John, I’m no fan of blasphemy laws under any circumstances as, basically, I don’t see why one particular ideology, religious or otherwise, should be immune from criticism. That said, you are quite right that blasphemy laws were part and parcel of Western European civilization for centuries. Their enforcement ebbed and flowed with the degree of religious enthusiasm in those societies and, at least from the late eighteenth century onwards, generally did little harm.
However, what was true of essentially single-faith societies is not true in today’s multicultural Western Europe. Unless one believes the ecumenicist nonsense that all religions are, at root, the same, the uncomfortable fact is that one person’s faith is another person’s blasphemy. For all the happytalk about ‘people of the book’ , what a Christian believes about Jesus will to a Muslim be something akin to blasphemy, and vice versa. Throw Judaism, let alone Hinduism or any of the many other religions now practised in Britain into the mix and, well, you get the picture. Under these circumstances, unless the UK is to ban proselytizing, and open, frank debate between faiths, a ban on blasphemy makes no intellectual sense whatsoever.
As for the comments of Iqbal Sacranie, you link to, for disingenuousness and dishonesty they take some beating. An overwhelming sense of nausea makes it difficult to go through the whole thing, but these words alone should sound alarm bells enough:
“We can make a critical distinction between the substance and form of free speech. The law need not infringe on the substance but can assist to moderate the form.”
When I want my free speech “moderated”, Mr. Sacranie, I’ll let you know.