Blasphemous libel was originally an offence under the common law of England. Today, it is an offence under the common law of Northern Ireland, but has been abolished in England and Wales, and repealed in Canada and New Zealand. It consists of the publication of material which exposes the Christian religion to scurrility, vilification, ridicule, and contempt, with material that must have the tendency to shock and outrage the feelings of Christians. It is a form of criminal libel.
Historically, the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were adopted from the common law of England as common law offences in British colonies and territories. From the late 19th century, several colonies and countries replaced the common law offences with adopted versions of the draft code called "the Stephen Code" written by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen as part of a Royal Commission in England in 1879. The Stephen Code included the offence of blasphemous libel but omitted blasphemy. The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in England and Wales with the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 but the offences remain as part of the common law, criminal code, or criminal statute in various countries, states, territories, and legal jurisdictions.
Blasphemy laws are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In July, 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee released a 52-paragraph statement, General Comment 34 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976, concerning freedoms of opinion and expression. Paragraph 48 states:
Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2, of the Covenant. Such prohibitions must also comply with the strict requirements of article 19, paragraph 3, as well as such articles as 2, 5, 17, 18 and 26. Thus, for instance, it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favor of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.
In both Canada and New Zealand and other jurisdictions that adopted versions of the Stephen Code under their respective legislation, it was not blasphemous libel to express in good faith and decent language any opinion on a religious subject.
The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in English common-law were carried over to the Australian colonies and "received" into state law. Blasphemy and blasphemous libel are not criminal offences under Australian federal law and the common-law offences were abolished by the Australia Criminal Code Act 1995. The Australian Capital Territory abolished the common-law offence of blasphemous libel but not blasphemy with the Law Reform (Abolitions & Repeals) Act 1996.
The common-law offences were abolished completely in Queensland and Western Australia when those jurisdictions adopted criminal codes that abolished the common-law offences and did not replace them with code offences. The criminal code of Tasmania includes the offences of both blasphemy and blasphemous libel and abolishes both common-law offences. In New South Wales, the crimes act recognises blasphemous libel and the common-law offences have not been abolished. In both Tasmania and New South Wales, the relevant offences are not enforced and generally regarded as obsolete. In South Australia, Victoria, and the Northern Territory, the situation is uncertain as the local criminal codes do not mention blasphemy or blasphemous libel but did not specifically abolish the common-law offences.
Blasphemy and Blasphemous libel were common law offences before the Criminal Code Act of 1892 abolished the common law offence of Blasphemy but included the offence of Blasphemous libel. Before repeal in December 2018, blasphemous libel was an offence under section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
(1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years
(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.
(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.
It was an indictable offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. The offence of blasphemous libel, like all other laws of Canada, was subject to section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression. Before the law's repeal, no court was asked to consider whether blasphemous libel was consistent with the Charter's guarantee of freedom of expression, which came into force in 1982.
The last prosecution of a charge of blasphemous libel was in 1935, in R v Rahard, in Quebec. In that case, the court adopted an argument that prosecutor E. J. Murphy had proffered in the case of R v Sperry (unreported) in 1926. Mr. Murphy put the issue this way:
The question is, is the language used calculated and intended to insult the feelings of and the deepest religious convictions of the great majority of the persons amongst whom we live? If so, they are not to be tolerated any more than any other nuisance is tolerated. We must not do things that are outrages to the general feeling of propriety among the persons amongst whom we live.
The words "calculated and intended to insult the feelings and the deepest religious convictions of the great majority of the persons amongst whom we live", which the court used, were adopted from the summing up of Lord Coleridge, LCJ. in R v Bradlaugh.
On 6 June 2017, Bill C-51 was introduced into the 42nd Canadian Parliament by the Minister of Justice to repeal the blasphemous libel law, among other provisions that were found to be unconstitutional or obsolete.. The bill passed the House of Commons on 11 December 2017.. The Senate passed the bill with amendments on 30 October 2018. The House, however, notified the Senate on 10 December that it disagreed with the amendments, so on 11 December the Senate voted not to insist on them and the bill was passed. On 13 December, the Governor General formally granted "Royal Assent," making the repeal official.
In the Republic of Ireland, §13 of the Defamation Act, 1961 prescribed penalties for blasphemous libel, but did not define the offence. The only attempted prosecution since the 1937 Constitution was in 1999; the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution had extinguished the common law offence of blasphemous libel, since when "it is impossible to say of what the offence of blasphemy consists". The Defamation Act 2009 defines a new offence of "Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter", which was held to be required by Article 40.6.1.i. of the Constitution, which states "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law".
It was an offence in New Zealand under section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 to publish any blasphemous libel. The maximum punishment was one-year imprisonment. No one could be prosecuted without the consent of the Attorney General.
Section 123(3) of the Crimes Act 1961 provided:
It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.
On 19 March 2018, Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced a Crimes Amendment Bill which included repeal of section 123. The bill passed the first reading on 28 March and was referred to the Justice select committee which reported back on 28 September with the recommendation that the repeal of Section 123 proceed without change. The second reading was passed on 11 December 2018, the Committee of the Whole House on the 20 February 2019, and the third reading on 5 March 2019. The royal assent was received on the 11 March and the Act came into force on the 12 March 2019 repealing Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 on that date.
In 1985, the Law Commission (England and Wales) published a report, Criminal Law: Offences against Religious and Public Worship, that concluded that the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel should be abolished without replacement. In England and Wales, the common law offence of blasphemous libel was abolished on 8 July 2008 by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 created an offence of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.
C-51 was made law Thursday
"A Letter to Lord Ellenborough" is a pamphlet written in 1812 by Percy Bysshe Shelley in defence of Daniel Isaac Eaton. Printed in Barnstaple, the essay is approximately 4,000 words in length.Alan King-Hamilton
Myer Alan Barry King-Hamilton QC (9 December 1904 – 23 March 2010) was a British barrister and judge who was best known for hearing numerous high-profile cases at the Old Bailey during the 1960s and 1970s. These included the trial of Janie Jones in 1974 and the 1977 blasphemous libel trial against Gay News and its editor, Denis Lemon, for publishing "The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name", a poem by James Kirkup.Blasphemy
Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred objects, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.Some religions consider blasphemy to be a religious crime. As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group. Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in Muslim-majority nations, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa, although they are also present in some Asian and European countries.Blasphemy law
A blasphemy law is a law prohibiting blasphemy, where blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable. According to Pew Research Center, about a quarter of the world's countries and territories (26%) had anti-blasphemy laws or policies as of 2014.In some states, blasphemy laws are used to protect the religious beliefs of a majority, while in other countries, they serve to offer protection of the religious beliefs of minorities.In addition to prohibitions against blasphemy or blasphemous libel, blasphemy laws include all laws which give redress to those insulted on account of their religion. These blasphemy laws may forbid: the vilification of religion and religious groups, defamation of religion and its practitioners, denigration of religion and its followers, offending religious feelings, or the contempt of religion. In some jurisdictions, blasphemy laws include hate speech laws that extend beyond prohibiting the imminent incitement of hatred and violence, including many European countries that are included in Freedom of speech by country but not yet in this article. Some blasphemy laws, such as those formerly existing in Denmark, do not criminalize "speech that expresses critique," but rather, "sanctions speech that insults."Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliges countries to adopt legislative measures against "any advocacy of national racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence." However, they also note that such protections must be carefully circumscribed, and do not support prohibition of blasphemy per se.Blasphemy law in Australia
Blasphemy is not a criminal offence under Australian federal law, but the de jure situation varies at state and territory level; it is currently not enforced in any Australian jurisdiction. The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in English common law were carried over to the Australian colonies and "received" into state law following Federation in 1901. The common-law offences have been abolished totally in Queensland and Western Australia, when those jurisdictions adopted criminal codes that superseded the common law. In South Australia, Victoria, and the Northern Territory the situation is ambiguous, as the local criminal codes do not mention blasphemy but also did not specifically abolish the common-law offences. In New South Wales and Tasmania, the criminal codes do include an offence of blasphemy or blasphemous libel, but the relevant sections are not enforced and generally regarded as obsolete.Blasphemy law in New Zealand
The publishing of any "blasphemous libel" was a crime in New Zealand under Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 which allowed for imprisonment for up to one year. However, Section 123 protected all publications and opinions on any religious subject expressed in good faith and decent language against prosecution and specified that prosecution may proceed only with the leave of the Attorney-General.On 5 March 2019, Parliament unanimously passed the Crimes Amendment Bill, which repealed Section 123 of the Crimes Act. The bill received the Royal Assent on 11 March 2019 and came into force the following day.Blasphemy law in the Republic of Ireland
In the state of Ireland, "publication or utterance of blasphemous matter", defamatory of any religion, is criminalised by a 2009 statute passed to enforce a requirement of the 1937 Constitution. The constitutional requirement was deleted in 2018 after a referendum and the Fine Gael-led government plans to repeal the 2009 law, which was intended to be "virtually impossible" to enforce, and under which no prosecution has ever been made. The common law offence of blasphemous libel, applicable only to Christianity and last prosecuted in 1855, was believed to fulfil the constitutional requirement until a 1999 ruling that it was incompatible with the constitution's guarantee of religious equality. The 2009 statute filled the lacuna but increased controversy, with proponents of freedom of speech and freedom of religion arguing for amending the constitution.Blasphemy law in the United Kingdom
Laws prohibiting blasphemy and blasphemous libel in the United Kingdom date back to the medieval times as common law and in some special cases as enacted legislation. The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were formally abolished in England and Wales in 2008. Equivalent laws remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland but have not been used for many years.Centre for Inquiry Canada
The Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC) is the not-for-profit educational organization with headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Canadian organization was founded as a member and volunteer driven organization in 2007. Justin Trottier served as Executive Director from 2007 to 2011. It is the Canadian affiliate of CFI Transnational. Their primary mission is to provide education and training to the public in the application of skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic inquiry through conferences, symposia, lectures, published works and the maintenance of a library.Criminal libel
Criminal libel is a legal term, of English origin, which may be used with one of two distinct meanings, in those common law jurisdictions where it is still used.
It is an alternative name for the common law offence which is also known (in order to distinguish it from other offences of libel) as "defamatory libel" or, occasionally, as "criminal defamatory libel".It is also used as a collective term for all offences which consist of the publication of some prohibited matter in a libel (in permanent form), namely defamatory libel, seditious libel, blasphemous libel and obscene libel.The common law offences of seditious libel, defamatory libel, and obscene libel were abolished in England and Wales and Northern Ireland on 12 January 2010 when section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 came into force, blasphemous libel having already been abolished in England and Wales on 8 July 2008 by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 created instead the offence of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their race or religion.
Samoa's Crimes Act 2013 dropped reference to criminal libel, which had been on the statute books as part of the Crimes Act 1961.John Glover (politician)
John Glover (1866 – 2 June 1947) was a New Zealand politician and trade unionist. He was an organiser and candidate for the United Labour, Social Democratic Party then the Labour Party serving time in local government.Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888
The Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict. c.64) was an act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, clarifying and "amplifying" the defence of qualified privilege (and potentially a degree of absolute privilege, though this was not made clear in the statute itself) in cases involving the verbatim reproduction of court proceedings, the minutes of select committees, police notices or various other specifically recognised kinds of meetings, which had, in vaguer terms, been laid out in the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881.The Act itself was lobbied for by the Provincial Newspapers Group; it was taken up by eight Members of Parliament with direct connections to the press, among them Sir Algernon Borthwick, Sir Albert Rollit, Harry Lawson, Louis Jennings, Charles Cameron, and John Morley. It was first presented on 10 February 1888 and, after much revision, received royal assent on 24 December.Sections 3 and 4 were responsible for clarifying the extent of qualified privilege, "amplifying" the extension set out in section 2 of the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881, which it repealed. Specifically, section 3 of the 1888 clarified that a newspaper proprietor could not be found liable for a "fair and accurate report" of court proceedings, although whether this amounted to qualified or absolute privilege was not made clear at the time. Section 4, building on the vaguer language of the 1881 Act, gave an enumerated list of cases when the defence of qualified privilege could now be used, including "any meeting of a vestry, town council, school board, board of guardians, board or local authority formed or constituted under the provisions of any Act of Parliament, or of any committee appointed by any of the above-mentioned bodies". An additional requirement placed upon proprietors wishing to claim immunity was that they be responsive to demands for a printed correction or the error in subsequent issues of the newspaper, the definition of which was inherited from the 1881 Act. Exemptions in both sections 3 and 4 existed for blasphemous libel. Section 5 allowed for the consolidation of libel actions involving the same libel against different defendants, saving on legal costs and preventing inconsistency of ruling, whilst section 8 repealed section 3 of the 1881 Act ("No prosecution for newspaper libel without fiat of Attorney General") replacing it with the condition that no "proprietor, publisher, editor or any person responsible for the publication of a newspaper" (not including journalists) be sued (or indeed tried) for libel without the order of a High Court judge.Little of the Act is still in force, as of 2012. Section 4, for example was repealed except in cases of criminal libel by the Defamation Act 1952 (and the Defamation Act 1955 in Northern Ireland), which also extended section 5 to cover both libel and slander and section 3 to cover broadcast as well as print media. Section 3 was finally repealed by section 16 and Schedule 2 of the Defamation Act 1996, which also removed blasphemous libel as a special case from section 4. The Act never applied to Scotland.Libel Act 1843
The Libel Act 1843, commonly known as Lord Campbell's Libel Act, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It enacted several important codifications of and modifications to the common law tort of libel.
This Act was repealed for the Republic of Ireland by section 4 of, and Part 2 of Schedule 1 to, the Defamation Act, 1961.Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881
The Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881 (44 & 45 Vict. c.60) was an act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Introduced as a Private Member's Bill, it reduced the legislative burden on newspaper proprietors with regard to the offence of libel; as a quid pro quo, the compulsory registration of proprietors (abolished by the Newspapers, Printers, and Reading Rooms Repeal Act 1869) was reintroduced.Following the removal of compulsory registration in 1869, newspaper owners had begun to look to anonymity as a protection against lawsuits arising out of the publication of libellous statements. At the same time, the judgment in Purcell v Sowler (1877) saw a newspaper proprietor successfully sued despite recognition that the libellous statements his newspaper had published were merely quoted verbatim from the testimony of a member of the public made at public meeting. Against this backdrop, two successive select committees were established to look at the law of libel; the first made no report, but the second took on the evidence of the first, and made several recommendations. In the words of John Hutchinson, MP for Halifax, "the Bill embodied the recommendations of [the second] Committee, and was confined to them exclusively". The bill itself took the form of a Private Member's Bill.In terms of content, section 2 of the Act (as it became when it received royal assent on 27 August 1881) introduced a new defence for newspaper proprietors in cases where the libel stemmed from a fair, accurate and non-malicious report of a publicly held meeting. This extension of qualified privilege was then "amplified" by the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888, which in doing so repealed section 2 of the 1881 Act. Repealed at the same time was section 3 ("No prosecution for newspaper libel without fiat of Attorney General"). The Act also benefited newspaper owners insofar as it instituted provisions (section 4, 5 and 6) for the quicker (and hence cheaper) resolution of newspaper libel cases. Contrary to expectations, however, the passage of the Act correlated with an increase, rather than decrease, in the number of defamatory libel (criminal) actions being brought against newspapers. Whether the two were causally linked is not known, however.In return, proprietors were happy to accept the reintroduction of compulsory registration that had been removed in 1869 (now provided for by sections 7 to 15 of the 1881 Act inclusive). These registration clauses, which included an exemption for proprietors who are already registered companies, were not repealed until 2015 and were still enforced. For the purposes of the Act, a newspaper is defined as "any paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or any remarks or observations therein printed for sale, and published ... periodically, or in parts or numbers at intervals not exceeding 26 days". As of 2009, 56 newspapers and their proprietors were centrally registered as a result of these provisions. Under section 19 of the Act, it never applied to Scotland.The provisions on registration in sections 7 to 18 were repealed by the Deregulation Act 2015 as being no longer of practical use. As a result, only section 4 remains in force, and that only in relation to Northern Ireland and courts hearing charges there of blasphemous libel.Queen Mab (poem)
Queen Mab; A Philosophical Poem; With Notes, published in 1813 in nine cantos with seventeen notes, is the first large poetic work written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), the English Romantic poet.After substantial reworking, a revised edition of a portion of the text was published in 1816 under the title The Daemon of the World.Religion in Barbados
Religion in Barbados is predominantly Christian. Religious freedom is established by law and generally enforced in practice, although some minority religious groups have complaints about government practices that interfere with their beliefs.The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name
The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name is a controversial poem by James Kirkup published in 1976.It is written from the viewpoint of a Roman centurion who is graphically described having sex with Jesus after his crucifixion, and also claims that Jesus had had sex with numerous disciples, guards, and even Pontius Pilate.It was at the centre of the Whitehouse v. Lemon trial for blasphemous libel, where the editor of Gay News, which first published in the poem in 1976, was convicted and given a suspended prison sentence. It was the last successful blasphemy trial in the UK.The poem itself was considered of low artistic value, both by critics and the author himself.In 2002, a deliberate and well-publicised public repeat reading of the poem took place on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, without any incidents. Kirkup criticized the politicizing of his poem.Thomas Davison
Thomas Davison (1794 - 1826) was a British radical journalist and printer-publisher of a series of journals, including Medusa, the London Alfred, the Deist's Magazine, as well as the James Griffin-edited Cap of Liberty and the Robert Shorter-edited Theological Comet.
Known for his republican and Deist views, Davison actively supported Richard Carlile in his battle with the British establishment of the time, which resulted in Carlile's imprisonment on charges of blasphemous libel in October 1819.
Davison's publication of material critical of the Bible in the Deist's Magazine resulted in his own prosecution. Found guilty of blasphemy like Carlile after his trial in October 1820, Davison was fined £100 and imprisoned for two years. Reduced to poverty in his last years, he eked out a living as a bookseller following his release in 1822.Whitehouse v Lemon
Whitehouse v Lemon is a 1977 court case involving the blasphemy law in the United Kingdom.
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