A new blasphemy law … in Ireland?

May 1, 2009

kabul-blasphemy-demoWhen we hear about blasphemy these days, we usually think cases brought in Muslim countries or efforts by Muslim states to have defamation of religion banned in resolutions at international meetings such as the recent “Durban II” session in Geneva. The issue, which sparked violent protests in the Muslim world in 2006 after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, has been presented as a kind of cultural dividing line between “the West” and “the Muslim world.” It’s not that simple…

(Photo: Kabul protest against blasphemy death sentence for Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 31 Jan 2008/Ahmad Masood)

Just look at what’s happened in Ireland this week. The government proposed a new law against “blasphemous libel,” provoking criticism that the move would be old-fashioned at best and an outrageous curtailment of free speech at worst.  Were the traditionally Catholic Irish taking a page from the diplomatic strategy of Muslim countries? Were the bishops trying to flex their dwindling muscles?  The Irish Times story reporting the plan gave no motive for it but wrote: “At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution.

Not surprisingly, Roy Brown, chief representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Geneva, reacted by saying it was “totally mind-boggling that a European government should even consider such a dangerous idea given that EU countries — now supported by the United States — have for years been fighting tooth and nail at the United Nations in Geneva and New York against almost  identical proposals from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to get a global ban on ‘defamation of religion’.”

ahernBut there was more to the story. As Justice Minister Dermot Ahern wrote in an Irish Times article today, there is an existing piece of legislation dating back to 1961 that calls for punishments up to seven years imprisonment.  Ireland’s constitution requires some form of punishment of blasphemy and the new law would decrease the penalty involved to a fine of up to 100,000 euros. Abolishing the crime of blasphemy altogether would require a constitutional amendment and a referendum, which Ahern says would be too costly and distracting for a country busy fixing Europe’s worst public finances.

(Photo: Dermot Ahern visits the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 31 Jan 2007/Eliana Aponte)

Under Ahern’s proposals, blasphemous material would only be prosecutable if it is “grossly abusive or insulting in matters held sacred by a religion,” causes actual outrage among adherents of that religion and there is intent to cause outrage. “Such intent was not previously required;” he noted in his article.

The Irish Examiner is having none of what it calls this fatherly “trust me” attitude from the justice minister. It noted that Ireland voted with all other EU countries against a resolution on “combating defamation of religion” at the UN last December. Explaining that vote, Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

“One man’s blasphemy is another man’s comedy classic,” the Irish Examiner remarked.  Is it that simple?


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This insidious attempt to sneak religiously-biased laws into the Irish legal system at a time when people are being distracted by increasing and unending economic woes brought about by following of false beliefs and mythologies that appeal to the more selfish elements of human nature, is typical of the hidden agenda of elements of religiously-motivated politicians and the Roman Church, in particular, to collude in their hidden agenda. And what exactly might that agenda be? You might well ask, but if you take a look back over the misery-ridden pages of Irish religio-political history, with all their insidious collaborations to gain ultimate power, you might reconsider the situation.It should be obvious to anyone who has two brain cells to rub together, that there will be a need for ultimate control so as to suppress the public at large from speaking out when the juggernaut of reality finally comes crashinng through their front door. Religion-based methodologies of blind acceptance and adherence to the prevailing State dogmas, as originally constructed under the influence of the Roman Church, will be called into force to stifle any resistance to the crumbling of the so-called “morality of the State”.Exactly what “morality” does the State base its workings on? Take a hard look at the Irish Constitution, and you should begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Posted by Sean Ryan | Report as abusive

Sean Ryan, I hope you will also have the same comment on Countries who have wide coverage on hate crimes, because if I were to choose whether my country will be a Catholic Country or an Atheist, I will not hesitate to choose to be Catholic. If you criticize blasphemy law as a tool for suppression, more so with hate crimes

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

Two things are becomimg clear to me now..1. we the Irish really do earn our reputation as a laughing stock2. as a whole we really haven’t that much savvy do we? in fact we can really be a pain in other countries backsides sometimes.(btw Daniel Rosaupan – hate crimes? really? in ireland? get a grip man. your fear is not going to hold me prisoner)

Posted by Cian Curran | Report as abusive

Daniel, nation states are far better off not having any religious affiliation. This allows logic and reason to prevail in public policy as opposed to adhering to dogmas. The state has no cause to involve itself with religion. This ensures that people have the freedom to believe whatever they want and will not be taxed for it (though I personally believe that church donations should be heavily taxed as any cash-in-hand financial arrangement should be).

Posted by Liam Ó Murchú | Report as abusive

liam, the reason why we have moral decadence is because we have embraced the dictatorship of relativism. dogmas means absolute truth. truth is inherently logical. relativism is illogical for a particular thing cannot be false at the same time true. It defies logic. You cannot make adultery moral just because its what you believe. U cannot make bestiality moral just because its what you believe. Now, with regard to free flow of idea, the first religion who instill that is not your government but the Church. The first universities built in the world was Catholic Universities. Christian countries were the first one to embrace democracy and its the product of Church teaching. Civilization of the west was owed from the Catholic Church. That explains why the Church enjoys exemptions because it has done a lot for the society where the government cannot fulfill. Large charitable institutions to feed the hungry are runned by the Catholic Church liam. Big hospitals are runned by the Catholic Church since 300 AD. But the very institution who had contributed a lot to the society is now the subject of persecution and mockery. I believe its now time to enact a law against blaspheming the Church.

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

Daniel Rosaupan, regarding your statement that:”dogmas means absolute truth”, is symptomatic of a closed mind mentality, as dogmas a restrictive, fixed, not subject to question, and unjustifiably authoritatian in nature. Ireland is currently beginning to realise the cost of and paying the price for its historical adherence to stifling dogmas and blindness in the matter of being led and dictated to by a medievialist and undemocratic foreign entity, namely the Roman Church.As regards Christianity and Democracy, the Roman Church imposed the Anti Modernist Oath on all clergy in 1910, forbidding their priests having anything to do with such system, as the idea of individuals thinking for themselves was unthinkable.This dogmatic and stifling oath was still in force in the 1960s, and at a time that we now know the true horrors suffered by defenceless children in the care of the same totalitarian system of control. The Church of Rome has no legal basis under the laws of this country, which is something most people ignore because of ignorance of the reality of how this same entity operates i.e without consultation, without oversight, without any regard for the right to free speech or thought.No wonder our country is going down the tubes, as we are now paying the bill for following the same lines of dogmatic and blind thinking in our economic life as we were mentally conditioned to fearfully accept since we were children. The old and well-worn propagandist mantra of Ireland being “…a nation of saints and scholars” should perhaps now be replaced with the more appropriate banner of “…a nation of taints and horrors”.

Posted by Sean Ryan | Report as abusive

so i guess Nietzsche will finally get banned.Boy, he would like that…God turkeys he says…ups…there goes my 10.000….

Posted by vjeran Salamon | Report as abusive

I am a Dubliner and I have to put up with a bloke ringing bells every morning at quarter to eight and more on Sundays. Why is he so inconsiderate? Bring on this ‘Blasphemy law’ and get rid of the Catholic church once and for all out of Ireland. God is only a gimmick to keep the ‘masses’ in a constant state of fear.Freedom is a precious thing. Many Irishmen died for it. Now it’s time to live it.

Posted by les doherty | Report as abusive

I’m looking forward to the protest marches. As a practicing witch I have always strongly objected to the King James bible verse “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” As this is an incitement to hatred I wonder if this could be legally challenged if enough Irish witches protested.Overall, the blasphemy law is a ridiculous one and it will be interesting to see the churches fend off various suits. Most of the people I have spoken to don’t realise that the Catholic church must be included in this law and not automatically protected.

Posted by Kat Kerrigan | Report as abusive

The problem with ideas like blasphemy is that it can only be committed by someone who believes in something and reviles it. An atheist or deist cannot commit blasphemy because they know that religions are superstitious ideas that only happen between the ears of a believer. The laws need to be very carefully worded to not apply to people to whom the concept does not apply.

Posted by Cornelia Campbell | Report as abusive

Hello to all.I can not help myself, that the new blasphemy law makes no sense at all. And I guess it also partly confronts with freedom of speech and expression.Why is goverment wasting time and money issueing ridiculous laws?Politicians are voted by ordinary people, but becoming POLITICIAN makes them extraordinary, which in their heads means I DECIDE WHAT HAPPENS, I HAVE THE RIGHT!Since all goverments (give me an example of the one which is not) are corrupted by people with big money and/or influence!Since then they make laws on side of the influence.Then they forget about you, nation, about their country, they are heads of…about people who voted them…Why don’t they concentrate more on protecting your jobs and your future, culture, education?BECAUSE THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU ANYMORE!!!

Posted by Marian Stanec | Report as abusive

I like this oneJuly 23rd, 20092:10 pm GMTI am a Dubliner and I have to put up with a bloke ringing bells every morning at quarter to eight and more on Sundays. Why is he so inconsiderate? Bring on this ‘Blasphemy law’ and get rid of the Catholic church once and for all out of Ireland. God is only a gimmick to keep the ‘masses’ in a constant state of fear.Freedom is a precious thing. Many Irishmen died for it. Now it’s time to live it.- Posted by les doherty

Posted by Marian Stanec | Report as abusive

Religion should be banned.

Posted by Kael | Report as abusive

A religion is a set of beliefs, attitudes and practices concerning god(s). Atheism is such a set. (Yes, Non-practice is a practice; let’s not debate that “zero is a number” thing again.) Many atheists even try to prosletyze and convert other to their religion. If Kael, above, is to ban all religions then we athiests will also have to stop not believing, lest the flying spagetti monster take our lives in sauce-splattered vengeance.

Posted by toadbile | Report as abusive

I realize i’m a bit late reading this but this blasphemy law is becoming fact in ireland in the near future. there is an outcry over it at the moment here. i hesitate to say a ‘huge outcry’ becuse despite the changes in this this country in the last twenty years there is still a lot of supprort for the chuch here. despite that there will be protests, marches and mass attempts at blasphemous publications. the problem is the law states that it must offend a large percentage of a religious group. to do this the blasphemous statement must be published somewhere public. ournewspapers probably won’t do this as they are usually cared of public opinion. so hopefully we can do something so public that the church will see it and respond. I believe (and sincerely hope) that once this happens the debate will become so large that it can not be ignored by the EU, who will hopefully see it as a breach of our human rights. then again the pro choice lobby tried that and nothing has come of it yet. thousands of irish girls and women have to travel to britain to abort pregnancies. So all i can say is screw our proven corrupt government and bring on the protests.if nothing else they’ll be a bit of craic.

Posted by you | Report as abusive