasphemy law, the New Zealand Justice Minister has confirmed, introducing legislation to the Parliament of New Zealand on Monday. It is poised to join five European countries that have already repealed their blasphemy laws since Humanists UK co-founded the international End Blasphemy Laws campaign in 2015.

The news from New Zealand follows on from the announcement that Scotland’s party of government, the Scottish National Party, will debate a policy on repealing its blasphemy law at its National Council meeting in Glasgow on Saturday. Humanists UK has expressed delight at the New Zealand decision. It hopes that the growing international momentum against blasphemy laws will help advance efforts to repeal similar provisions in the law in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere.

Whereas efforts to repeal blasphemy laws have been supported by the New Zealand Anglican Church, the Catholic Church in Scotland has spoken out strongly in favour of keeping laws which criminalise non-religious ideas, saying attempts at repeal would ‘further remove any vestige of religion from civic and political life.’ Humanist Society Scotland has been leading the campaign to scrap blasphemy laws in Scotland.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English first announced his Government’s intention to repeal its blasphemy law in 2017 after the Irish police announced a criminal investigation into Humanists UK patron Stephen Fry, who was accused of blaspheming on Irish TV. Since that time, Denmark has repealed its blasphemy law, a bill to repeal Canada’s blasphemy law has been making its way through Parliament, and Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar has announced a referendum on removing blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

The End Blasphemy Laws campaign is coordinated by the International Humanist and Ethical Union and European Humanist Federation. As well as co-founding the campaign, Humanists UK has repeatedly campaigned against blasphemy laws in its international work, including by advising the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office on challenging blasphemy laws abroad and through its interventions at the UN Human Rights Council. It has also supported humanists in the UK who face persecution if returned to native countries such as Pakistan.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘It’s great news that New Zealand has taken an historic step towards free speech and equality for all of its citizens. Liberal democracies everywhere should follow suit. Wherever blasphemy laws exist in statute, even if only as so-called “dead letter laws”, states give inadvertent cover to countries which actively use blasphemy laws to intimidate and oppress.

‘This is also a sober message for politicians here in the UK. We are very hopeful that SNP delegates will choose to back the motion on repealing the blasphemy law in Scotland, which only serves to legitimise persecution and torture overseas.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Since 2015, Norway, Iceland, Malta, France, and Denmark have repealed their blasphemy laws. Blasphemy laws remain in statute in a number of European nations, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, and Greece.

Northern Ireland Humanists, a section of Humanists UK, has been campaigning to repeal blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland. Humanist Society Scotland has been leading the campaign in Scotland.

Read more about the End Blasphemy Laws coalition: http://end-blasphemy-laws.org/

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on freedom of religion and belief: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/freedom-of-religion-and-belief/  

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign to end blasphemy laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/

At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work helps people be happier and more fulfilled, and by bringing non-religious people together we help them develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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