The National Secular Society's annual award for Secularist of the Year has been awarded jointly to Dr Evan Harris MP and Lord Avebury for their success in getting blasphemy laws abolished.
The prestigious prize was handed over by Professor Richard Dawkins at a glittering awards ceremony at the Imperial Hotel in central London on Saturday.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society (NSS), said: The abolition of the blasphemy law in 2008 was a major coup for the NSS and a great victory for everyone who values free speech. The ancient laws had not been used
successfully since the 1970s, but there were efforts by Christian evangelicals to revive them, and a case was being considered even as the law was abolished.
Sanderson said that Dr Evan Harris and Lord Avebury – both Lib Dems – had engineered a clever parliamentary pincer movement that resulted in the Government being forced into bringing forward its own amendment to abolish the law. Having elicited
the promise from Ministers in the House of Commons that the law would be abolished, Lord Avebury, who has been campaigning against the blasphemy laws for decades, then brought forward his own amendment to ensure that the Government could not
renege on its commitment.
The Scottish National Party has passed a resolution that Scotland's centuries-old blasphemy law should be abolished, or at least never be used to prosecute anyone.
Blasphemy is outlawed under the Confession of Faith Ratification Act 1690 and was last used in 1843 to convict the Edinburgh bookseller Thomas Paterson who was imprisoned for selling blasphemous literature.
The motion said Scotland lags behind other European countries by still having the law on the statute books and called for the abolition of the archaic common law crimes of blasphemy, heresy and profanity to the extent that they remain law in