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Ear to the Ground

British Lawmakers Strike Down Blasphemy Law

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Posted on Mar 7, 2008
Old Bailey statue
churchtimes.co.uk

Ye olde scales o’ justice: This gilded statue stands before the Central Criminal Court, or the Old Bailey, in London.

Following a heated debate, the British House of Lords approved an amendment that does away with the UK’s long-standing common law against blasphemy—a watershed moment that some believe was too long in coming. 


National Secular Society:

Evan Harris said that this debate had been going on for 21 years, since the Law Commission had recommended abolition of the law, and for the Church it would never be the right time.
Lord Avebury also introduced other amendments to the Bill that would clear out some other ancient Church privileges, such as Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860, under which Peter Tatchell was charged when he interrupted a sermon by the-then Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral. Lord Avebury’s amendments were rejected by the Government and opposed by the bishops.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, attended the debate and welcomed the Lords decision. He said: “The National Secular Society has been campaigning to abolish the blasphemy laws for 140 years. They have an iniquitous history of persecution, and because it is a common law offence with no limit on punishment, they have resulted in executions and imprisonments with hard labour for people who wrote and said things that would, in the modern day, be considered trivial. It is disgraceful that such a relic of religious savagery has survived into the 21st century.”

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, March 11, 2008 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

It might be a good idea to reflect further on the idea of communism and Early Christianity as Brian Capper suggests that “Although Luke describes the community of goods of Acts 2-6 with remarkable enthusiasm, the later chapters of Acts do not suggest that he wished his readers to institute formal property-sharing arrangements. Rather, his model becomes almsgiving. The connection of community of goods with paradisal beginnings in Graeco-Roman literature suggests that Luke sought to underline that a new beginning was made for humanity through the birth of the Christian Church. His employment of proverbs of friendship, and the link in his Gospel between meal-fellowship and the inappropriateness of giving for a return after the model of Hellenistic friendship, suggest that he required the rich to transcend the conventions of reciprocity and eradicate poverty by entertaining the poor in their homes.”  It is so easy to interpret mystical writings in any way one wishes.  Other sources for the intention of Luke in these Acts passages may be found in “The Social Function of Friendship in Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-37,” Alan C. Mitchell, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 111, No. 2. (Summer, 1992), pp. 255-272.

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By Hemi*, March 10, 2008 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

Folks, these are some great posts on what I had considered a “filler” topic here on TD. When so many topics here devolve into pissing contests you have all done this forum proud. For what it’s worth, well done one and all.

Cyrena, you and I have a displaced friend in common. Thanks for the Texas “blue laws” story; we still have vestigial “blue laws” here in the much more liberal precincts of New Jersey.

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By Maani, March 9, 2008 at 6:30 am Link to this comment

Doug:

“Agreed, Maani, and it was not until property laws and individual land ownership which implied buying and selling and trading as well as the development of kingdoms and then the nation state that who was in ‘control’ was ever a major issue.”

Good call.  BTW, are you aware that the early Christians were actually the first communists?  I kid you not.  Consider the following passage:

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common…Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”

Get that?  FROM each according to his ability to give, TO each according to need.  Marx stole his foundational idea from Christianity!  and then had the gall to turn around and call religion “the opium of the masses!”

Peace.

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 8, 2008 at 10:49 pm Link to this comment

“...if someone’s faith is honest, humble, genuine and strong, then any insults or denigrations to that faith will (or at least should) simply roll off their back…”

Agreed, Maani, and it was not until property laws and individual land ownership which implied buying and selling and trading as well as the development of kingdoms and then the nation state that who was in ‘control’ was ever a major issue.

Thus, a ruling group, a ruling class or a ruling clique had to always find ways of justifying themselves as somehow superior. Religion was tailor-made to be usurped and co-opted for such a use. The English took it to the limit with their monarch as the head of the church…...

As such, obviously then the religion of the state had nothing to do with ‘God’ so a way had to be found to deal with people who were intelligent enough - and brave enough - to repudiate such nonsense. So such ‘freedom’ was smeared as being offensive, referred to with a name (blasphemy) and then reviled as being ‘unholy’ so that they could use it as an excuse to threaten and intimidate the few brave souls left.

In other words, it was the medieval equivalent of “...‘fitting’ a person with a crime” as a reason to convict them…... and lock them up in order to shut them up!

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By Maani, March 8, 2008 at 10:52 am Link to this comment

samosamo:

“The best I have found and it was recently is that the Native America’s had the best case for a religion and a spirituality(there are a few others) and the basis of it is, it is a deeply personal thing. Not a commercial product to be bandied about and forcing people to fess up to their choice of a god.”

The same is true of the Australian aborigine “dreamtime” belief.  Indeed, the same could be said of all the earliest belief systems, from animism to (as you note) the “Great Spirit” belief of the Native Americans.

In fact, it could even be said of Christianity in its earliest days; i.e., prior to the Council of Nicea and the creation of “organized” religion.  In its earliest days, Christianity was practiced quietly and privately: a “personal thing…Not a commercial product.”  And although there was evangelizing occurring, it was not the “ram-it-down-your-throat” method of the later capital-C Church, but simply “sharing the Word” and quietly walking away if someone didn’t want to hear it.  Aggressive proselytizing did not begin until the creation of what became the mainstream, hierarchical Church.

As for blasphemy, my feeling is that if someone’s faith is honest, humble, genuine and strong, then any insults or denigrations to that faith will (or at least should) simply roll off their back.

Peace.

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By samosamo, March 8, 2008 at 10:35 am Link to this comment

Good. Good! GREAT!!!!!!
Never have I felt so good about something that I did not know was still around. I realized the BS about organized religion along time ago and I refuse to be a part of any of it. The best I have found and it was recently is that the Native America’s had the best case for a religion and a spirituality(there are a few others) and the basis of it is, it is a deeply personal thing. Not a commercial product to be bandied about and forcing people to fess up to their choice of a god.
To be held in comtempt for blasphemy is the very foundation of the earliest mind control put on an intelligent species which I have severe doubts that humans really should be considered a very intelligent species considering the current state of affairs in the world and the ease of controlling people’s minds and what they think and are made to thind. Fear and god and fear of someone else’s god are some of the biggest money makers around and it most probably sets the time line for when the human population was really becoming too big for a natural place for human life.

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By cyrena, March 8, 2008 at 4:58 am Link to this comment

Well, I’m delighted to find this topic covered by Truthdig!!!

Just to show how ‘privileged’ I am wink this article (at least the one published in the LA Times) was handed out at the beginning of my regular course lecture on International Law Thursday evening. (by the eminent Prof. Falk).

At first glance, it would seem to have nothing to do with International Law, but that was the ‘exercise’. We needed to compare it to some issues that are most important in determining when International Law is effective, and when it isn’t.

But, here’s a clue…the article that we discussed (on this same news) was entitled: “A British law is no longer sacred.” Then it has a ‘lead in’ of sorts (as well as a photo of anger in Khartoum, about the teddy bear incident)

•  “After a teddy bear incident and much debate, the House of Lords votes to end the statute on blasphemy”.

One of the issues addressed here, (if not spelled out) is the foundation of what makes IL work…RECIPROCITY.

Here’s more from the LA Times piece:

•  “It is crystal-clear that the offenses of blasphemy and blasphemous libel are UNWORKABLE (emphasis mine) in today’s society”. (this quote from Kay Andrews, in introducing the government backed amendment), adding that, “as long as this law remains on the statute books, it hinders the UK’s ability to challenge oppressive blasphemy laws in other jurisdictions.’

There you have it. Reciprocity. Too many folks still don’t get that. This is why there are universal laws against Torture, that nearly all the world has agreed to accept. We want to know that if there is a war, (no matter how many procedures have been put into place to prevent recourse to war) if the agreements are already in place, that nobody is gonna torture THEIR POW’s, as long as they stick to the agreement not to torture any other POW’S, then hey…that’s what saves our own. It’s reciprocity, and it’s one of the foundations of how the systems works. It doesn’t allow for hypocrisy, which is what Empire’s law is about. Empire’s Law says that we make law, and we exempt ourselves from it.

Moving along, the other foundational concept this encompasses is intertemporal. Although the term is generally associated with economic theories, it’s also used for a much simpler legalistic concept, which is simply “adjusting law to changing environments or social conditions.”

In short, the basis of much of common law, (adopted from the English common law) is simply not prudent or useful to the changes that occur over time.

Texas “blue law” is an example. When I first moved there many years ago, I was astonished by such laws that prevented one from purchasing non-edible products on a Sunday. I’d attempted to purchase a pair of pantyhose since I needed to work my afternoon shift that day, and I would have been sent home had I appeared barelegged in uniform. I was shocked when I had to ‘negotiate’ with the cashier at the market, in order to buy those pantyhose along with my groceries.

Now, had I attempted to use such a ‘law’ for my absence at work on ANY Sunday, I would of course have been summarily fired, and I wouldn’t have needed the damn panty hose. But, I still needed to eat, so that’s why I did the begging and the pleading, to be allowed to purchase those pantyhose, even though it was a Sunday.

And so it is….

(and that’s ANOTHER reason for escaping that place called Texas).

Speaking of which, a friend has recently advised me that she too, will be getting out of dodge, and she only lasted 8 months. She said if one more person on the job asked her ‘which church she attended’ she was likely to strangle them. Best she just leave, and get back to a place where nobody much CARES which church one attends, or even if they ‘attend’ at all.

Besides, it’s definitely better than strangling a co-worker.

Good work for the UK parliament. Wonder if we’ll ever get back to such reason and logic regarding the laws of the land?

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 8, 2008 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

Blasphemy is a common law offence with an unlimited penalty….

In common law legal systems, the law is created and/or refined by judges…..

Before the Norman conquest in 1066, justice was administered primarily by county courts, presided by the diocesan bishop and the sheriff, exercising both ecclesiastical and civil jurisdiction…..

Many cultures disapprove of speech or writing which defames the deity or deities of their established religions, and these restrictions have the force of law in some countries…..

The issue of freedom of speech versus blasphemy cannot be seen in isolation from the role of religion as a source of political power in some societies…. to blaspheme is to threaten not only a religion, but also the entire political power order of the society… the official punishments (and popular responses to blasphemy) tend to be more severe and violent….. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech_versus_blasphemy


In other words, ‘blasphemy’ had little to do with God but the state religion as it once was and was a method of controlling and demanding respect for those in heirarchical positions controlling the administration of the law, the country and, of course, the state’s own permitted religion.

That is, you were ‘guilty’ if they said you were guilty. The ‘offence’ was what they said was an offence. The reason then must also have been whatever they said was the reason.

Law is based not on reason but on delineating “punishable offences”. Whatever that constitutes in the minds of the judiciary or the general populace is what determines what is deemed to be an offence and what kind of punishment is used. ‘Reason’ is then hypocritically applied in retrospect in order to make the process seem fair.

These days, the ‘state religion’ can be Communism or some such ideology as much as an ideology based on a belief in some particular view of some deity, real or fanciful. In other words, the religion and the crimes of transgression against it were all forms of mind-control as applied individually and to the masses under the heel of whichever kind of ‘authority’ ran the country, whether secular or theological.

Again, it was the “old testament” of the Jews that taught the right to punish those who blasphemed:-

In the third book of the Old Testament, Leviticus 24:16 states that those who speak blasphemy “shall surely be put to death”...

In the time of Jesus… Christian ideas relied upon the influence of natural authority against the then secular religious power ...  may be interpreted as warning against an actual reaction… (Karma) ....and thus be unforgivable but not by dictate…..in effect establishes the importance of this aspect of the Godhead, rather than setting an arbitrary law.

But, in the Quran, “He forgives all sins, except disbelieving in God (blasphemy)”. In Islam if a person dies while in blasphemy, they will not enter heaven, except if said person repented before death….

Hold to forgiveness, command what is right; but turn away from the ignorant…...  if they repent, it will be best for them, but if they turn back, Allah will punish them.”

- again, not essentially a ‘law’ of man but a description of Karma as it affects those who refuse the concept of a Creator.

Note that English law was based as much on Islamic law as any domestic constructs…....

Several fundamental common law instutitions may have been adapted from similar legal instututions in Islamic law and jurisprudence, and introduced to England after the conquest of England by the Normans, whoinherited the Islamic legal administration of the Emirate of Sicily, and also by Crusaders…...

Other English legal institutions such as “the scholastic method, the license to teach,” the “law schools known as Inns of Court in England and Madrasas in Islam” and the “European commenda”  may have also originated from Islamic law…...  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law

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By Outraged, March 8, 2008 at 12:47 am Link to this comment

Wow…in one fell swoop….they just took all the fun out of it.  Next they’ll be telling us sex isn’t dirty those filthy ingrates.

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By RAE, March 7, 2008 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

It’s absolutely amazing how easy it is to lead the human mind to “buy” BS.

There have been centuries of piling doctrine upon dogma and selling it, adorned by the most gaudy bric-a-braq, awash in swishy clothes, from pulpits raised to ENSURE “you little people stay little.”

Once you “get ‘em young and train ‘em” the vast majority seem unable to see through the crapola for the con game that it is.

When you, your family and friends, all support one another singing the same tune, it takes an unusually strong intellect to stand up, shout “bullshit” and walk away. Few can do it… so we have institutionalized religious tyranny.

It’s about time the English have taken these steps to rid themselves, at least by some measure, of the collosal nonsense that has enslaved them for centuries.

Now, what are we going to do about the 50% of the AMERICAN population that suffers from the same mental disorder… believing in fairy tales?

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By DennisD, March 7, 2008 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Las Vegas over/under line on the English Blasphemy Law was 150 years and I played the OVER just last week. Son of a f&%^$%$^&^** bitch. Just couldn’t last two more f**king years could it. Assholes.

After 140+ years I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.

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By Hemi*, March 7, 2008 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

Holy Christ on a cracker, it’s about goddamn f*cking time! God shave the Queen!

Lighten up folks, it’s not like your own rebelious little minds were’nt conjuring up similar wise-cracks. It’s a slow father f*ckin’ news day.

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