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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.