'Ditch the blasphemy law'

Campaign unites comics and Lords

Ricky Gervais and Stewart Lee have put their names to a campaign to repeal Britain’s ancient blasphemy laws.

The comics have signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph today – which is also being backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.

Other distinguished signatories include Philip Pullman, Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, Professor Richard Dawkins, Sir Jonathan Miller, David Starkey and Lord Desai.

The letter comes as MPs prepare to debate an amendment to the current Criminal Justice Bill tomorrow that would effectively abolish legal protections for Anglican Christianity.

Lee’s musical, Jerry Springer - The Opera, was last month at the centre of a blasphemy case, when fundamentalist Christians failed in their High Court bid to bring a prosecution against its producers and the BBC.

The letter which he and Gervais have put their name to says the blasphemy law has ‘a chilling effect on free expression’, and discriminates against non-Christian religions, which it does not cover.

The letter reads: ‘In the light of the widespread outrage at the conviction of the British teacher for blasphemy in Sudan over the name of a teddy bear is it not time to repeal our own blasphemy law?

‘The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the "protection" of such a law.

‘We are representatives of religious, secular, legal and artistic opinion in this country and share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters or intimidate small theatres, print media or publishers.’

‘…Its chilling effect on free expression and its discriminatory impact, leaves it in clear breach of human rights law.’

Published: 8 Jan 2008

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