Friday, November 11, 2011

"Blaspheming in the Suburbs: The Offence of Blasphemy in a Free Speech Regime"

Helen Pringle, Blaspheming in the Suburbs: The Offence of Blasphemy in a Free Speech Regime (available here).

Pringle's paper begins with a description of the arrest of an Australian Gold Coast teenager in 2008 for wearing a heavy metal band's t-shirt which depicted a nun masturbating with a crucifix and the words "Jesus is a cunt". Noting that the teen was charged with a summary offence prohibiting "offensive, obscene, indecent or abusive language", Pringle uses the arrest as a springboard for discussing how Australian authorities are often more comfortable using obscenity laws than blasphemy laws in jurisdictions where both exist:

"Where ostensibly blasphemous acts are the subject of prosecution in Australia, they are charged not as blasphemy but instead under the rubric of offensive conduct or language. That is, in both legal and cultural terms, blasphemy has generally been absorbed into a more 'neutral' category of obscenity or offensiveness." (p. 8)

Pringle goes on to discuss the scattered and mostly forgotten references to blasphemy in various Commonwealth and State statutory provisions and uses original newspaper research to demonstrate that blasphemy prosecutions in Australia took place as early as 1835 and into the 1920s, thus improving on Coleman's standard work. According to Pringle, during this time period, "instead of being a crime that was rarely prosecuted, [blasphemy] was frequently and successfully prosecuted, although the penalties were relatively light." (p. 14)

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