Irish Blasphemy Law Passes July 10, 2009

Irish Blasphemy Law Passes

Well, shit.

Ireland passed the blasphemy law.

What does this mean for Irish citizens? It means you can be convicted for trashing someone’s beliefs if you cause “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” (Again, what is a “substantial number”? Who knows.)

Paliban Daily offers up some frightening consequences, given that “blasphemy” isn’t very well-defined:

  • Atheists can be prosecuted for saying that God is imaginary. That causes outrage.
  • Pagans can be prosecuted for saying they left Christianity because God is violent and bloodthirsty, promotes genocide, and permits slavery.
  • Christians can be prosecuted for saying that Allah is a moon god, or for drawing a picture of Mohammed, or for saying that Islam is a violent religion which breeds terrorists.
  • Jews can be prosecuted for saying Jesus isn’t the Messiah.

Those aren’t all accurate… for example, Jews can say Jesus isn’t the Messiah because their religious beliefs are protected under the law. But I suspect if they went around saying as much, holding posters that said he wasn’t the Messiah in a dickish sort of way, and made a “substantial number” of Christians angry, then we’d have problems.

We’re also told that academic and theological debate isn’t subject to the rules. But again, it’s tough to say what constitutes those kinds of debates. Can bloggers tear apart religious arguments and those who make them if they’re not professors? Can Irish people call certain Catholic priests rapists and attribute it to their faith and just say it’s part of theological debate? Can we call out certain adherents of a fundamentalist version of Islam as terrorists if that is warranted? Either everything in these categories is blasphemy or nothing is.

The law also allows for “Seizure of copies of blasphemous statements” (Provided you have been convicted of blasphemy already and the police have a warrant.)

Again, what does that mean for Irish citizens?

Ireland’s Blasphemy Bill not only criminalizes free speech, it also gives the police the authority to confiscate anything deemed “blasphemous”. They may enter and search any premises, with force if needed, upon “reasonable suspicion” that such materials are present.

So if you’ve already been convicted of blasphemy, you better hold on tight to that copy of God is Not Great

At least we can be sure that this law will be tested repeatedly by any fierce advocate of free speech. My hope is that in the process, we hear even more “blasphemy” than usual challenging this bill, leading to an eventual repeal of the law altogether.

(Thanks to Tydal for the link!)

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  • First Texas and now this? Who ordered double on the stupid?

  • TheLoneIguana

    Atheists need to sue right back. Most of the religious beliefs certainly qualify as outrageous and offensive.

  • Erp

    My guess is this will get challenged pretty quickly.

    The Irish Catholic church has had quite a few recent problems with the Ryan Report on abuse coming out recently and another report also on abuse in a different section of the church due shortly.

  • Rieux

    Those aren’t all accurate… for example, Jews can say Jesus isn’t the Messiah because their religious beliefs are protected under the law.

    They are? Where is that written?

    I don’t see that “protection” anywhere in Article 40, as you quoted it previously.

    As written, any statement

    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

    is actionable blasphemy. Then there’s an exception for statements that

    a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates

    …but nothing there about “religious value.”

    I see no reason why this law self-evidently wouldn’t apply to a statement like “I’m a Jew [or a Muslim], so I believe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.”

    Is that statement “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”? From a Christian zealot’s perspective, sure, why not?
    Is it intentional? No less so than The God Delusion is: both the observant Jew and the outspoken atheist are simply stating their respective perspectives on Jesus and God.
    Is there “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” in the observant Jew’s statement? Again, it’s hard to see why it has more value in any of those respects than Dawkins’ work does.

    So the “protection” could only come from an interpreter (a prosecutor or a judge) who decided to apply a blatant double standard and let religious people off the hook where (s)he wouldn’t absolve irreligious people for functionally identical impieties.

    Such a double standard isn’t at all implausible, but it also isn’t anywhere in the text of the law itself. (Nor, obviously, is it the slightest bit ethically justifiable.)

    There’s just nothing here to prevent an Irish legal authority from declaring that an ordinary religionist’s statement of disagreement with some other religion (inevitably Christianity) is blasphemy.

  • Richard Wade

    Looks like within 18 months, everyone in Ireland will be in jail. Everyone, including the the entire government. Even the jail guards will be in jail. Everyone will have found offense in something somebody else said, and, unable to pay the fines of hundreds or thousands of claims against them, everyone will be jailed. The judges sentencing the last ones will be doing that from inside jail. Of course, this will continue inside the giant, country-sized jail, and everyone will stay in jail forever.

    But I have a solution to prevent that: For a fee, I, an American citizen, living safely in the land of the (so far) free, will say, write and publish anything any Irish citizen wishes to say. They can trash talk anybody they want, but because I’m saying it for them, they’re not in trouble.

    Send your 100 words or less statement and twenty Euros (equivalent to about 28 U.S. Dollars) to: SpeakForMeRichard dot com. I will deliver the message to anyone you wish, via mail, email or recorded online video (ten Euros surcharge for video).

  • I think that it is important to note that Ireland has no constitutional separation between church and state. The Constitution of Ireland guarantees freedom of worship and forbids the state from creating an established church but does not keep the two apart. In fact they are very much linked. This means that there is no central body of law to fall back on in the event of an appeal against a breech of free speech.

    This in turn means that the appeal process would have to be passed to the European Court of Human Rights as a free speech issue. This is not an easy process in itself and the European Court may not wish to be seen to interfere in local issues.

  • Mikko

    i wonder if being an atheist would be seen as blasphemy

  • This will be interesting to watch… from afar.

    I wonder if it will affect their tourism?

    Do the laws only apply to Irish citizens or can a tourist be charged for wearing an atheist tee-shirt or something?

    Can we send Ireland Bill O’Reilly?

  • Can the atheists prosecute everyone who tries to claim there is a God? or does it only work one way?

  • He

    Shows how desperate these religious imbeciles really are. They know that they have no leg whatsoever to stand on and that there is no debate at all – they are full of it and that’s that.

    * Atheists can be prosecuted for saying that God is imaginary. That causes outrage.
    * Pagans can be prosecuted for saying they left Christianity because God is violent and bloodthirsty, promotes genocide, and permits slavery.
    * Christians can be prosecuted for saying that Allah is a moon god, or for drawing a picture of Mohammed, or for saying that Islam is a violent religion which breeds terrorists.
    * Jews can be prosecuted for saying Jesus isn’t the Messiah.

    The Bolded statements are all true, based on simple observations and common sense – something severely lacking in these primitive minds.

    When are these politicians gonna grow some balls and do some straight talking and put this insulting BS in its place and stop giving it a status in society that is does not deserve one little bit, and stop giving them everything they want out of fear of violence and stop letting them control the world?

    Maybe they will ban alcohol. Would that do it for them? Maybe their wives will be stoned or whipped for showing their faces in public, or their wives are raped and then punished for it. Would that wake them up?

    Probably not, since votes and the advancement of their own miserable careers are obviously more important than freedom.

  • Gabriel

    I hope that their tourist numbers fall of a cliff and as many multinationals as possible pull out of the country.

  • Skepticat

    My husband and I asked an Irish friend about this and she claimed not to know anything about it. When we supplied the facts, she replied in all caps, “THAT WAS YEARS AND YEARS AGO” then closed chat. She seemed to be angry.

    If this is the attitude of the Irish public, no wonder this law passed.

    What a sad day for liberty!

  • josh

    I find this law offensive. Hopefully a “substantial number” of Irish citizens will prosecute the Dail for offending them.

  • Ryan

    A €100,000 max per offense? Wow. Seems like a scam if you ask me. Does living count as blasphemy? Does converting count? Does talking count? Does being over 5 ft count? Does getting a haircut count? Does female teachers count?

    Remember when that Senator (or was it Rep.) from Washinton (the state. It may ahve been another state) tried to do the same damn thing? god, I’m Glad Americans have SOME intelligence (am I being to generous?) not to pass it, for now anyway.

    And for the first time in my life, I ACTUALLY agree with Fred Phelps. Ireland is indeed “doomed” The irony.

  • Bacopa

    Ireland, you just made The List. If I were president of the US I would announce that if US citizen were arrested under this law I wold regard it as a hostage crisis. Irish assets in the US would be siezed and they might find a carrier group in nearby international waters.

    Of course, if I had been president (or whatever they’ve got) of Denmark back during the cartoon crisis, I’d have put the cartoons on govt websites and sent a copy to every address in Denmark and begin a program to acquire a small nuke that could take out Mecca and threaten to use it if even one journalist was killed

    This is probably why I should not be president of anywhere.

  • valdemar

    One commenter on the Irish Times website made the valid point that the law should only apply if blasphemy can be shown to have harmed the deity in question.

    But seriously, isn’t this just another great scam for those loveable lawyers? Imagine the solemn foolery in court, month after month, with the various legal experts racking up huge fees. Meanwhile, of course, priests in Ireland will continue to get away with raping kids – but I suppose you can’t have everything in a decent Christian country.

  • geru^

    I hope this gets some massive challenge right of the bat, so that it would send a message to all western countries, that these kinds of laws won’t be tolerated anymore.

    How about getting a few people together to form a Church of Atheism (I know it’s a bad idea, but bare with me), and come next Sunday, the Church will raise blasphemy charges against every congregation in the country that holds a religious mass.

    Or whatever, I just hope people raise hell about this right away, to show how utterly incompatible these kinds of laws are with the idea of a democratic society.

  • I am Irish and yes, many of us here are confused, baffled and disappointed by the introduction of this law. It was implemented, according to the minister, as a kind of legal necessity to ensure that the laws are in accordance with the Irish Constitution.

    Nobody expects that this law will ever result in even one successful prosecution, because the Supreme Court previously ruled that it was impossible to define what blasphemy even means. So it’s junk law and deeply embarrassing for an already deeply unpopular government.

    One good thing from it. It will pace the way for blasphemy to be removed entirely from the Irish Constitution along with other references to religion that exist in the same document.

  • Theres another solution: Beat them with their own weapons.

    Try to get Atheism recognized officially as a religion (‘we don’t believe in anything than ourselves’) and let this law protect you as well. This way they will find it hard to adjudge Atheists for their statements.

  • Doug

    I would like to sue the government under this law that the existence of this law is an outrage to a signifigant number of atheists.

  • matt

    “Try to get Atheism recognized officially as a religion”

    any attempt to get atheism recognized as a religion in ireland could now be taken as blasphemous

  • matt

    “the law should only apply if blasphemy can be shown to have harmed the deity in question.” LOL

    a deity can not be harmed or insulted, if any deity could be harmed or insulted then such deity ceases to be a deity

  • matt

    charging a priest for child abuse and rape could be taken as blasphemous

    taking a priest to court could be taken as blasphemous

    this law more than likely was brought in with ulterior motives not disclosed to the people of ireland as of yet, my guess is that it was created to protect priests and the church from having to be brought to justice, i may be wrong , but who knows…

  • Maurice

    I for one won’t be visiting Ireland any longer.

  • Welcome to 500 years ago people of Ireland. You have some work to do in order to catch back up to the civilized world from which your government just removed you.

    You might begin by standing in a public square and reading the bible aloud. From the Old Testament. I mean the good bits, like where the Israelites are instructed to commit genocide and treat women in conquered territory as sex slaves.

    Surely it can’t be blasphemy to read the book that’s now been given special privileges. Right?

  • Anticontrame

    The most blasphemous and offensive act in all of FSMdom is the enactment or enforcement of blasphemy laws, right?

  • GribbletheMunchkin

    What a joke.

    Still, i predict not a single conviction from this law.

    What i’d like to see is several of the groups that don’t agree with this law form a coalition. Create a fake religion (call it something really daft) and sue the guy that put forward this legislation for blasphemy of their religion. They should assert that the central tenant of their new faith is that blasphemy laws are themselves blasphemy.

    No sane judge would let them win of course but the very problems in defining faith, religion and blasphemy would effectively kill the law. Even if they lost.

    See Scopes Monkey Trial.

  • I wonder if I need to declare my blasphemy next time I land at Dublin. I bet I’d get away with it using a stolen Oscar Wilde quote

  • Jenny

    WOW.. SCARY. Apparently these anti-freedom politicians have never read John Stuart Mill’s writings on Fallibility and Free Speech

    “On Liberty (Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer: 1863), pp. 36-43.
    We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility…”

    To quote my favorite author,
    “ ‘But you must respect another man’s religious belief!’ For Heaven’s sake, why? Stupid is stupid—faith doesn’t make it smart.”
    ~Robert A. Heinlein

  • Josh Reynolds

    Is it just me or does “Blasphemy Bill” sound like a kckass cartoon character?

  • [17th-century Lutheran pastor] Meyfarth was a funny guy, Emma thought, so terribly serious and conscientious. He had taken at least an hour to talk about the fact that his personal liking for them did not in any way mean that he was endorsing their [Mormon] teachings, or even that he respected their teachings. “Only,” he had insisted, “that I have come to see that if truth is to have a chance to prevail against error, then the civil authorities may not be given the right to suppress any one body of ideas. No, I do not respect your beliefs. If I respected them, I would join your church. I do respect your right to have and teach those beliefs.”

    So anxious, he had been, as though he had expected them to order him to go away and never come back. “I do not respect your faith,” he had continued. “I believe that it is contrary to biblical truth. Utterly contrary, utterly wrong. As Herr Blackwell would say, `wrong-headed.’ But I respect that you honestly hold that faith. And, however reluctantly, I have come to accept that if the law forbids one variety of error, that of the papists, from forbidding us to teach the truth, then the same law must also prohibit us from forbidding the teaching of other errors, such as those of the Calvinists and Anabaptists. And that we, to gain the right of free teaching, must allow it as well. But . . .”

    “But you think that we are going to hell.” Willard had completed what Meyfarth clearly did not want to say.

    “Well, yes. And I also make no claim that everyone else within Lutheranism shares my views. For which reason, if `We mean it’ does not prevail, I may someday lose my head. But until that day . . . I am here.”

    –Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce, 1634: The Ram Rebellion

  • Father T. Crilly

    Hi lads, what’s all this about now?? Let ye go on ahead now about yeer business and don’t be poking your noses into where they’re not wanted… this ‘modern’ thinking might be ok on the mainland or in new york new york but we like things just the way they are right here… atheism how are ya… do you think god will be happy with you all for being atheists… i can tell you now that he won’t, so you’d all be advised to go out now and get yourselves a bible (the roman catholic ones are the best… much nicer typography than them copyright-breaching heathen protestant ones) You’ll find it’s a great read, lots of stories for all the family and best of all – your souls, not to mention the souls of all your faithfully departed, will be received into the glorious light of heaven when you are called by the lord.

    That’s all lads, tip top


  • Al

    Very sad day indeed. Ireland you have lost it completely. First it was the greed and sheer arrogance in the Celtic Tiger years and now the complete and utter backward bog thinking stupidity with this law. Ahearn needs to be flogged and then banished to some wild savage rock in the Atlantic. I used to be proud being Irish, but am embarrased and disgusted with that Island and what it represents today. Ireland you need a strong majority to fight and topple this crooked and evil government with their shoddy ideas and greedy fat fudgy fingering of democracy. Get out!

  • Ali

    I’m Irish, and I agree with “Al”.
    I’m outraged at the whole idea… I actually can’t believe it got passed. It stuns me. I wrote to Ahern in complaint before it got passed, and got some sh*tty answer from his secretary or whatever, referring me to some speech he made that answered none of my questions. But there you go, that’s what I get for presuming that Ireland had moved in to the 21st century.
    This angers me so much, I’m sorely tempted to do as much blasphemous things as i can, just to test this new law.
    And in some strange way, I think I might just be proud to have been arrested for blasphemy. I wish I could laugh at the whole concept like some of my friends, but all I can do is weep.
    This is truly tragic.

  • Brenden

    Email their tourism offices at:

    and express your concern =) Money talks.

  • Erick

    Goddess help us all! This is silly. This law only gives the psychotic uber-religious folk more power (for their bombs). It seems to only feed into the sanctimony of religions, doesn’t it?

  • Boris

    To the Irish Parliament my congratulations on earning the first “Beavis and Butthead” Award of 2010 along with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

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