MSPs will today hear calls to scrap Scotland’s ancient blasphemy laws. A petition, supported by Humanist Society Scotland, calls on the Parliament to “abolish the common law crimes of blasphemy, heresy and profanity to the extent that they remain law”.

The last reported prosecution for blasphemy was in 1843, and academics say it is not entirely clear that it is still is a crime, but, unlike in England which scrapped the law in 2008, it has never been formally abolished.

Mark McCabe’s petition, lodged in July and due in front of Holyrood’s petitions committee this morning, says crimes of blasphemy and heresy should be axed in the same way as the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act (2009) took sodomy off the statutes book.

“It seems unfathomable that Scotland still has this archaic crime when the rest of Great Britain has abolished it, and all that theoretically stands

between a person and prosecution is the good grace of the police and prosecutors,” McCabe said on his petition.

In its submission to the committee, the Humanist Society says Scotland say is “increasingly being left behind other European nations who have scrapped blasphemy laws”.

It added that blasphemy laws were scrapped in England and Wales in 2008, Iceland and Norway in 2015, Malta in 2016 and Denmark in 2017.

Like McCabe, the society says that if a blasphemy law remains on the statute books, there always remains the possibility the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal service could prosecute, however unlikely that may seem now.

“The only way to ensure a blasphemy prosecution was not brought again in Scotland would be to take the simple step of removing it as a common law offence as has been done in England and Wales, or as was done in the case of removing common law offence in Scotland of sodomy under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.

“This would also send a clear message to other nations around the world who use such laws to execute, discriminate and otherwise punish freedom of speech and expression.”

According to academic research commissioned by the humanists, the crime of blasphemy, which has existed since 1690, has never been repealed, and, unlike other pre-Union Scottish Parliament acts, it cannot be clearly argued that it has fallen into disuse.

The society said: “This 1690 Act was ratified by the Act for securing of the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government (1707), which was in turn incorporated into the Scottish Parliament’s 1707 Act whereby the Treaty of Union was

ratified, and as such is bound up with the constituting documents of the British State.”

It added: “It is the case that the statutory basis of the law of the crime of blasphemy has been repealed two centuries ago, and that what remains is a vestige of the common law, which has not been enforced for more than 170 years.”

Although there have been a number of motions in Holyrood to scrap blasphemy in the past, almost all of them have been about Pakistan’s notoriously brutal laws.

Earlier this year Stephen Fry was investigated by police in Ireland for blasphemy after the British comedian called God “stupid” and a “maniac” on an Irish TV show in 2015.

The global polling company Pew Research carried out its last major investigation into the world’s blasphemy laws in 2014 and found that one in four countries officially prohibits sacrilegious conduct.

In a 2015 blog, the Rev David Ross, a former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who tried to bring a blasphemy charge against Jerry Springer: The Opera, wrote: “Can any Christian argue in favour of the right to blaspheme our God and Saviour? I certainly cannot.

“Freedom of speech has rarely been regarded as absolute and open-ended. Indeed, what has happened is that as religion has declined and secularism increased the crime of blasphemy – an offence against God – has been replaced with anti-hate speech laws an offence against man.”

Thomas Aikenhead, aged 20, was the last Scot to be hanged for blasphemy, in January 1697, with prosecutors looking to make an example of him for ridiculing the holy scriptures.