The House of Lords voted to abolish the common law blasphemy offences. The move was pushed through by the Government within a very limited time frame and with little or no consultation. The House of Commons has yet to vote on the matter.
Britain’s laws against blasphemy are intended to safeguard society by upholding values of honour and respect towards God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the formularies of the Church of England. Blasphemy is an attack on the Christian faith.
In a powerful speech Baroness O’Caithan argued for keeping the blasphemy laws and said that the ‘fundamental question is this: should we abolish Christian beliefs and replace them with secular beliefs?’
Several peers voiced concern about abolishing the blasphemy laws because of the deep symbolic nature of removing them and due to the signal this would send, possibly resulting in a drift towards secularism.
Lord Kingsland QC added: ‘Christianity has been absolutely fundamental to the development of our constitutional freedoms and I worry a little that this is no longer understood in our society’.
The Government whipped the Labour vote, which means peers were told which way to vote, but the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had a free vote. The amendment to repeal blasphemy was won by 148 to 87 votes.
The House of Lords has refused to hear a petition of appeal brought by campaigning group Christian Voice as part of that group’s efforts to have the BBC prosecuted for blasphemy for broadcasting Jerry Springer – The opera. Christian Voice’s petition failed because it did ‘not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance’. Christian Voice called this decision an ‘ignoble move’.