17th September 2004
NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists
New Zealand's Blasphemy law will be the subject of a talk at the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists on Sunday
19th September 2004. Kathy Sunderland, a NZARH member who has recently completed an academic study of the subject, will
be discussing the history and implications of the legislation prohibiting Blasphemy.
Most New Zealanders will be unaware that Blasphemy is an offence in this country. There has been only one prosecution
for "blasphemous libel" in 1922. The Labour newspaper, The Maoriland Worker published a poem by English poet Siegfried
Sassoon in 1921, which included a line that offended the Attorney-General. The paper's publisher was prosecuted but the
jury returned a Not Guilty verdict.
Since then there have been no prosecutions, but Blasphemy was included in the Crimes Act of 1961, which remains in
force. In 1998, National MP John Banks attempted to prosecute Te Papa for displaying an artwork called "Virgin in a
Condom", but was denied permission by the Solicitor-General. In 2001, the NZARH asked Minister of Justice Phil Goff to
remove the Blasphemy provision of the Crimes Act but we were told that "...this offence still fulfils a function in our
law in terms of respecting the beliefs of the various religious communities that exist in New Zealand...".
Blasphemy remains an issue for non-believers and is potentially an impediment to free speech. Kathy Sunderland will be
discussing these issues at 7pm on Sunday 19th September, at Rationalist House, 64 Symonds Street, Auckland. Entry is
free of charge and all are welcome.