Ireland Outlaws Blasphemous Libel

From ScienceBlogs’ Ed Brayton. The law states, in part:

36. Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.

(1) 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. [Amended to €25,000]

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters 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 (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

Update: Atheist Ireland is organizing a campaign to repeal the law.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Dan Fincke

    Thanks for the post, Dave. This is terrifying. Especially the need to give a “socially redeeming” defense of your “blasphemous libel” (which is frighteningly vaguely defined).

    Can we have a law that religious people cannot say anything offensive to reason unless THEY can demonstrate a “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.”

    Reminds me of the issues outlined in this post http://http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/02/17/apostasy-as-a-religious-act-or-when-a-camel-picks-up-a-hammer/2009/06/30/free-speech-is-sacred/ which everyone should read (and the videos of which everyone should watch) if they have not yet.

  • Dave Smith

    Firghteningly vague indeed. You’d need a pretty narrow definition of blasphemy in order to avoid having religions themselves regarded as blasphemous for what their doctrines and scriptures say about other faiths. From wikipedia:

    When used generally in statutes or at common law, blasphemy is the use of irreverent words or signs in reference to the Supreme Being in such a way as to produce scandal or provoke violence. (emphesis mine)

    But if you’re going to define it that narrowly, then I don’t see why general libel and defamation laws shouldn’t suffice. There’s no need to single out religion for special protection.


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