Ireland to Vote on Repealing Blasphemy Law

The nation of Ireland is going to hold a public referendum on whether to repeal their blasphemy law, which dates back centuries. In fact, no one has been convicted under it in more than 150 years. The problem is that they may just end up taking a giant step sideways:

Junior Minister Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin told the Dáil: “The Government accepts the main recommendation of the [Constitutional Convention], which is that a referendum should be held on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution.”

The law defines blasphemy as publishing or saying something “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.”…

The Labour TD said it hadn’t been decided yet whether the constitutional amendment would simply remove the crime of blasphemy, or replace it with a ban on incitement to religious hatred.

It’s equally unclear whether the ban on blasphemy (as found in the Defamation Act) would remain law, or be replaced by an offence of incitement to religious hatred.

That would be a distinction without a difference. A ban on “incitement to religious hatred” is, in fact, a blasphemy law.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • D. C. Sessions

    Yes, Ed, but words matter. “Blasphemy” is out of fashion — it’s associated with Middle Eastern countries that are much less civilized that Ireland. On the other hand, “religious hatred” is too, so changing “blasphemy” to “incitement of relgious hatred” is a double rejection of Middle Eastern barbarity.

    As long as nobody gets prosecuted, anyway.

  • vmanis1

    I don’t share the majority view on here that `incitement to [religious] hatred’ laws are always bad. A carefully-worded law that clearly defines the crime as requiring a call to action, e.g., `the practitioners of religion X hate God and would cheerfully see you murdered, what are you going to do about it?’. Such a law can serve to protect not only adherents to X, but also anyone else swept up in the turmoil that would ensue should the adherents of religion Y heed the call. A well-written law focuses not on the speech itself, but the encouragement to commit a crime, and is entirely consistent with existing laws against advising or encouraging people to commit crimes.

    By contrast, blasphemy is a pure act of speech. The revolting Mary Whitehouse, who also conducted campaigns against Doctor Who, won a private blasphemy prosecution against the editor of the British publication Gay News for publishing a poem in which Jesus is claimed to have had sex with all sorts of people, including Pontius Pilate. (That conviction has never been overturned.)

    If I say `religion A’s God is a false god, and you should therefore join religion B’, the A’s might find that blasphemous, but it’s hardly an incitement to hatred. So the abolition of a blasphemy law, and its replacement with a carefully-worded incitement-to-hatred law could be a significant step forward, rather than sideways.

  • eric

    That would be a distinction without a difference. A ban on “incitement to religious hatred” is, in fact, a blasphemy law.

    I disagree, I think the replacement version is even worse than the original, even more restrictive of speech that ought to be free. Under the original, “Jesus is a punk” would be punishable but “I hate Christian theology and you should too” is not. Under the new law, they are both punishable.

  • http://www.clanfield.net janiceintoronto

    And pixies. No blasphemy for pixies either.

    Won’t someone think of the pixies?

  • abb3w

    Insofar as “religious hatred” is broad enough to be a crime of thought rather than of action, that remains a problem. However, I think “incitement” might be a narrow step forward — if it could be kept limited to the sense of advocacy of criminal action. If the law managed to make a distinction between hatred and contempt, that might also count as incremental (if incomplete) progress.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Ireland: the country that perfected religious terrorism. What could go wrong?

  • busterggi

    Sure and begorrah…wait, did I just blaspheme? The limits of blasphemy are awfully vague almost subjective.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @vmanis1

    I regularly say that the Roman Catholic Church is an international child rape organization. I regularly incite hatred and loathing of Catholics. It is despicable to give money to the Roman Catholic Church. I promote hatred of Catholics in this sense to change the culture and to destroy the Roman Catholic Church. This is how you change public policy. You identify something wrong with the status quo, perform persuasion to make people not like it e.g. hate it, and then it gets changed. “Promoting hatred” vs “promoting dislike” is a distinction without a meaningful legal difference.

    We have every right to promote hatred against religious groups and other groups. In fact, I say it’s a moral duty to promote hatred of religious groups and other groups, such as Nazis, US Republicans, and so forth. All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. All it takes for good people to do nothing is apathy. Promoting dislike, or “hatred”, is a great way to overcome apathy.

    @abb3w

    Why not just use the simple incitement laws? There’s no need of a special “religious incitement” law.

    PS: The best speech on this matter. Required watching for everyone.

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

  • steve84

    As long as “incitement to religious hatred” mean religious people doing the hating…

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    I also agree that “incitement to religious hatred” is not the same as a blasphemy law.

    Firstly, blasphemy laws are intended to defend only the prevailing national religion — in Ireland’s case, Catholicism. Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons need not apply.

    Secondly the standard for blasphemy is set by the religious authorities — i.e. bishops and popes. A law against “incitement to religious hatred” will see the standard set by the civil authorities, which is a big step in the right direction in itself.

    There’s a similar law in the UK, and while it clearly doesn’t stand up to the US Constitutional standard of freedom of speech, the British public and press have been very quick to condemn overzealous prosecution, typically resulting in a speedy reversal by the authorities.

    To be honest, when you compare how much freedom Bristish/Irish people have with Americans, overall, I would say the Brits and Irish are nosing ahead, even without a written Constitution enshrining the principles. Much of that, of course, is to do with the overbearing American criminal justice system. Not much point in having freedom of speech when your languishing in jail.

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    Secondly the standard for blasphemy is set by the religious authorities — i.e. bishops and popes. A law against “incitement to religious hatred” will see the standard set by the civil authorities, which is a big step in the right direction in itself.

    I should have added that civil authorities in democratic nations are typically far more responsive to the public desire for freedom of speech and thought than the religious authorities. Fixing speech laws is far easier when the Catholic Church is not involved.

  • abb3w

    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Why not just use the simple incitement laws? There’s no need of a special “religious incitement” law.

    That would be preferable, in some sense. However, Ireland’s history leaves sectarian violence a particularly pernicious and endemic danger; and this greater likelihood of the hazard may justify enhanced punishments, to induce in the citizens a greater caution. Thus, much as in the US where racial motives can result in a stronger charge than the predicate offense would ordinarily trigger, religious motives might have similar impact in Ireland. (There’s even a north-versus-south parallel….)

    Additionally, I’m considering more from a standpoint of what can be more practical to accomplish politically, rather than what would be more ideal.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @abb3w

    I don’t know what my position is on that. I do know that at best, it should be a temporary measure which, when the situation improves, should be removed.

  • abb3w

    @13, EnlightenmentLiberal:

    I don’t know what my position is on that. I do know that at best, it should be a temporary measure which, when the situation improves, should be removed.

    Oh, sure; but separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters may be more easily achieved incrementally. It might even be possible to make it auto-reducing down asymptotically, by making the enhancement a function increasing with of the number of other such incidents in the country that happened before the crime within a timespan equal to the sentence on the predicate offense; say, increasing the sentence and probation period by 1% for each such incident.

    However, I doubt that a legislative body could wrap their widdle brains around such a complex idea, especially since it looks like at the start, most would be thinking a religious incitement law might function similarly to an anti-blasphemy law for keeping their own sacred cows from being gored.

    Boiling frogs is trickier than it looks, in politics.