New Zealand blasphemy laws face change

Blasphemy was the talk of Parliament on Tuesday after British comedian Stephen Fry was almost jailed for the offence in Ireland.

It left one MP cursing that it wasn't wiped off the statute books.

Mr Fry was asked in an interview what he would say when he met God at the gates of heaven.

His response: "Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain."

Those statements were allegedly "blasphemy" - speaking sacrilegiously about God.

It's illegal under Irish law where the interview took place - and started a police investigation.

And it highlighted that a "blasphemy" law also exists here in New Zealand, leading for calls for it to be scrapped.

"I think it's archaic. It's not used but if it was used it would be abused like we've seen with Stephen Fry in Ireland," ACT leader David Seymour says.

The New Zealand Crimes Act states: "Everyone is liable for up to one year in prison for publishing the offensive blasphemous material but that no one shall be prosecuted without the leave of the Attorney-General."

And the Attorney-General is Chris Finlayson, who admits he himself has enjoyed a bit of blasphemy.

"People have often asked me what I thought of the Life of Brian. Was it blasphemous? Well it probably was but it was funny," Mr Finlayson says.

"Well, frankly, if a 2000-year-old religion can't stand up to someone like Stephen Fry, they may as well shut their doors."

Examples of blasphemous behaviour include burning a religious document such as the Bible, vandalising a church, worshiping Satan, and stating that God is unkind, unjust or cruel.

It can also include sentences such as "Jesus Christ" and "God damn it".

While a special move to scrap the law was blocked on Tuesday, MPs are serious about getting rid of it and will do so in bigger clean-up bill next week.

But it doesn't end with blasphemy - there are hundreds more archaic pieces of legislation said to be in existence.