Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Speaking of Blasphemy Laws...

New Zealand is one of the few countries that still has specific blasphemy laws in place. Here is the exact text of the law from Section 123 of the 1961 'Crimes Act'.

123 Blasphemous libel
  • (1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year who publishes any blasphemous libel.
    (2) Whether any particular published matter is or is not a blasphemous libel is a question of fact.
    (3) It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.
    (4) No one shall be prosecuted for an offence against this section without the leave of the Attorney-General, who before giving leave may make such inquiries as he thinks fit.

I have had a discussion about this with a Christian in the past year, though I don't remember who it was, but I distinctly remember that they didn't want the law removed for some reason or another. The best argument for keeping the law, (which isn't really an argument at all) is that no one has ever actually been prosecuted and sent to prison as a result of this law. I don't really see how that changes the fact that it is a crime in New Zealand to blaspheme. So if I write "Jesus was a bastard and Mary was a whore", I just committed a crime. I am now a criminal according to New Zealand law, and that doesn't sit right with me. I sure don't feel like I've committed any sort of crime.


  1. no. you're not.

    Firstly, the criminal law isn't concerned with what is called de minimis actions; minor actions.

    secondly you are only a -criminal- if you're found guilty under s123. you have not been charged and convicted of the crime.

    Further, in any case the construction of s123(3) allows you to convey a range of opinions. You could argue that your language is indecent and thus you have contravened s123(3). However, all NZ legislation must be read in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 whereby s6 requires an interpretation consistent with that act. Therefore, the courts in deciding whether you have committed the crime would likely allow this expression (ignoring the de minimis claim). This is particularly the case considering they allow a range of rude words (notably repeatedly shouting the F word in the middle of Cathedral Square in Christchurch) and they would not want to contravene your s14 NZBORA right to freedom of expression.

    That is why there have not been prosecutions under this section. There is a whole collection of legislation which is never enacted. Just because something is written down doesn't necessarily make it true in a practical every day sense.

    All law is open to interpretation; just like any document really.

  2. *actioned... not enacted xD

  3. Interesting insight there David. The whole point of my post is that it's a stupid law that has no place in a modern society though. So if there are laws that in 99% of cases (NZBORA) overrides the blasphemy law, what purpose does the blasphemy serve?