Anglican Church Open to Scrap Blasphemy Laws

The Church of England is open to the idea of abolishing blasphemy laws, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Downing Street had urged consultation with the churches, particularly the Anglican church, before taking a vote on repealing the offense of blasphemy.

"We are open to the possibility of a review," said the Church of England spokesman while urging a "cautious" approach. "But first there has to be adequate time to assess the impact of the new legislation."

MPs were in the Commons on Wednesday to debate a proposed amendment to the current Criminal Justice Bill tabled by Lib Dem front-bencher Frank Dobson and Conservative backbencher David Wilshire. The measure was put forward by Liberal Democrat Evan Harris.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said at the debate that the Government has "every sympathy" for proposals to abolish the ancient laws, which were originally passed to protect Christianity.

Harris' amendment failed to win the backing of the Government Wednesday, but a Downing Street spokesman indicated that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was going to keep blasphemy laws on the agenda.

"We do believe it is necessary to consult with the churches, particularly the Anglican church, before coming to a final decision, and that's what we are doing," said the spokesman. "I think it is right there is a proper process and a proper consultation before there is change in legislation."

Eagle said that the consultation with the Church would be "short and sharp."

The legal notion of blasphemy laws dates back to ancient times when faith was seen as being the heart of society. But the present common law offense of "blasphemous libel" is based on decisions made by 19th century courts. An 1838 case had restricted the blasphemy to protect the "tenets and beliefs of the Church of England."

Many have criticized the law as out of date.

On Tuesday, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, expressed their support for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in a letter in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph.

The letter's signatories also included His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman, comedian Ricky Gervais and The God Delusion author and atheist Richard Dawkins.

The letter states, "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.

"Far from protecting public order - for which other laws are more suited - it actually damages social cohesion. It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets and thus engenders an expectation among other religions that their sensibilities should be also protected by the criminal law and a sense of grievance among minority religions that they do not benefit from their own version of such a law."

Meanwhile, Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance warned repealing the law would signal that protecting Jesus, God and the Bible was no longer regarded as so important.

Christian Post reporter Lillian Kwon contributed to this report.