Good heavens! Blasphemy law remains in New Zealand after National and Maori Party vote down repeal video

New Zealand's blasphemy law will remain after the National and Maori parties voted against removing it (file photo).
JOHN BISSET

New Zealand's blasphemy law will remain after the National and Maori parties voted against removing it (file photo).

OMG, could this be true? It's still illegal to blaspheme in New Zealand.

Parliament had the opportunity to remove decades-old anti-blasphemy laws but, heaven's above, bailed out on Tuesday night.

Labour MP Chris Hipkins introduced an amendment to remove anti-blasphemy laws but both the National Party and the Maori Party voted against throwing it out of the Crimes Act..

MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Bill English speaking about New Zealand still having blasphemy laws.

It comes after Prime Minister Bill English said earlier in May that he didn't previously know the blasphemy laws existed, but "we could get rid of them".

It's understood National changed its mind about dealing with the law quickly and with the help of the Maori Party stopped it going through.

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Actor Stephen Fry is the subject of an Irish police complaint alleging blasphemy.
REUTERS

Actor Stephen Fry is the subject of an Irish police complaint alleging blasphemy.

 

Instead, the government wanted to go through the process of select committee and give the public the opportunity to submit on the potential law change.

The intention was to include the blasphemy law in the next Crimes Act Amendment Bill, which was being worked through but there was no specific timeframe for when it might make it to Parliament.

On Wednesday English said his preference was to "go through the proper process rather than just spontaneous amendments on the floor of the House".

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But he said once a bill to scrap the law does go to Parliament he expects it would be repealed.

Hipkins said it was a "sad day for freedom of speech, tolerance and leadership".

"What moral authority does New Zealand have condemning other countries for draconian blasphemy laws when we have one of our own that we refuse to repeal?"

The law - which appears not to have been used since 1922 - came to light after reports British entertainer Stephen Fry faced police investigation in the Republic of Ireland for comments he made about a "capricious, mean-minded, stupid God".

Blasphemy remains an offence in New Zealand punishable by up to 12 months' jail.

English previously said "laws that overreach on addressing robust speech are not a good idea".

Anglican Archbishop and Primate Philip Richardson also said it was time to get rid of the arbitrary and archaic law.

"My view is, God's bigger than needing to be defended by the Crimes Act," he said.

ACT leader David Seymour had originally pushed for an MP to introduce a private member's bill to repeal the law.

"Especially in the context of the terrible atrocities in Manchester, we need a fearless debate about freedom of speech and what is acceptable in a free society. These kinds of laws make New Zealand look a bit hypocritical," he said.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand, which represented the 41 per cent of people in the country who were not religious, were appalled by the vote in Parliament.

President Sara Passmore said the decision to keep the law was a "clear vote against human rights".

"By refusing to remove the blasphemy law from our Crimes Act, the Government is saying we are not free to criticise and challenge all ideas. This decision was backwards, and not in line with international trends. We think people, not ideas, should be protected".

* Comments on this article have closed.

 - Stuff

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