NZ scraps blasphemy law: Scotland still waiting!

March 5, 2019

The New Zealand Parliament have passed a Bill which removes Blasphemy as a criminal offence. Congratulations to our friends, Humanist NZ, who had campaigned to remove the outdated law.

The repeal bill, sponsored by New Zealand’s Minister of Justice Andrew Little, passed its Third Reading and now merely awaits “Royal Assent,” which is essentially a formality. When that happens, New Zealand will become the seventh nation since 2015 to repeal its blasphemy laws.

Andrew Little

Andrew Little had argued that the repeal bill:

“ensures that the criminal law of New Zealand is kept up to date and reflects the values of the modern and diverse society that New Zealand is today. The bill does this by repealing three archaic laws from the Crimes Act. … The repeals are relatively straight forward, but they, understandably, generated a range of views from submitters, and this was particularly so, of all things, with the provision in relation to blasphemous libel. An offence that hasn’t been prosecuted for nearly a century, which conflicts with freedom of expression, and which almost certainly would never be prosecuted in the future, serves no useful purpose in the criminal law of New Zealand.”

“It undermines this country’s ability to criticise other jurisdictions, when appropriate, for having blasphemy laws which result in persecution and injustice in those countries overseas. It’s out of place with New Zealand’s position as the bastion of human rights, including recognising freedom of expression and religious tolerance for all faiths. It is telling that, as this bill progressed through its legislative stages last year, both Canada and Ireland repealed their blasphemy laws. This simply reflects that modern democracies see no place for such laws in their criminal codes or constitutions. I’m confident that New Zealand will be aligning ourselves with like-minded liberal democracies across the globe and improving the criminal law in this country by this repeal.”

Meanwhile in Scotland the wait continues for Parliament to take the same steps. Humanist Society Scotland has been leading the campaign to bring about the end to the Scottish Blasphemy common law.

Humanist Society Scotland Campaigns Manager Fraser Sutherland said:

Fraser Sutherland

“We are delighted to hear of friends across the globe being successful in their campaigns to scrap Blasphemy laws, with Canada and New Zealand doing so in recent months. With the Church of Scotland now also officially backing such a change it seems a matter of time now before Scotland follows suit.

“Most recently Scottish Ministers said they were ‘listening to views’ on the law in a recently closed consultation. We were delighted that a significant number of our members and supporters picked up our call to respond to the consultation, specifically to call for the end to the Blasphemy law.

“We are hopeful that sense will prevail and the forthcoming legislation will result in Scotland finally shaking off the embarrassment of being one of the last countries to still retain such an archaic law on it’s books. “


Can you help us campaign to help policy makers hear the voices of Humanists in important debates?


Humanist Society Scotland End Blasphemy Law Campaign – The story so far:

2015 – The International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws is launched, with Humanist Society Scotland a founding partner.

February 2016 – Religion in Scots Law report by academics at University of Glasgow, funded by Humanist Society Scotland, reveals the legal detail and history of the Scottish common law offence of Blasphemy

December 2016 – Humanist Society Scotland call on the Scottish Government to show ‘moral leadership’ and scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law in light of Humanists Internationals report on persecution of Humanists around the world through Blasphemy laws

July 2017 – The Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary responds to correspondence from a Humanist Society Scotland member saying they have “no plans” to scrap the law.

August 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland gather public support through a petition calling on politicians to scrap the outdated laws.

September 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland submit evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee of how Blasphemy laws are used around the world to persecute Humanists and minority faith groups. The Committee agree to write to the Scottish Government to ask them to consider scrapping the law.

December 2018 – Humanist Society Scotland implore MSPs to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law at the annual Humanist Yuletide event in the Scottish Parliament.

January 2018 – The Edinburgh Group of Humanist Society Scotland arrange a protest against Blasphemy laws around the world on the spot where student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy in Edinburgh 321 years previously.

March 2018 – UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion and Belief calls for the scrapping of blasphemy laws and states they are not compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the UK in 1968.

March 2018 – Scrapping Scotland’s Blasphemy Law becomes official SNP party policy. 

May 2018 – Scottish Parliament hears from Humanist campaigners on need to end Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

October 2018 Ireland votes in a referendum to scrap Blasphemy law after Humanist Society Scotland distinguished support Stephen Fry is investigated by police for comments he made on a TV show.

November 2018 – Scottish Government launch consultation on reforming Hate Crime laws which fails to propose to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law as suggested by campaigners. Humanist Society Scotland call the failure to act a ‘stain on Scotland’s Human Rights record’.

December 2018Canada repeals it’s Blasphemy law.

February 2019 – Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and Have I Got News For You panellist, and Nick Newman, scriptwriter and cartoonist add their support to the Humanist Society campaign while touring a play they had written to Scotland.

March 2019 – The Church of Scotland add their support to the scrapping of Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

March 2019New Zealand becomes the seventh country since 2015 to scrap it’s Blasphemy law.


Humanist Society Scotland blog post on importance of scrapping Blasphemy law.

Humanist Society Scotland blog post on Hate Crime review and how it impacts atheists, humanists and apostates.

Latest Related Stories

Keir Starmer addressing a hustings event against a red background. He wears a suit without a tie and is speaking at a lectern.

Humanist Society calls for bold action on secular and progressive causes from new government

Humanist Society calls for bold action on secular and progressive causes from new government
Cartoon showing a family group looking at a sunset over the sea.

Use our guide for responding to the assisted dying consultation

Use our guide for responding to the assisted dying consultation
Graphic showing people putting slips in a voting box showing the Humanist Society Scotland logo, and LGBT+ flag, and a science symbol. Text reads "I'm voting humanist."

We launch our general election 2024 resources

We launch our general election 2024 resources
Cartoon showing a group of people shouting with signs reading "decriminalise abortion," "safe access," and "abortion is healthcare."

Buffer zones bill passes final vote and will become law

Buffer zones bill passes final vote and will become law