Update on Ireland’s Blasphemy Law

You’re probably aware of the Blasphemy law in the Republic of Ireland (at that Wikipedia article, scroll down to “Defamation Act 2009”). The law was passed in 2009 and became effective at the start of 2010. The next day we wrote Is This Blog Blasphemous in Ireland?

We haven’t seen any relevant news out of Ireland. That isn’t surprising, because laws like that tend to discourage dialogue, so we looked elsewhere to see if we could learn what’s going on over there. It appears that there haven’t been any prosecutions — not yet — but the absence of prosecutions could mean only that the people have been living in silent terror. Besides, one never knows what horrors are about to be unleashed. There are undoubtedly robed and hooded maniacs rubbing their hands together as they gleefully anticipate giving blasphemers a foretaste of the hell that awaits them.

However, we did find something in the The Guardian, one of the UK’s most widely read newspapers. It’s a column titled Why Ireland must get rid of its disgraceful blasphemy law, which has attracted has over 1,100 comments so far. It was written by Roy Greenslade, described as a “professor of journalism at City University, and was editor of the Daily Mirror from 1990-91.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Ireland is the only country in the developed western world to have introduced a blasphemy law in the 21st century. The disgraceful law, passed in 2009 and introduced in January 2010, carries a maximum fine of €25,000. It prohibits the “publishing or uttering [of] matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”.

Greenslade has the right attitude. He then says:

A government promise of a referendum about the law was broken despite the then prime minister, Enda Kenny, previously agreeing that one was necessary. The failure to do so outraged Irish atheists and secularists. Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, believes blasphemy laws are inimical to free speech, and regarded the failure to hold a plebiscite as “a betrayal”.

Of course it’s a betrayal. A government comprised of people insane enough to enact a blasphemy law can’t be expected to keep its word. Let’s read on:

In an interview with Ryan McChrystal, Index on Censorship’s online assistant editor, Nugent argued that the law was so “ridiculous and silly” that his organisation’s attempt to get prosecuted by publishing statements blaspheming all the major religions had been ignored.

Nugent is playing with fire. The government might decide to grant his wish. The column continues:

McChrystal points out that the law’s existence in a European country, a member of the European Union “ is setting an example for others abroad.” It makes it harder to argue against blasphemy laws elsewhere. For instance, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – which has 57 member states – cites Ireland’s law as best practice and has even proposed the adoption of its precise wording to limit human rights on freedom of conscience.

The Irish must be very proud that their blasphemy law is admired by Islamic countries.

So there you are, dear reader, that’s the news about Ireland. It sounds like a great place for a vacation — as long as you don’t plan to talk about religion or evolution while you’re there. And whatever you do, don’t mention the solar system — remember the Galileo affair.

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16 responses to “Update on Ireland’s Blasphemy Law

  1. robnorman2015

    Just to clarify: evolution is not contentious in Ireland as it is in America. Neither is a Copernican solar system.

  2. Obvious parochial thinking like this doesn’t help us get along with one another. Such laws impose the religious beliefs of others on each citizen, then they allow each religion to define what constitutes blasphemy. Do not religions announce new “interpretations” and “guidance” frequently?

    If I lived under such a law I would be tempted to form a religion which considered lawmakers acting like assholes to be blasphemous, then we could lock them all up. We would only need sufficient members to demonstrate “outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion” using that well-defined legal term “substantial.”

  3. What about making fun of leprechauns?

  4. As a Brit currently resident in Ireland, I’d say that no-one has any difficulty discussing either evolution or religion here – I’d also say that, excellent though the Guardian is, it shouldn’t be your main source of information about Ireland.

  5. I was thinking like you Tom, as 1/3 of the Irish believe in the wee people.
    Of course leprechauns usually distribute their own justice.

  6. Since we have it on authority (Hambone) that atheism is a religion, why can’t we bring charges of blasphemy against the religious aholes when they bad mouth us??? With all the iFones around getting evidence would be really easy!

  7. @Troy
    leprechauns … distribute their own justice
    Which makes them more powerful than those spirits which must rely on the State to defend their honor.
    Or are those other spirits just so self-composed that they are not bothered by insults by mere mortals?

  8. Blasphemy Law coming to America, soon? Oh god, I hope not.

  9. Richard Bond

    Ireland is sending out very mixed signals. A few of years ago Enda Kenny condemned the RCC in a blistering speech in response to the Cloyne Report, and angrily withdrew the Irish “ambassador” to the Vatican, then re-established the position a couple of years later. (How can one have an ambassador to a faux “state”, brought into existence by Mussolini? Unfortunately the UK still has one.) Then he reneged on his promise about the referendum on the blasphemy law, but no prosecutions have ensued. On the other hand, he apologised to his country about the appalling Magdalene Laundries. Meanwhile, abortion law is still primitive. Then came a referendum on same-sex marriage with a huge “yes” majority, but nothing seems to have happened yet. I suppose that Ireland is belatedly heading towards enlightenment on a “three steps forward, two step back” model.

  10. If the law’s intent is to avoid upsetting people, why limit it to religious believers? Pseudoscientists have feelings, too!

    I propose:

    It prohibits the “publishing or uttering [of] matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters valued by any belief system, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that system”.

  11. Dave Luckett

    It could be just my natural paranoia, but I can’t avoid the feeling that the target of this law is not Christian or Jewish feelings. The Catholic Church, to which the great majority of citizens of the Republic of Ireland used to belong, has had a very rocky road recently, and I doubt very much that the intent is to mute criticism of it.

    No, I fear that the purpose of this law is to prevent scurrilous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from being published.

  12. As usual, supposedly virgin men wearing robes and funny hats are doing whatever they can to retard social progress. And, the sheeple keep bowing in submission. The time has long passed that the unctuous, incense burning criminals be thrown out of the churches and escorted to the bar of justice. I hope sincerely to have deeply offended and hurt the religious feelings of some of the whiners in the Irish government.

    Long live free speech and the principles of The Enlightenment!

  13. Tom, the logic of your response is beyond reproach.
    I suppose the difference is that gods get credit for stuff they don’t do, while leprechauns get the blame for stuff they don’t do.
    In a way it is a lot like sports teams thanking God if they win but blaming themselves when they don’t.

  14. michaelfugate

    Much like the marriage equality referendum, I would bet that the Irish populace would $&!† can this law if given the chance to vote aontaím or ní aontaím .

  15. Of all the strange crimes that humanity has legislated out of nothing, blasphemy is the most amazing – with obscenity and indecent exposure fighting it out for second and third place.

    Robert A. Heinlein

  16. robnorman2015:
    “Just to clarify: evolution is not contentious in Ireland as it is in America. Neither is a Copernican solar system.”

    No matter. It seems that the law is not concerned with where the adherents of the offended religion are located. There are plenty of fundamentalist creationists in America who would be offended by a discussion of evolution.

    As stated in the article:
    It prohibits the “publishing or uttering [of] matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”.

    Thus, if you were to defend the validity of evolution while in Ireland, it would seem that you could be prosecuted under this law. Whether you were actually charged or not is immaterial — your freedom of speech would be stifled.