Ireland May Take Giant Step Sideways on Blasphemy

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that a constitutional convention in Ireland is recommending that the nation’s blasphemy laws be repealed; the bad news is that they want to replace them with a law prohibiting the “incitement of religious hatred.”

The constitutional offence of blasphemy should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred, the constitutional convention has recommended.

Voting today on whether the reference to the offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution, 38 per cent said Yes, 61 per cent said No and 1 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

In a follow-up question, 38 per cent of members believed the offence should be removed from the Constitution altogether, 53 per cent said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred and 9 per cent had no opinion.

But we know from experience all over the world that laws that forbid “incitement to religious hatred” are, in fact, de facto blasphemy laws that are enforced against criticism of religious beliefs or offending religious sensibilities. Ireland is the only Western nation to pass a new blasphemy law in this century. It should be repealed. And not replaced at all.

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  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Yeah, this is basically a bunch of reactionaries manipulating their opposition into doing the exact opposite of what they want to do. There’s a movement to change the constitution, so the reactionaries support it and use it as an opportunity to slip THEIR agenda into it. I really hope the people catch on, but given the current climate of hard times and irrational extremism, my hopes aren’t exactly high.

  • Pen

    But we know from experience all over the world that laws that forbid “incitement to religious hatred” are, in fact, de facto blasphemy laws

    I disagree with you that this is the case in principle or in fact, at least as far as the western world is concerned. On the other hand, incitement to religious hatred has caused real harm throughout the world, in Ireland not the least.

  • Olav

    In my view (but I don’t share all of Ed’s sensitivities on this) a “new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred” would not necessarily be a bad thing. It depends on how it is worded, and whether it also includes inciting hatred on other than religious grounds. Like race, gender, sexual orientation and such. Also, it should of course leave enough room for legitimate and passionate disagreement and debate.

    “Catholics are all stupid” should certainly be allowed. “Catholics are all vile subhuman scum” – I don’t think it unreasonable to be able to do something against such hateful speech.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    …incitement to religious hatred has caused real harm throughout the world, in Ireland not the least.

    I totally agree, but this proposed law is NOT a solution. In fact, it could easily make the hatred WORSE, by giving the haters an opportunity to blame others for making them so hateful. Sort of like how “stand your ground” laws reinforce bigotry and insanity by giving the most bigoted and insane people a free pass to kill whoever they hate.

    (Also, isn’t incitement to riot already illegal in Ireland? How about defamation, slander and libel? Prosecute all four of those offenses, without stifling free speech, and that’s probably the best remedy for religious hatred that can come from a government.)

  • Pen

    Wikipedia says thee following, which is in line of with other hate speech laws throughout the west.

    The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, proscribes words or behaviours which are “threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred” against “a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.

    Unless that was repealed at some point, it sounds like the proposed new provision may be superfluous.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    “Catholics are all stupid” should certainly be allowed.

    Actually, I think that blundering over-generalization kinda falls into a grey area. At the very least, it’s something a critic of Catholic Church or doctrines should avoid saying, because it would flush their credibility down the toilet.

  • throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble

    Ah, good, incitement to religious hatred… that’s like when the pastor whips the flock up into a frenzy over some verse in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, right? I kid, of course it doesn’t mean that. It means that anyone who says that some Christians are bigoted for picking and choosing which verses are important in order to to deny civil rights, that is the REAL bigotry here. Just like reverse racism and reverse sexism are actual things.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I think this could potentially be better than the current situation. It could be illegal to say “All Catholics should die” without great harm to freedom. On the other hand, statements “Catholics are all complicit in child-rape” are perfectly defensible as fact as would likely fall under such a law.

  • Pen

    @4 Raging Bee.

    Sorry, Bee, but your argument is just…. ? Stand your ground laws which legitimate the use of a physical weapon are equivalent to forbidding a verbal one? What’s that supposed to mean?

    And why are you ok with the government stifling free speech when it’s lies and threats that may be harmful to individuals but not if they’re harmful to groups? You know that in every single act of resulting violence, every withdrawal from public life or moment of fear or insecurity, the victim is an individual, right?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Pen: read the example in throwaway’s comment #7. There’s very little chance a law like this could ever be enforced as fairly and consistently as it would have to be to avoid doing more harm than good. Also, did you miss the bit where I talked about four other offenses that could be prosecuted? There are other remedies that can be, and quite probably are, in use already. Like, for starters, the legal text you yourself quoted @5, which uses more specific terms, and isn’t confined to “religious” feelings.

    And why are you ok with the government stifling free speech when it’s lies and threats that may be harmful to individuals but not if they’re harmful to groups?

    Where did I ever say anything like that?

  • mudpuddles

    Unfortunately, this Constitutional Convention was a joke – too many members, with membership and terms of reference overly influenced by conservative political parties. I would argue that any group of people asked to review the Constitution of a country should predominantly include people familiar with constitutional law and human rights law, and experts in cultural, social and environmental issues related to national social and economic interests. Instead, conservative goons with a warped desire for “balance” resulted in a hodge-podge of the uninformed, with people who are utterly unsuited for the task of recommending changes to the foundation of Ireland’s legislative framework.

    But that’s Ireland – why do something right, when you’ve been doing everything else half-assed for decades? To use a local phrase, we are a nation of “fuckin eejits”.

  • rory

    @3 Olav,

    I can’t really agree with your two statements being appreciably different in terms of how ‘inciting’ they are. One certainly carries a bit more vitriol than the other, but both paint Catholics with an extremely broad brush in a way that some might find hurtful and which doesn’t carry any supporting or qualifying information. As Raging Bee put it in 6, it’s not a particularly useful statement for a critic of the church to make, but in my view neither should be suppressed by the government.

  • sqlrob

    @AceofSevens,8

    What about “Unbelievers are going to hell”? Or “Apostates should be killed”? Are those not religious hatred?

  • frankb

    The Amish don’t bring their religious beliefs into the marketplace of ideas. But bishops and imams often do. Blasphemy laws give these people a privileged place to advocate their ideas. When the powerful in Ireland wring their hands over religious hatred, watch out for your freedom of speech.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I’ve never heard it, but I’m guessing blasphemy with the Irish lilt is *adorable*.

  • Pen

    @ Raging Bee #10

    And why are you ok with the government stifling free speech when it’s lies and threats that may be harmful to individuals but not if they’re harmful to groups?

    Where did I ever say anything like that?

    That’s what libel and slander laws are all about in my book. So that also answers the question about the four laws you mentioned to control unacceptable speech. I see hate speech as being essentially the same as libel and slander. As for you mention of offending ‘feelings’ there was no mention of such in Ed’s post. If you’re OK with the legal text I quoted then I think we’re basically in agreement.

    As for #7, it’s absolutely correct that the Bible is rife with hate speech of a kind that is utterly unacceptable under hate speech laws. It contains incitement to genocide, criminal violence, hatred against groups of people still present today. The question is, do European clergy rile up their congregations using these passages? If they did, I would be delighted to see them prosecuted under hate speech laws. But it seems to be more of a thing that happens in the US. The social and moral unacceptability of much that is written in the Bible is rarely questioned in Europe.

  • laurentweppe

    France has laws that punish “incitement to racial hatred”, which can be invoked when some racist douche is indulging into cultural and ethnic determinism under the pretense of criticising a religion, and in practice, it has so far translated in nothng more than fascist and sometimes right-wing politicians gatting a slap on the wrist and a bruised ego. I seriously doubt that worse will come from Ireland.

  • Olav

    Rory #12:

    @3 Olav,

    I can’t really agree with your two statements being appreciably different in terms of how ‘inciting’ they are. One certainly carries a bit more vitriol than the other, but both paint Catholics with an extremely broad brush in a way that some might find hurtful and which doesn’t carry any supporting or qualifying information. As Raging Bee put it in 6, it’s not a particularly useful statement for a critic of the church to make, but in my view neither should be suppressed by the government.

    Rory, I certainly intended both of two examples in my #3 to be “in the grey zone”. And you are right, neither are examples of a good argument to make against Catholics (or any other religious group). The difference that I see between them is this: the latter statement dehumanises the target explicitly and is therefore, a step up in the “Seven (or Eight) Stages to Genocide”. You can look those up.

    I agree that neither should be actively suppressed by society, the best course of action against someone saying such dumb things is to walk past them and not listen. However it does change when you have e.g. a radio station, newspaper or website that devotes itself to sending such hatred into the world on a regular basis and with a large enough volume to have an effect. Such propagandists may even be clever enough not to encourage violence directly, but they are certainly creating the climate for it. For such (and comparable) cases, I believe it is necessary to have the legal instruments to shut them up as ultimum remedium.

    Simply put, I believe that for the protection of free speech it is necessary to monitor hate speech and to be able to act against it. Keep it on a short lead.

  • uzza

    Apparently secular hatred is a-OK?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I see hate speech as being essentially the same as libel and slander.

    In general, so do I. The biggest difference is the difficulty of proving slander/libel when it’s directed against whole groups rather than individuals. The legal standard for proving slander/libel includes actual harm done by a particular action/statement to particular individuals; and that’s not really how hate speech harms whole groups.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    So would it be illegal to say that butchering young girls’ genitals is a barbaric religious tradition because it offends Muslim genital butchers?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Let’s look at the above example of a “hate speech law” (emphasis added):

    The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, proscribes words or behaviours which are “threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred” against “a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.

    See, I have a problem with this. If I’m not being insulting when I attack religious beliefs, then I’m not doing my job properly. If I don’t incite (more) hatred against religious beliefs, then I’m not doing my job properly. It is my goal to made religious beliefs in general hated and loathed, and especially the religious beliefs of christians, jews, and muslims. I want nothing less than hatred for the idea that you are born sick, and the only way you can be happy is to sell yourself as a slave to an eternal celestial tyrant. It is right for evil ideas such as these to be hated and reviled.

    In short, laws like these are entirely bullshit.

    Furthermore, watch this video. It’s my favorite from Christopher Hitchens.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyoOfRog1EM

    There’s a lot more to the video, but let me paraphrase the end: What of the fags you say, and the jews? They cannot protect themselves, and that’s why they need laws like this. However, I am firmly convinced that the main source of hatred in this world is organized religion. Once you realize that the main source of hatred in this world is organized religion, and the main beneficiaries of laws like this are organized religion, then you will realize that you have been faced with a gigantic false antithesis.

    In short, if you want to protect the main source of hatred in this world, then pass a law protecting organized religions from being insulted – insulted for god’s sake – and laws against inciting hatred against organized religion.

    Ridiculous ideas are worthy of ridicule. Idiotic ideas are worthy of being insulted. Evil ideas are worthy of hatred. Laws that merely “protect people’s feelings” are AFAIK without exception completely idiotic and counterproductive.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Olav

    “Catholics are all stupid” should certainly be allowed. “Catholics are all vile subhuman scum” – I don’t think it unreasonable to be able to do something against such hateful speech.

    Could you walk me through this? So, “stupid” is ok, but “vile subhuman scum” is not. Where’s the line here? Can I call them “vile”? Can I call them “subhuman”? Can I call them “scum”? Is it any of the particular words? Is it some combination of the words that puts it over the line? Does the context matter? Can I say it in a serious tone in a private home to a bunch of atheist friends? As in does the target audience matter?

    What about “really stupid”? “Fucking stupid”? “Really fucking stupid”? Maybe more offensive terms like “retarded”, or “moronic”, or “special needs”? (PS: Can someone keep me up to date as well on what is the current politically correct term because the euphemism treadmill is moving pretty quickly?)

    tl;dr your position is idiotic, and it would take you 5 seconds to realize this if you bothered.

    Take 5 seconds – just 5 seconds – to think about how you would write the law, and how you would enforce it, and how the average idiot on a jury is going to be the one deciding whether it’s “too offensive” or whatever the hell your standard is. Imagine all of the christian fundies or whatever flavor of fundie is your favorite sitting on a jury deciding if what you say is insulting, or offensive, or whatever.

    Fuck.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Pen

    I see hate speech as being essentially the same as libel and slander.

    @Raging Bee

    […] In general, so do I.

    I don’t even… What?

    Truth is an absolute defense in defamation cases. Or at least it is in the US, and the rest of the world should be more like the US in this regard. Thus, defamation is all about spreading falsehoods (or having a reckless disregard for the truth), and the harm caused by that spreading those falsehoods. Hate speech laws are about saying hateful things, or about inciting hatred. In the US, these things have nothing to do with each other. The crucial and fundamental distinction is that libel and slander very much allow inciting hatred as long as it’s based on the truth, whereas these hate speech laws make no matter as to whether the hatred is justified.

    I very much want to reserve my right to incite hatred with the truth. It is right to incite hatred against child rapists. It is especially right to promote hatred against organizations which systematically as a matter of official internal policy protect child rapists.

    “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”

  • Olav

    “EnlightenmentLiberal” #24:

    I very much want to reserve my right to incite hatred with the truth.

    I am not sure quite how this represents an enlightened, liberal view.

    It is right to incite hatred against child rapists.

    No, absolutely not. And it would take you 5 seconds to realise this if you bothered.

    Or perhaps 5 minutes, since you appear to be somewhat slow.

    In an enlightened, liberal system of law everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial, is protected from mob “justice”, cannot be punished in excess of what the law allows, et cetera. There is no place at all for hatred in such a value system.

    Are you saying that Catholics are all child rapists who deserve to be hated? If you do that repeatedly, in public, until it starts having an effect, I think that yes, a law against incitement of hatred such as we are discussing now, could be useful to put you on notice. But I expanded on that in #18 already.

    To end on a personal note I would implore you to remember the old Chinese saying, Yuck Fou.

    Have a nice day.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Olav

    You didn’t answer any of my hard questions. You didn’t answer how you would phrase the law to prevent it from being used by organized religions to crush blasphemy, dissent, etc. You didn’t mention the wording of the law, jury instructions, and so on.

    As to the main point – either we’re going to be moral nihilists, or we’re not. If we’re not going to be moral nihilists, then we need to be intolerant of certain behaviors and beliefs. And at this point, the difference between “intolerance” and “hatred” is mere semantics – not worthy of a real discussion. What’s the difference between mere dislike, intolerance, disapproval, and hatred? Not much. If you outlaw one, you are in effect outlawing the rest. What is mere intolerance to one person is hatred to another.

    You confuse inciting hatred against all roman catholics, and inciting hatred against roman catholic belief. I was more than clear that I want to incite hatred against roman catholic beliefs and the roman catholic church, but I do not want to incite hatred against all roman catholics per se.

    “Are you saying that Catholics are all child rapists who deserve to be hated?”

    And frankly, yes. It’s well established that ignorance is generally no excuse. Furthermore, you have to be willingly ignorant at this point to not know about the child abuse scandals. Anyone who is a catholic is either willingly ignorant and thus willingly complicit, or knows about the organized child rape racket that is the roman catholic church. Because people cannot read, let me emphasize this: I am not pissed because children were raped. I am pissed because the official church policy for at least a couple decades was the systematic protection of child rapists and moving child rapists to new locations allowing them to rape again. If this happened in any organization that wasn’t a powerful religious entity, the people in the organization directly responsible would be rotting in jail right now, and people would be fleeing the organization in droves for this grossly vile behavior. There is no excuse to be a member of the roman catholic church.

    And fuck you too for destroying western democracy.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Let’s imagine one of my fantasy ideal outcomes. I start a grass roots campaign which catches on, and over 50% of the American public are with me. This is the plan. When you meet someone and you learn that they’re a roman catholic, and on every meeting thereafter, you greet them as “You miserable excuse of a human being”. You then offer to explain what is so despicable about their theology, and their despicable church policy. Finally, you should explain the following Voltaire quote (not an actual quote, but an accurate summary): “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”. Be sure to emphasize the Voltaire quote. Finally, where possible, people should shun any roman catholic.

    I would definitely say that I am fomenting intolerance and discrimination. Is this inciting hatred? What’s the difference? Short of calling for the outright legal discrimination against roman catholics, this seems to be about as extreme as you can get. I would argue that a great many people sitting on a jury would call this inciting hatred of religion or whatever phrasing you want to use, but this is exactly what needs to be done. (Ok, we can talk about effective strategies to get to that point. That’s endgame. Perhaps the middle game will look different.) In my endgame, I want the same disgust, intolerance, and hate for roman catholicism as there is for ancient Mayan ritual child sacrifice religions.