New Zealand

Blasphemy with prison sentencesWhile broadly secular and respectful of freedom of religion or belief in general, New Zealand discriminates in numerous ways against the non-religious and a law against “blasphemy”, punishable with prison terms, remains on statute.

The Religious Libel law, section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961, criminalizes “blasphemous libel” with a maximum sentence of one year.

icon-dead-letter-100x100There is no record of a successful prosecution under this law, but it remains on the books and in the name of strengthening freedom of expression, humanists in New Zealand are actively seeking to repeal the law:

“The violent response in Paris to the non-violent ideas expressed by the Charlie Hebdo magazine underscores that freedom of expression is a core ingredient of a democratic society. Mark Honeychurch, President of the Humanist Society of New Zealand, considers that repealing Section 123 of the Crimes Act would be “a symbolic gesture that sends a clear message that New Zealand values free speech. Given New Zealand now has a seat on the United Nations Security Council, repealing this relic of a law would give New Zealand the ability to criticise blasphemy laws in other countries without being seen as hypocritical.””

Meanwhile, there are some 50 Acts on the statute books that favour religion or Ministers of Religion at the expense of the non-religious community and others. Many state occasions are marked with non-denominational but religious ceremonies. The state subsidizes religious activities through tax and local authority rate exemptions, through grants, and through subsidies to religious schools.