Last week we reported that New Zealand was on the brink of scrapping its blasphemy laws, but today, to the anger of many, politicians voted to keep them. At least for a while longer.
According to this report, parliament had the opportunity to remove decades-old anti-blasphemy laws but bailed out yesterday, leaving blasphemy an offence punishable by up to 12 months’ jail.
Labour MP Chris Hipkins, above, introduced an amendment to remove the legislation but both the National Party and the Maori Party voted against removing it from of the Crimes Act.
Prime Minister Bill English said his preference was to:
Go through the proper process rather than just spontaneous amendments on the floor of the House.
But he said once a bill to scrap the law does go to Parliament he expects it would be repealed.
Hipkins said it was:
A sad day for freedom of speech, tolerance and leadership. What moral authority does New Zealand have condemning other countries for draconian blasphemy laws when we have one of our own that we refuse to repeal?
The law – which appears not to have been used since 1922 – came under scrutiny after reports that British entertainer Stephen Fry had faced a police investigation in the Republic of Ireland for comments he made about:
A capricious, mean-minded, stupid God.
English previously said that:
Laws that overreach on addressing robust speech are not a good idea.
Anglican Archbishop and Primate Philip Richardson also said it was time to get rid of the arbitrary and archaic law.
My view is, God’s bigger than needing to be defended by the Crimes Act.
ACT leader David Seymour had originally pushed for an MP to introduce a private member’s bill to repeal the law. He said:
Especially in the context of the terrible atrocities in Manchester, we need a fearless debate about freedom of speech and what is acceptable in a free society. These kinds of laws make New Zealand look a bit hypocritical.
The Humanist Society of New Zealand, which represented the 41 per cent of people in the country who were not religious, was appalled by the vote in Parliament.
President Sara Passmore, above, said the decision to keep the law was:
A clear vote against human rights. By refusing to remove the blasphemy law from our Crimes Act, the Government is saying we are not free to criticise and challenge all ideas. This decision was backwards, and not in line with international trends. We think people, not ideas, should be protected.