A Brief Summary of the Ireland Blasphemy Law

I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the Irish Blasphemy Law saga, but I haven’t. And there’s a lot of info out there.

This post is more for me, just to gather everything that’s been happening in one place.

Background: Back in April, Article 40 of the Irish Constitution said that “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

But that was very vague. (What constitutes “blasphemy”?)

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern decided to correct this vagueness:

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “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.”

After outrage from more sensible people than he, Ahern decided to amend his own proposed Blasphemy Law.

The €100,000 fine remained intact, but check out #3 in the revised law below:

  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.
  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.

So if you could prove that your blasphemy has artistic merit, you’re off the hook. It sounds even vaguer than before… what type of blasphemy would not be allowed? Who knows.

Last week, creators of a TV show called Father Ted decided that if the law passed, they would issue a statement “blaspheming all the major religions in Ireland, including Christianity and Islam.” It would be a pointed challenge to the law.

Today, the Blasphemy Law passed in the Dáil (the Irish version of the House of Representatives). The penalty was also reduced to €25,000. Only an hour was allotted to debate the blasphemy portion of the libel laws.

Tomorrow, it will be put to vote in the Seanad (the Irish version of the Senate). If it passes there, the President can sign it into law.

I don’t have to explain why this is dangerous precedent. Everyone who calls out religion for being superstitious at best and dangerous at worst is liable to be sued. Any litigious, religious people could cite just about anything as being offensive to them.

Hopefully, the Seanad consists of more sensible minds.

More information on all of this can be found at blasphemy.ie.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Blasphemy laws are inherently blasphemous to my beliefs. Can I take the Irish government to court?

  • Brad

    For once I agree with you!… I am a Christian and I find this law a worry! Publishing the Bible would potentially be blasphemous to a Muslim and vice-verca…. this is just crazy stuff…

  • David D.G.

    DEMOCRACY: Sure an’ you’re doin’ it wrong, me boyo.

    ~David D.G.

    (Edit to add: Obviously, I mean that to apply if this measure gets passed into law. Until then, it seems as if the proper process to address it is being followed correctly — just entirely in the wrong direction.)

  • http://www.freewebs.com/guitarsean Sean

    This is insane. As bad as English libel laws, there is a large burden on the defendant. How are they going to define a religion? Maybe I’ll move to Ireland and establish a religion that finds the bible offensive.

  • trixr4kids

    “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.”

    Somebody must’ve pointed out that they’d of had to charge James Joyce with blasphemy otherwise.

    (That is, if he’d stayed in Ireland. Which he didn’t; in part because of the sort of thinking that inspired this proposed law.)

  • Alan E.

    Couldn’t atheists make the same claim about hateful statements regarding atheists’ beliefs, or the lack thereof? What if atheists decided to become their own religion in Ireland? That would be a loophole in that law then. What about blaspheming against Allah? Technically, he’s the same made-up guy, just different personalities.

  • Valentin

    Ireland is a member of the Council of Europe. It means that people can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Though, there are restriction to freedom of speech, article 10, paragraph 2 says: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.” But blasphemy hardly fits in it.

  • Alan E.

    Also, couldn’t every Catholic that says something bad about a Protestant, and vice versa, be convicted under this law? Should put thought police in every bar.

  • ckitching

    What kind of blasphemy wouldn’t have artistic merit? Reformist blasphemy. Blasphemy laws have always been used to squash reformists and those who would challenge church doctrine. I would worry less about interfaith blasphemy than the intrafaith version. How many moderate positions of each faith are considered blasphemy to extremist fundamentalists?

  • Reginald Selkirk
  • http://noadi.blogspot.com Noadi

    I almost want to see this pass just to see what the makers of Father Ted would issue as their statement. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll release it even if it fails.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Ireland is starting to sound like Saudi Arabia. I might have to cross that off my list of future vacation destinations.

  • ethanol

    This sounds like a job for:
    THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER!!!

    Simple; you make it clear to that pastafarians will be deeply offended by anyone not wearing a pirate outfit on dress like a pirate day. And when a certain justice minister does not comply, despite his clear knowledge of pastafarian’s feelings on this matter…

  • WCLPeter

    Think logically for a second…

    Most laws are enforced selectively so I doubt anyone is going to get sued for saying, “Religion Sucks!” or “Jesus Blows Monkey Balls!”.

    I think what is happening here is a way for the various religious institutions in Ireland, currently going through a number of scandalous child-abuse scandals, to stifle all debate. If you try to call them on their deplorable actions, they’ll find some way to say that you’re blaspheming them and have *you* charged instead.

    Since you’ve been charged *you* are now the bad guy for attacking and blaspheming their beliefs, because it should be obvious to everyone that even daring to say anything bad about a priest or nun is tantamount to attacking the religion itself, they can play the “poor embattled church under constant harassment by militant liberals” angle. Was that sarcasm, or the way the world should be according to religious people? I’ll let you decide.

    Although I think its a sad day when the Irish government has taken a page from the utterly oppressive Shariah Law handbook by playing along with this foolishness.

  • kalkin

    Yeah, definitely right, Valentin, there’s no way this law is enforceable because of that. I’d go further and say that Ireland could be in serious trouble with the EU, as they’re a signatory to the European Human Rights dealio and bound by that to protect freedom of speech…

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I personally think this would be a great law to pass. Mainly because there would be such an uproar. I doubt the law would last long and its very public death would be a good warning to other western democracies against pursuing such silliness.

    I do think that if it passes the pastafarians, the Jedis, the satanists, the wiccans and all the other tiny joke or fringe religions should just make as much of a nuisance of themselves as possible.

    Certainly the pastafarians could have much fun sueing various ministers for blasphemy against the FSM.

    And good on the writer of Father Ted. It was always an excellent show and its nice to see they still have the mojo to say the right things.

  • R9

    Last week, creators of a TV show called Father Ted decided that if the law passed, they would issue a statement “blaspheming all the major religions in Ireland, including Christianity and Islam.”

    “down with this sort of thing”
    “careful now!”

  • Toejam

    Hopefully, the Seanad consists of more sensible minds.”

    With all due respect Mr Mehta,

    You must be joking.

    Common sense in Ireland is about as common as Oxygen on the moon.

    The Irish are splended at making laws…

    But enforcing and obeying them is another story.

    I’ll tell you why the Irish Politicians are pressing a blasphemy law.

    They are afraid of someone offending the 30,000 and rapidly growing population of Muslims and thus giving life to another Danish cartoon style Jihadist temper tantrum.

    It’s that plain and simple. The Irish could give two hoots about someone disrespecting Hindus, Buddhists, Protestants or even Catholics.

    As far as the Jewish faith goes, the Irish populace encourages anti-semitism, and the government passively looks the other way when numerous Palestinians hold regular anti-Israeli demonstrations.

    After this “so-called” law is passed wait and see if my predictions come to fruition.

  • Christophe Thill

    So I suppose it will be now forbidden to advertise pork in Ireland ?
    Oh, and beef too, I guess.

    By the way, some religions are offended if yoy say that Jesus was not the son of God. Some others are offended if you say he was. So what should be done, then? Not say anything at all? But what if the ordinary worship of the believers of religion #1 offend religion #2, then ?

    All we need is a handful of nice and clever believers, people who understand the importance of a secular state, to test this in court.

  • Randy

    So, things are going so well in Ireland that the government, finding nothing productive to do, is spending its time violating the free speech rights of its citizens? Sounds like it’s time for a reduction in government.

  • Pingback: Free Speech Watch: Gagging in Ireland but blaspheming in Canada | The Atheist Mind

  • Cornelia Campbell

    Atheists cannot commit blasphemy. To be blasphemy, it requires belief in the validity of the concept, and as atheists know that religion is only superstition that happens between the ears of a believer and does not have external reality, they also know that blasphemy is imaginary.

  • d butts

    amazing. instead of evolving into a more intelligent race, we are heading back to the dark ages. whats next? no speeding tickets for priests and sure open up the boys boarding houses again, ahh the good old days. jesus f@#king christ. i know, take me to court. this church have always tried to keep there members quiet and under spoken, cause that makes a bloody good follower eh. this government offends me greatly with this bill. 1 step foward 3 steps back..well done.


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