Outdated sacrilege and blasphemy laws must be removed from the criminal codes of all Australian states, says the National Secular Lobby (NSL).
Peter Monk, president of the NSL, has called on members of parliament in states where such laws still apply to expunge them. Mr Monk says that sacrilege and blasphemy laws, vestigial legislation inherited from the United Kingdom, have no place in modern Australian society.
The NSL’s call for action follows a recent case in South Australia in which a man was charged with sacrilege for allegedly stealing items from the premises of a church. There have been more than 100 cases in the last five years in which the charge of sacrilege was added to theft, damage or trespass charges.
Under the state's Criminal Law Consolidation Act of 1935, being found guilty of sacrilege carries a maximum penalty of life in prison — the same as for murder.
"Incidents of trespass, and of damage to or theft of property, are already covered by our secular Australian laws," says Mr Monk.
"The punishment for a crime should not automatically be greater simply because the offence took place in a religious building."
"These laws are yet another example of how religion continues to enjoy a traditionally privileged place in the law and governance of this country and they are not appropriate for the 21st century."
“We urge politicians to make it their duty to rid our criminal codes of such laws."