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Until 2008 it was a criminal offence to publish blasphemous material, that is material that attacks, without observing the decencies of controversy, the truth of the Christian religion or the existence of God. However, prosecutions were rare and controversial. In 1979, in the first case for 60 years, Whitehouse v Gay News Ltd and Lemon, it was held that while the defendant had to intend to publish the material, he need not be shown to have intended to attack Christianity or to insult believers. Proposals for the abolition of the offence, and the substitution of an offence involving insulting language in places of worship, have been made by the Law Commission but not acted upon. The pressure for reform increased after the decision of the Divisional Court in 1991 that blasphemy protected only Christianity and not other religions.

In 2008, an amendment was passed to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales and the relevant section came into force on 8 July 2008. The last case of attempted prosecution under these laws was in 2007 when a Christian lobby group sought prosecution against the BBC over its broadcasting of the show Jerry Springer: the Opera.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid McClean

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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