The murder of the film-maker, Theo van Gogh on 2 November was a tragedy on several levels. There is the obvious tragedy of loss to his family and friends but also tragedy for what it means for free speech in a country that prides itself on its tolerance. There is also the added impetus it may have given Dutch lawmakers as they consider the reintroduction of a blasphemy law (the Guardian 17 November 2004).
One can understand the desire to prevent such things happening again but the danger is that all religious debate could be outlawed, as any opinion expressed could be construed as being offensive to someone. The ramifications for Christians obeying the call to preach the gospel could be serious.
Tony Blair’s government’s plan to abolish the corresponding law in Britain is right. Of course we need religious tolerance but blasphemy laws are blunt instruments. Recent history shows how such laws can be used oppresively against minorities or against those with whom we don’t agree. Religious freedom can only be guaranteed by law makers leaving it alone.
Anyway, from a religious point of view, can one really believe God to be all powerful if he needs human laws to protect his honour?