BLASPHEMY AND THE NEGOTIATION OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN BRITAIN

  • Laura Tomes Georgetown University, USA

Abstract

This paper examines the May 2008 abolition of the British law against blasphemy. The blasphemy law had been the subject of debate since the 1970’s, which began a series of high profile attempts to invoke the law against perceived offenders. No action was taken until after September 11th, when the Labour government sought to institute a law criminalising Incitement to Religious Hatred. It was not until that law came into statute (2006), that the Houses of Commons and Lords seriously debated abolishing the blasphemy law. Against those who argued that changing the legislation amounted to ‘the death of Christian Britain’, I argue that this case offers evidence that the meta-narrative of secularization is neither helpful nor accurate; it fails to account for the reasons why the law was eliminated, or for its relation to ongoing efforts to accommodate religious diversity. The elimination of the blasphemy law and enactment of the Incitement to Religious Hatred legislation should be situated as part of ongoing efforts to negotiate diversity in Britain, and serves as an illustration that a more thoughtful analysis of religion should be a major part of the debate on cultural pluralism.

Keywords: Blasphemy, Christianity, Church of England, Secularization, Religious Pluralism

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Published
2017-01-11
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