The foolish police investigation of Stephen Fry for allegedly blaspheming on TV in Ireland has prompted New Zealand to scrap its blasphemy law.
According to this report, David Seymour, above, leader of ACT, a minor opposition party, instigated the move, saying lawmakers of all stripes wanted to end what they saw as an archaic curb on freedom of speech.
New Zealanders cherish the fact that we have strong separation between church and state. So when people discovered that there was a law that meant you could spend a year in jail for offending someone of a religious persuasion there was widespread condemnation.
Seymour, an enthusiastic supporter of gay rights and an assisted dying advocate, will notify parliament today (Thursday) that he intends to include blasphemy on a list of laws that are scheduled to be scrapped.
He added that the government had agreed to the move and the repeal should be complete by the end of the month.
Seymour said his bid to repeal the law was prompted by the Irish police probe into whether Fry blasphemed in a 2015 television interview when he denounced God as “utterly evil, capricious and monstrous”.
While the Irish investigation was dropped this week, it led to New Zealanders reviewing their laws and finding blasphemy was still on the statute books.
The news came as a surprise to many, including devout Catholic Prime Minister Bill English, who said:
It’s basically an accident of history … I can’t imagine a use for it. I think laws that over-reach on addressing robust speech are not a good idea … frankly, I didn’t think we had it, I thought it had gone.
Lawmakers from the majority of political parties, including opposition Labour leader Andrew Little, all voiced support for repealing the law.
Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson also backed the move:
My view is, God’s bigger than needing to be defended by the Crimes Act.
Blasphemy has been an offence since 1840, when New Zealand became a British colony, and was included in a revamp of the criminal code in 1961. But no one has ever been convicted of the crime.