The government of Ireland is to decide whether or not to step back a couple of centuries by putting a blasphemy law on its statute books.
The extraordinary move is proposed by the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, who want to insert a blasphemy clause into the revised 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.
“Any religion”? That would include Scientology, Satanism, Jedi, and the one I just made up? Even if it does, the law neglects an important fact: adults are responsible for their own outrage. All it would take to get a conviction under this law is for an unspecified “substantial number” to claim outrage against their undefined “religion”. Hey presto – deference guaranteed.
Blasphemy is already forbidden by the Irish constitution, but it remains harmless there as a 1999 court case ruled that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”. But a new law on the statute books could have a serious effect of freedom of expression.
The Irish Times clarifies what it means in practical terms:
Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.
Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing that the fine be reduced to 1,000 euros and exclude matter of artistic merit. Not good enough.
Is Ireland applying for membership of the OIC?