REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1981.tb02462.x
Publication Date01 Sep 1981
REPORTS
OF
COMMITTEES
OFFENCES
AGAINST
RELIGION
AND
PUBLIC
WORSHIP
THE
march of events initiated by Mrs. Whitehouse’s prosecution of
Professor Kirkup’s attempt to update and improve on Lord Alfred
Douglass moves ever along the road of predictability, passing on its
way noble lords, both judicial and ~arliamentary,~ finding support
from the angels4 and also opp~sition.~ Now we meet the great
roundabout through which the antiquated common law of bygone
days must pass-the Law Commission, whose reasoned and measured
proposals will come as little surprise to our modem broad church
of opinion. Thus blasphemy as an offence is objected to because of
the uncertainties of its
uccus
reus,
because of the strictness of its
mens
rea,
and because of the unfairness of its (historically justified)
restrictions to the religion of the state. Offending material‘ that
cannot be covered by the laws that prohibit obscene libels, protect
public order or prevent incitement to racial hatred will no longer
be susceptible to the sanction of the criminal law.
Will anything rise from the ash? Should we have
a
new offence of,
say, unjustifiably attacking religion, any religion? Not
if
public
order is to be our sole criterion; attacks on religion do not appear
to threaten the public peace to the extent that necessitates special
legislation. (Interestingly the possibility of an attack on
a
religion
at home that produces adverse effects for Britain abroad is not
consideredlo which
is
perhaps
a
little odd in the light of recent
Muslim reaction to what have been seen as insults to their religion.)
If
not the public peace what other justifications may there be for
such an offence? That attacks on religion unsettle society in general?
1
Law Commission Working Paper No.
79.
2
Whifehouse
v.
Lemon
and Gay
News
Ltd.
[1979]
A.C.
617.
3
H.L.Deb.,
Vol.
280,
cols
279-350 (1978).
4
e.g.
M.
Cranston,
When we should censure the censors
Times Higher
Educa-
tion
Supplement,
September
23, 1977;
Sir Norman Anderson,
Liberty,
Law
an:
Justice
(1978),
p.
120;
H.
F.
Amplett Micklewright, “Blasphemy and the kaw
[1979]
Law and
Iusrice
20-31
and “Blasphemy does not beget Great Truth,
The
Times,
April
30, 1981.
5
e.g.
C. L. Ten, “Blasphemy and Obscenity”
(1978) 5
Brit.J. Law and Society
89-96;
J.
C.
Smith
119791
Crim.L.R.
312-313; (1979) 129
New L.J.
205-206;
P.
Jones,
‘‘
Blasphemy, Offensiveness and the Law
’’
[1980]
Br.J.P.S.
129-140
(on
balance against).
8
Paras.
6.1-6.9.
8
Either:
(1)
Publishing insulting matter likely to provoke a breach
of
the peace
by outraging the religious convictions
of
others; or:
(2)
Incitement to religious
hatred
(cf.
Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act (Northern Ireland)
1970);
or
(3)
Publicly insulting the feelings
of
religious believers.
9
See
[1979]
A.C. at p.
658.
L. Blom-Cooper and G. Drewry have noted in
Law
and Morality
(1976),
p.
259,
a Muslim sEggestion that there should be an
agreed international covenant
on
“the prophets and that it should be a criminal
offence to slander any
of
them.
10
A good example
of
this
is
given by P. Jeffrey in
Migrants and
Refugees
(1976),
p.
43.
In
1971
a Pakistani, living in Manchester, complained about a work circulating
there which, he claimed, insulted
the
Holy Prophet.
This
resulted in serious dis-
turbances in Pakistan including the desecration
of
several Christian churches the
looting
of
wine shops and the sacking
of
the British Council offices at Lahore.
7
See paras.
5.3-5.11.
556

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