The UK’s Unwritten Blasphemy Laws

April 4, 2024 | Nick Cohen
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Last week Sara Khan, who is the British government’s “adviser for social cohesion and resilience,” issued an official report detailing what she terms “freedom-restricting harassment,” that is, intimidation that makes people afraid to discuss certain topics. Praising Khan’s report, Nick Cohen writes that this harassment amounts to “a blasphemy law in the UK and the rest of the West.” This law is an unusual one:

No Parliament voted for it. No court enforces it. There is no presumption of innocence, and no possible appeal against conviction—even when the sentence is death.

Yet, writes Cohen, that makes it no less real, as the example, cited by Khan, of a teacher who showed his class pictures of Mohammad, the pope, and Jesus makes clear:

A parent of a child in the class called the teacher to say that the image of the prophet should not have been shown to pupils, before warning that “there will be repercussions.” Pictures of the teacher, his partner, his home, and car were shared on Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, alongside such exhortations as “let’s sort this out for the prophet” and “if u see him u know what to do.”

The school and the British state refused to treat the threats to the teacher as an attack on the principles of a free society. Far from defending him, the school suspended him, and said on no account was he to talk to his colleagues. Not content with that, they suspended two other teachers who had taught the same lesson. . . . The teacher contacted the police. So frightened was he by their insouciance, he and his family fled.

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