Starting now: no insulting religion in Ireland

January 1, 2010 • 2:31 pm

The new Irish blasphemy law takes effect today, and here’s what it says:

A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.

“Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises.

Of course, it’s still legal to insult somebody else’s political beliefs, or any other beliefs — just so long as you keep your mitts off religion.  I wonder if it’s blasphemy to insult someone’s faith in astrology, scientology, or healing with crystals.

a. The Irish should be ashamed of themselves for passing a law that makes a huge and influential sphere of human thought immune from criticism.

b. People should start testing this law immediately, though the 100,000-Euro law will be a disincentive.

39 thoughts on “Starting now: no insulting religion in Ireland

  1. If a group of people in Ireland started a new religion which says free speech is sacred would they be able to challenge this law itself because it’s blasphemous according to their religious tenets?

  2. The law is utterly ridiculous. It ought to be fairly easy to find all kinds of ways to render it even more ridiculous, such as suggested by debunk. I can not imagine that it will survive for long, dying in Strasbourg, if not in Dublin. Having said that, it is extremely dangerous and it should be dealt with as energetically as possible. Glad to see that Atheist Ireland has decided to immediately test it. I think that others should do likewise by finding relevant Irish blogs, etc. and putting in blasphemous comments.

  3. Blaspheming in Ireland will now be come a cottage industry and a sport until sanity picks up its head.

  4. Their excuse is that the constitution requires such a law. Okay, but that’s a reason to attempt constitutional change (pending which the law could have been written with a fine of 100 Euros).

    However, although I’m very concerned about such developments, and I’m appalled that I have no right in Ireland to say things which are calculated to cause outrage from the religious, I predict that we won’t see any convictions. There are words that will enable the courts to read this statute very narrowly, and the large fine will actually encourage that. The courts will read a statute that abridges freedom of speech as narrowly as possible.

    I assume that the wording will be interpreted as meaning “grossly abusive or grossly insulting”, not “insulting or grossly abusive”. It’s unlikely that the parliament intends to punish only “gross” abuse but intends to punish mere insult.

    And the mens rea requirement is especially difficult to prove. How do you prove, without a confession, that someone’s intention was to produce widespread outrage, as opposed to all the other things someone might intend?

    All that said, it’s worrrying. On the face of it, there’s no possibility that a book like The God Delusion could be banned under this law – clearly it is not intended to produce widespread outrage but to offer reasoned criticism, encourage reflection, etc., etc. But a film like Submission or Fitna might well be a candidate for banning in Ireland, which would itself be outrageous.

  5. Since the major religions all constantly blaspheme each other in their core doctrines, surely the place to start fining people is whenever a church, temple or mosque opens its doors, or when groups of believers start reciting their blasphemous (to somebody else) doctrines.

    This could be just what the Irish government needs to get back on its feet!

    1. Ray, it won’t work like that. Generally speaking, the major religions do not engage in “gross abuse/gross insult of each other for the purpose of causing widespread outrage.” Even when Muhammad spoke in various passages about Christians and Jews going to hell, etc., he was not addressing them and attempting to stir them to outrage; he was “only” preaching hatred to his own followers (this is a more dangerous thing to do, perhaps, but not what the Irish law covers).

      The law will be read narrowly, there will be no convictions and few prosecutions, and it won’t be possible to bring religious doctrines themselves under such a narrowly-worded statute.

      BUT some speech will be chilled in Ireland. Ireland is now that much less a free country. More importantly, Ireland (and the West to some extent) loses the high moral ground in the worldwide argument to protect freedom of speech.

      As I just wrote on my own blog: “Suffice to say that this law is not only bad for Ireland – it sets a very dangerous precedent for other countries. In particular, it becomes much harder to criticise oppressive blasphemy laws in Muslim countries and various developing countries when a liberal democracy such as Ireland has enacted such a law. Even if the law is interpreted narrowly by the Irish courts (as I expect it will be), similar words might be applied expansively in less liberal jurisdictions.”

      We should all protest in our countries, however we best can, and make clear that such laws are totally unacceptable.

  6. I’m Irish but now based in Godless Sweden. I’ve been following this law closely since it was proposed. It’s a mistake to misconstrue this legislation as an old fashioned ‘protection of God’ style blasphemy law. It is, instead, a new type of law that is really the first example of the accomodationist position on religion being made mandatory.
    In my reading of the situation there was little if any call from the Catholic Church for this law to be passed. As one can imagine they are doing their best to keep their heads down in the wake of the various abuse enquiries.
    The law required the support of several separate entities in order to get through the Irish parliment. The ruling Fianna Fail party is part of a coalition with the environmentalist ‘Green Party’ and it was the support of this supposedly leftist party that allowed the measure to be passed. I tend to look at the legislation as one of political correctness rather than religiosity – and I actually think that, sadly, there is a fair amount of support amongst the Irish public itself for the idea that it is wrong to deliberately offend religious ideas. The final requirement for the law to be passed was the assent of the Irish President, Mary McAleese. Although she is probably the most religious President of Ireland for decades in my opinion her approval for the law stems from her experience of religious accomodationism in Northern Ireland where she grew up and worked prior to her election to the presidency.
    One thing I have noticed is the almost complete apathy towards this law amongst both the public and the journalistic profession in Ireland. It is clearly destructive of free speech and discriminatory towards the non religious (does anyone think it likely that a priest or other religious apologist will get prosecuted for saying that atheism leads to loss of morality and is destructive to the well-being of society – a common enough claim that is offensive to those of us who happen to be atheists and yet don’t feel the urge to barbecue babies (although I would hasten to add I don’t think it is right to ban the altar boy rapers from making these claims in the first place).
    There has been much more comment from the Irish diaspora (about 25% of young Irish people in their early 20s were forced to emigrate in the eighties and early nineties fro economic reasons, a recurring solution to Irelands lack of a sustainable economy for its population. One side effect of this emigration is that those who leave tend to be the more open minded and liberal amongst the population, a factor that has resulted in maintaining the conservative ethos of the State far longer than would have been otherwise possible.
    Another side effect of this that has probably not been anticipated by the Irish State is the fact that there are now many Irish atheists like myself in various parts of the world ready to fight back with impunity against this unjust measure.

  7. 1. Christianity: based on stories of an unmarried woman miraculously becoming pregnant (how many times do we hear that story in this modern age). Not even as interesting as the stories of Cupid and Psyche or Jupiter and Io. Anyway, the illegitimate offspring is declared a god and, although mythical, is worshipped by hundreds of millions of deluded who believe that it is a historic figure. This god has a real masochistic streak and has himself nailed to a cross, pretends to die, then comes back again a few days later. Not even as interesting as the stories of Prometheus or of the Phoenix. Booo-ring! The apocrypha can be entertaining though, for example: Jesus walks up to a motel’s reception desk, puts a number of large nails on the desk and says “Hey, can you put me up for the night?”

    2. Mohammedanism: An actual historic criminal – murderer, rapist – you name it, named Mohammed claimed to be god’s messenger. Unfortunately people believed the lies.

    3. Judaism: A bunch of delusional sheep herders believe that they are the special pets of some god; somehow they managed to convince a lot of people to believe in that delusion so much so that many are willing to murder the Arabs that inhabit some areas because they believe that god promised them that land.

    4. Flying Spaghetti Monster: Anyone who blasphemes against him will be left alone; the FSM is surely the greatest of all gods and has no need to murder people simply because they disagree with him. In fact, he doesn’t care to punish anyone.

    1. “Cunting” seems insulting and extreme (especially to women). But totally stupid assholes with no common sense seems appropriate (if one needs a body part to make mockery of stupid laws). Just calling stupid, stupid, however, does the job, and demeans only those who are stupid, such as the drafters and supporters of this law. And any member of the Stephen Harper Party of Canada (same shite, different country).

      1. and I think we see the arguments let convince a people that such a law is a good thing. You know because there are other ways of saying stuff that is less offensive (to me).

  8. Sounds like the U.K. needs to revoke Irelands sovereignty. Counter evidence to progress much appreciated.

  9. This law is simply outrageous!

    They tried to create a new blasphemy law here in Norway about a year ago (we had a dorment one which they wanted to delete and insert an extra paragraph in the racism law in stead), but due to much public protest they threw away the whole thing. This resulted in (finally) a deletion of the old dorment blasphemy law, but no new one. Free speech won 🙂

  10. I checked to see how the Irish press would react to yesterdays implementation of the law and noticed only one piece, in the Irish Times, the most liberal of the Irish daily papers that mentioned it. As is to be expected, unfortunately, they were in favor of the overall law (the blasphemy section is only one small part of an overall law dealing with defamation and libel) although noting that the blasphemy section was a little controversial (not controversial enough, however, to be concerned about – who cares about free speech when compared with profit margins).

    1. I don’t know about Ireland, but in the Netherlands there would definitely be profit in being able to say nasty things about the Muslims. Just look at the popularity of people like Wilders.

  11. The day religion isn’t insulting is the day hell freezes over.

    In other news, which I seemed to miss, “In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.” [Atheist Ireland.]

    So UK and Norway goes this way, and Ireland that-away. I wish I could see that as a win, but I have to agree with Blackford that this is a loss for the separation between state and religion.

    The ruling Fianna Fail party is part of a coalition with the environmentalist ‘Green Party’ and it was the support of this supposedly leftist party that allowed the measure to be passed.

    Another successful test of the theory that ideologies like environmentalism and communism are political theologies, and the believers religionists. (o.O)

    It’s not what you think that matters, it’s what you do. Voting for fundamentalist ideologues instead of practicing politicians is to flirt with danger.

    [The irony that it is the practical results, such as making arguments and wining them to pass idiotic laws, which are defining and dangerous doesn’t elude me. What can I say, even main main stream theologians write potentially influential books. :-/]

  12. Somewhat tangential, but last night someone tried to murder the Danish cartoonist of Mohamed caricature fame with an axe. He hid in a safe room and the assailant was shot and wounded by police.

  13. Andrew Sullivan has posted a long quote from Spinoza on freedom of expression and religious liberty . Spinoza (and Sullivan, who is thinking of Iran today) refers to cases where the penalty for holding the wrong opinion was exile or death– a far cry from the Irish law, but motivated by the same sentiments Spinoza condemns. We can hope Russell Blackford is right about the Irish courts, but 100,000 euros is nothing to sneeze at. Money quote from Spinoza: “…the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.”

  14. I just can’t understand that law at all; if it were North Ireland I would imagine it would be to discourage the warring factions from taunting eachother into killing eachother, but what could be its purpose in the Irish Republic? “Because the constitution requires it” is very lame; as any lawyer or politician can tell you, unless the constitution also named a deadline, you can always say “the bill is coming; we have every intention of making such a law some time in the future”. Perhaps the original intention (back in 1937) was to prevent religious factions from aggravating eachother. That is usually covered by laws against inciting violence though. Another possibility is that some law makers are playing silly games to push for revising the constitution. Who knows – but it’s hard to believe the Irish will let this stand – on the other hand they may leave it there and simply ignore it.

  15. I am no lawyer, but this law is poorly worded. What constitutes “outrage” and “intention”? It seems like this law will be used to punish ANY anti-religious publications, whether they are politely worded or not.

  16. What I cannot believe is that the green party helped to get this legislation through! Even if it is just political expediency the mind boggles.

  17. What I’m looking forward to is when an adherent of one religion sues the adherents of another religion for blasphemy. After all, Christian religious practices are blasphemy to a Muslim. Might almost be worth making some complaints to the Garda on behalf of some major local religions, eh?

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