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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 12:31 GMT
Blasphemy law outdated, says Dobson
Durham Cathedral
The Church of England alone is protected, says Dobson
The 160-year-old blasphemy law protecting the Church of England should be scrapped in the light of new laws against religious hatred, says Labour MP Frank Dobson.

The former health secretary says the new law to tackle religious hatred, which is currently before Parliament as part of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, should override the old law.

This amendment is trying to piggy bank on anti terrorism legislation.

Richard Harries
Bishop of Oxford
But a Church of England bishop believes now is not the time to get rid of the 160-year-old blasphemy law.

The Right Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, says there should be a "reflective" debate on the alternatives.

Mr Dobson has tabled an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Bill to include the abolition of the blasphemy law.

"The blasphemy law has been regarded as wildly out-of-date for donkeys years," said Mr Dobson, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday.

'Wrong signal'

He said the law, first created in 1838, only gave protection to the Church of England.

"It seems to me that if we are going to make an incitement to religious hatred a crime that will cover people of all beliefs and those of no belief ... then there should not be any special further protection for the Church of England."

Bishop Harries argued that the abolition of the blasphemy law could send out the wrong "signal".

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett: Says Blasphemy law redundant
He said the Church of England had always backed finding a workable alternative to the blasphemy law.

But he added: "This amendment is trying to piggy back on anti-terrorism legislation.

"It would be far more appropriate to bring it up at another time when we have a context which makes for a more reflective debate."

Amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Bill will be heard on Wednesday afternoon in the Commons.

Religious hatred

The bishop said the Church of England did not need the law to protect its feelings.

"But you have to ask, is there nothing left that is sacred?" he said.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has indicated that he would like to see the ancient laws against blasphemy scrapped.

"There will come a moment when it will be appropriate for the blasphemy law to find its place in history," he told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights earlier this month.

The Anti-Terrorism, Security and Crime Bill seeks to make risking public order by inciting religious hatred a criminal offence.

Mr Dobson's amendment will be debated at the committee stage of the bill on Wednesday afternoon in the Commons.

See also:

14 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett casts doubt over blasphemy laws
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Ministers defend terror crackdown
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