Ireland’s new blasphemy law, that went into effect on Friday:
36.— (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 €25,000.
(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.
That’s in the Irish Defamation Act 2009. It takes our Racial and Religious Tolerance Act even further, by making the determining factor “outrage” on behalf of any offended religious group.
It’s insane, of course, because any fervent religious person can be “outraged” by absolutely anything – including other religious people who believe something slightly different. Far from discouraging religious conflict, it gives the most antagonistic and self-righteous a new weapon to use against their opponents – a weapon that costs a lot of public money whenever it’s wielded, even if it doesn’t work as severely as they’d hoped. And if it does…
Irish atheists are protesting against the law by publishing 25 blasphemous quotes (although they’d probably have a defence under subsection 3 above) – but it’s legislation that should bother everyone, not just atheists. You might feel pretty safe from prosecution because your religion’s the most popular at the moment – but that could change. And this law, if enforced at face value (and laws that sit on the books waiting to be capriciously enforced are a particularly bad idea), could make your beliefs about the erroneousness of other religious very expensive indeed.
I was vaguely sympathetic to the Victorian parliament trying to prohibit hate speech that incites violence against religious or racial minorities, but the Irish experience shows just how easy it is to step over that line into censorship and blasphemy laws. On second thoughts, repeal the lot. Deal with incitement to commit violence as an ordinary crime under the Crimes Act. Make the bar a very high one. Leave political speech alone.
This isn’t the middle ages, and we should be encouraging religious harmony, not giving nutters the tools to wage their eternal war in the courts.
PS Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!
(Via Darryl Mason)