Irish Justice minister Charlie Flanagan has announced the commencement of the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Act 2019 .
The act was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before the Christmas recess, and was signed by the
President on 21st December. The Minister said:
This act abolishes the offence of blasphemy, and reflects the outcome of last year's referendum in which the people approved removing the Constitutional requirement that
blasphemy be a criminal offence, by a majority in each of the 40 constituencies, and by 64.85% of voters nationally.
He said that the very notion of criminalising blasphemy, with the risk of a chilling effect on free expression and
public debate, has no place in the Constitution or the laws of a modern republic. He said the right to express differing viewpoints in a forthright and critical manner is a right to be cherished and upheld. He added:
may seem abstract to devote time to abolishing an offence which has not been prosecuted in practice. But it must be remembered that a number of countries still actively prosecute charges of blasphemy. Imprisonment
can carry severe penalties, including terms of imprisonment, brutal physical punishments, and even the death penalty. They have also been applied in a discriminatory manner to justify the persecution of dissidents, the socially excluded, or religious
Such countries justify those regimes by referring to the continuance of blasphemy as a criminal offence in Ireland. That has always been a very disturbing reality. This act not only addresses the situation, but ensures
that Ireland should never again be cited as an exemplar of such outdated concepts. Public showing
The act also amends the Censorship of Films Acts, to remove blasphemous content as a ground for refusing or restricting the public showing,
or advertising of, a film.
The National Secular Society has said Ireland's impending referendum on its blasphemy law should prompt global action in defence of free speech on religion.
On Tuesday evening the Dail, the lower house of the Oireachtas (Ireland's parliament),
ratified a proposal to hold a referendum on the issue on Friday 26 October. The decision passed through the house unopposed.
The upper house, the Seanad, is expected to pass the legislation on Thursday.
Currently Ireland's constitution
The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law. The referendum will propose removing the word blasphemous from that
The minister for justice Charlie Flanagan said while the offence remained in the constitution, Ireland would be seen as keeping company with those who do not share the fundamental values we cherish such as belief in freedom
of conscience and expression.
NSS chief executive Stephen Evans urged Ireland to take a stand for free speech when the referendum takes place:
Repealing the reference to blasphemy from Ireland's constitution
would be a welcome declaration of Ireland's changing attitude to religious privilege and a statement of support with free thinkers globally.
Ireland's referendum should prompt global action in defence of free speech on religion.
It should send a message to the rest of the world: offending religious sensibilities is not a crime, and the world will not tolerate those who persecute people for their thoughts and words.
Police in Ireland are investigating a complaint of blasphemy regarding comments made by Stephen Fry on a television programme shown on Ireland's state broadcaster, RTE in 2015?.
Under Ireland's Defamation Act 2009 a person who publishes or utters
blasphemous material shall be guilty of an offence .
While being interviewed on The Meaning of Life TV programme, Fry was asked what he would say to God if he had a chance. Fry replied:
'Bone cancer in children, what's that about?' How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It's not right. It's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world
which is so full of injustice and pain?
Fry's humerous and powerful reply on YouTube has been viewed more than seven million times.
A member of the public, who asked not to be identified, said he made the complaint against Fry
more than two years ago at Ennis garda station in County Clare. After hearing nothing for 18 months, the complainant wrote to the head of the Irish police, Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan. The man was then contacted by a detective from Donnybrook garda
station in Dublin to say they were looking into the blasphemy claim.
Update: Police see the light and drop the prosecution
An Irish police
investigation into allegedly blasphemous comments made by Stephen Fry has been dropped after detectives decided there were not enough people who had been outraged by the remarks. A source told the Irish Independent:
This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. Gardai were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people. For this reason the investigation has been concluded.
Offsite Comment: Stephen Fry and the new blasphemy laws
The complaint itself should not worry us. Of far greater significance is the fact that the police feel compelled to take complaints like this seriously. One would expect them to point out that a citizen's private sensibilities are no concern for the
state, and that even unpleasant people may exercise their right to say unpleasant things.
My Scientology Movie is a 2015 UK / USA documentary by John Dower. Starring Rob Alter, Tom Cruise and Paz de la Huerta.
Louis Theroux documents his investigation into what
goes on behind the scenes of the infamous church of scientology.
Film distributors In Ireland have decided not to screen Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie. And the speculation is that the country's recently enacted blasphemy law
could be used to stir up hassle for the distributors.
The law, part of the 2009 Defamation Act states that any 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 euro 25,000 . Blasphemous matter is defined as anything that is insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion , and that intends to cause outrage.
The law also states that blasphemy laws do not apply
to an organisation or cult that prioritises making financial profit or manipulates followers and new recruits. Scientology isn't officially recognised as a church in Ireland, but it's unclear whether or not it counts as a religion under the acts
But even if Scientology doesn't count as a religion, then they can still employ expensive lawyers to make the claim anyway, and that it would then take equally expensive lawyers to counter such a claim.
An international group of atheists and secularists including the scientists Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker has challenged the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, to hold a referendum to repeal Ireland's blasphemy law which was introduced in July
Ahead of an historic first meeting between a taoiseach and Irish atheists, the group told Kenny that it was: h
His duty to protect a strong position on behalf of those intimidated in Ireland and, more
importantly, on behalf of those facing execution by nations who cite Irish blasphemy laws in justification and mitigation of their behaviour.
The letter to the republic's prime minister, signed by the Irish comedian Ed Byrne and the
gay rights activist Rory O'Neill (AKA drag queen Panti), as well as leading figures in science and politics, criticised the Dublin government's decision to renege on its promise to hold a blasphemy referendum.
Last autumn, the Irish government
appeared to suggest that the blasphemy law would be included in a series of national referendums in May, including gay marriage equality and the lowering of the age when an Irish citizen can stand for the presidency. However, at the end of last year it
emerged that blasphemy had been excluded.
Meanwhile Ireland's Islamic Cultural Centre claims the depiction of the prophet Muhammad on the front page of the French satirical publication, which is on sale now in Irish shops, is a clear breach of the
country's blasphemy legislation.
The Irish Government is set to agree to hold a referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution, following recommendations of the constitutional convention earlier this year.
While no timeframe is outlined, it is claimed the vote
will be held on an appropriate date to be decided by the Government .
The sixth report from the convention, submitted to the Government in January, said a clear majority of members of the constitutional thinktank favoured the removal
of the blasphemy clause.
It also proposed replacing the offence of blasphemy with something more or less the same but with a different name, ie a general provision to include incitement to religious hatred; and the introduction of a new
set of detailed legislative provisions to include incitement to religious hatred .
Former minister for justice Dermot Ahern introduced a new crime of blasphemous libel in 2009, with the offence coming with a fine of at least EUR25,000. At the
time, Ahern said it was a short-term solution to avoid holding a referendum in an economic crisis.
Removing the offence of blasphemy from Irish law will be discussed by the Convention on the Constitution this weekend.
Academics and legal experts will give presentations at the two day event, with members of Atheist Ireland, the Humanist Association
of Ireland, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland due to give their views.
The Convention will then make a recommendation to Government, which will have four months to respond with a debate in the
The constitutional offence of blasphemy should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred, the constitutional convention has recommended. A series of votes were taken:
Whether the reference to the
offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution:
38% said Yes,
61% said No
1% undecided or had no opinion.
In a follow-up question about replacing the provision with something else:
53% said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred
38% said the offence should be removed from the Constitution altogether
9% undecided or had no opinion.
Asked whether there should be a legislative provision (presumably outside of the constitution) for the offence of blasphemy:
50% said No
49% said Yes,
1% undecided or had no opinion.
The 100-member forum comprises of 33 politicians and 66 members of the public.
[Of course religious people shouldn't be get too enthusiastic about hate crimes that supposedly protect their views, more often than not
it is religious people who fall foul of the very same provisions that they championed].
A man is about to walk the length of Ireland to protest against the blasphemy law introduced in the Republic.
Former social worker and English teacher Paul Gill says that making blasphemy a crime undermines freedom of speech: It is a
draconian, oppressive tool to use against people in a so-called vibrant democracy and it is unenforcable. Laws should be to protect people, not ideals .
Gill will set out from Mizen Head on the 625km trek and will walk 25km a day, sleeping
most nights in a tent on the roadside. He expects to arrive at Ireland's most northerly point of Malin Head in Co Donegal in 25 days' time.
Along the way there will be public debates and forums for discussion at various venues organised by Atheist
Ireland, which is sponsoring the event.
Gill hopes that debate and discussion would encourage the electorate to repeal the law in a referendum later in the year.
Dermot Ahern, the Irish Justice Minister, is proposing a referendum this autumn to remove the newly-introduced offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution, along with two other referenda that the government is already committed to.
Ireland, which tirelessly campaigned against the law that made Ireland the laughing stock of the Western world, revealed that the Minister told the Sunday Times:
I was only doing my duty … there was an incredibly
sophisticated campaign [against me], mainly on the internet.
And that there had been:
A lot of nonsense about that blasphemy issue and people making me out to be a complete right-winger
at the time … I was only doing my duty in relation to it, because clearly it is in the constitution.
AI thanks everyone who has helped to make the campaign against this new law as effective as it has been to date. It is now
important we maintain the pressure on this issue to ensure that the referendum happens as proposed and, more importantly, that it is won.
AI added: We reiterate our position that this law is both silly and dangerous: silly because it is
introducing medieval canon law offence into a modern plularist republic; and dangerous because it incentives religious outrage and because its wording has already been adopted by Islamic states as part of their campaign to make blasphemy a crime
A final decision on a blasphemy referendum rests with the cabinet, but if Ahern remains justice minister after this month's reshuffle, he is likely to propose that it be added to the autumn list. The government is already
committed to referenda on children's rights and establishing a permanent court of civil appeal.
There were no plans in the immediate future for a referendum deleting the constitutional prohibition on blasphemy, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern told the Dáil.
Ahern said that he remained of the view that, on the grounds of cost,
a referendum on blasphemy should not be held on its own. It should be run, possibly together with one or more referendums.
Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte claimed that the Minister's statement was a backtracking on what he understood
the position to be from the Taoiseach in the Dáil.
Ahern repeated that he would be happy to propose to the Government a referendum on blasphemy at the appropriate time: I did indicate that given the fact the programme for government
indicated that we would have two or three referendums – if my memory serves me correctly – in the lifetime of the Government, it may be appropriate to add on a referendum relating to to the article to which you refer .
From 1 January 2010 the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines
blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences
This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is
dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.
We believe in the golden rule:
that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear
ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.
In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus
Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard
Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O'Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Dermot Ahern.
Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by
various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of
being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.
We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law,
as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.
We also ask all TDs and Senators to
support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their
If you run a website, blog or other media publication, please feel free to republish this statement and the list of quotes yourself, in order to show your support for the campaign to repeal the Irish blasphemy
law and to promote a rational, ethical, secular Ireland.
A few of my favourites
Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag, 1963: Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional. There, the guy
who's got religion'll tell you if your sin's original. If it is, try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer. Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!
James Kirkup, The Love That Dares to
Speak its Name, 1976: While they prepared the tomb I kept guard over him. His mother and the Magdalen had gone to fetch clean linen to shroud his nakedness. I was alone with him… I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our
salvation, our eternal joy. The shaft, still throbbed, anointed with death's final ejaculation. This extract is from a poem that led to the last successful blasphemy prosecution in Britain, when Denis Lemon was given a suspended prison sentence after
he published it in the now-defunct magazine Gay News. In 2002, a public reading of the poem, on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, failed to lead to any prosecution. In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law
offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.
Conor Cruise O'Brien, 1989: In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: 'Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Koran.' Unfortunately
the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken.
Frank Zappa, 1989: If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine - but to hang all this desperate sociology on
the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you've been bad or good - and cares about any of it - to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.
Salman Rushdie, 1990:
The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas - uncertainty, progress, change - into crimes. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to
kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses.
Amanda Donohoe on her role in the Ken Russell movie Lair of the White Worm, 1995: Spitting on Christ was a great deal of
fun. I can't embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.
George Carlin , 1999: Religion easily has the greatest
bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not
want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of
time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a
little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!
Jesus Christ, in Jerry Springer The Opera , 2003: Actually, I'm a bit gay. In 2005, the Christian Institute tried to bring a prosecution
against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer the Opera, but the UK courts refused to issue a summons.
Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 2006: The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant
character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal,
sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. In 2007 Turkish publisher Erol Karaaslan was charged with the crime of insulting believers for publishing a Turkish translation of The God Delusion. He was acquitted in 2008, but another charge was
brought in 2009. Karaaslan told the court that it is a right to criticise religions and beliefs as part of the freedom of thought and expression.
Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine
emperor, 2006: Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. This statement has already led to both outrage and condemnation
of the outrage. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Muslim body, said it was a character assassination of the prophet Muhammad . The Malaysian Prime Minister said that the Pope must not take lightly the spread of
outrage that has been created. Pakistan's foreign Ministry spokesperson said that anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence . The European Commission said that reactions which are disproportionate and which
are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable.
Finally, as a bonus, Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at
UN level, 2009: We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland
considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief. Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his
colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland's new blasphemy law.
So what is blasphemy? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is talk or act reviling a sacred person or thing. In reality, nobody is quite sure what this actually means.
Were those of us who said, back in 1968, that Pope Paul VI was
either wrong, or misguided, or just plain foolish, to publish an encyclical outlawing all forms of artificial contraception committing blasphemy?
Is it blasphemous to say that the Church of Scientology is the creation of a dead charlatan, or to
claim, as French prosecutors have done, that it is more of a mechanism for making money than saving souls?
Was Dan Brown guilty of blasphemy when he said in his 2003 international bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus had sex with Mary
Magdalene? This was the contention that also led to calls for the banning of the 1988 movie, The Last Temptation of Christ , directed by Martin Scorsese.
Ireland is being hauled before the EU Commission over its new blasphemy law.
Swedish MP Karl Sigfrid said that he had lodged a complaint with the Commission, asking it to rule if the new Irish law is consistent with EU treaties. These include EU
provisions on free speech enshrined in the current EU treaty and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Free speech is a necessary condition for scientific debate and is the best way to rational conclusions about what the truth is, Sigfrid, a Moderate Party MP, told the Herald:
It's a very dangerous thing to replace open debate with violence from the Government when someone opposes what the conventional truth is.
He pointed out that the EU required entrant applicants, such as Turkey, to ensure freedom of speech
and did not think existing members of the EU should be able to restrict free speech in such a way: It seems like a huge step backwards, Sigfrid added.
He wanted EU citizens to be able to travel freely to countries like Ireland and not have
to face the threat of legal action for freedom of speech which was accepted in Sweden and other countries, he said.
Actor Stephen Fry has launched a scathing attack on Irish politicians over their decision to criminalise blasphemy.
The star stunned fans on his Twitter networking page when he left a post blasting the State and comparing it to the UK.
Bollocks to Ireland for being as crap as Britain, it read.
Fry was quick to clarify the message in a later post, stating he was referring to politicians and not the nation as a whole: When I say 'Ireland' I mean the politicians who
are trying to vote this in [the blasphemy bill] not the country itself obviously.
Fry is just one in a long line of high-profile media personalities to have criticised Justice Minister Dermot Ahern for his proposal to add a new crime in an
amendment to the Defamation Bill.
Ahern wants to define blasphemy as matter: That is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion [and] intended to cause outrage.
The President has convened the Council of State to review the Government's controversial new Criminal Justice Amendment Bill. She will also seek the council's views on the new Defamation Bill, which aims to reform the libel laws and which also introduces
a new offence of blasphemous libel.
Mary McAleese has decided to seek the views of the 22-member Council of State before deciding whether to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.
The Council of State is
an advisory group which includes the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dail, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court and the Attorney General.
The new blasphemy law will send Ireland back to the middle ages, and is wretched, backward and uncivilised, Prof Richard Dawkins has said.
The scientist and critic of religion has lent his support to a campaign to repeal the law, introduced
by Atheist Ireland, a group set up last December, arising from an online discussion forum. The law, which makes the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine, passed through the Oireachtas last week.
message read out at Atheist Ireland's first AGM, Prof Dawkins said: One of the world's most beautiful and best-loved countries, Ireland has recently become one of the most respected as well: dynamic, go-ahead, modern, civilised – a green and pleasant
silicon valley. This preposterous blasphemy law puts all that respect at risk. He said it would be too kind to call the law a ridiculous anachronism: It is a wretched, backward, uncivilised regression to the middle ages. Who was the bright spark
who thought to besmirch the revered name of Ireland by proposing anything so stupid?
At the AGM, Atheist Ireland members voted to test the new law by publishing a blasphemous statement, deliberately designed to cause offence. The statement
will be finalised in the coming days.
Labour Senator and barrister Ivana Bacik said the establishment of Atheist Ireland was long overdue . More than 150 people attended the meeting in Dublin and the group ran out of membership application
forms. I think it's also good to see an organisation that has the word atheist in the title because for a long time many of us were in the closet, she said: It's not fashionable or popular to declare oneself to be an atheist. There are many
people in Ireland who would like to describe themselves as atheists and I'm one of them. I think I may be the only self-confessed or card-carrying atheist in the Oireachtas.
The group also launched a website
www.countmeout.ie which provides information on how to formally leave the Catholic Church.
The Irish government lost a vote in the Seanad on the Defamation Bill but managed to save the legislation by calling for a walk-through vote which gave enough time for two missing Senators to be found.
The Government defeat came on an amendment
to the Bill proposed by Senator Eugene Regan of Fine Gael proposing to delete the provision in the legislation making blasphemy a crime.
In an electronic vote whereby Senators press a button, the Government was defeated by 22 votes to 21 in the
60-member upper house.
However, Fianna Fáil whip Diarmuid Wilson immediately requested a walk-through vote which takes about 10 minutes to complete. In that period two Senators, Geraldine Feeney of Fianna Fáil and Deirdre De Burca
of the Green Party, had time to get to the chamber and the amendment was defeated by 23 votes to 22. The Bill itself was then passed by the same margin.
The controversy surrounded a clause in the Defamation Bill dealing with the crime of
blasphemy which Minister for Injustice Dermot Ahern insisted had to be included for constitutional reasons, although this was disputed by Opposition parties and Independents.
Senator Dan Boyle of the Green Party said that while he accepted the
reason blasphemy was included in the Bill, the effect would be to codify an offence that most people did not believe in and that made a nonsense of the legal process.
This is what the Dáil has imposed on their citizens:
36. Publication or utterance of blasphemous
(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.
The creators of the Father Ted television series have denounced Ireland's proposed blasphemy laws as insanity and pledged to support a campaign to repeal them.
Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan backed moves by a group of Irish
secularists to challenge the bill against blasphemy introduced in the Dáil last week. Atheist Ireland said this weekend that it will publish a statement blaspheming all the major religions in Ireland, including Christianity and Islam. The group
said it would be a calculated challenge to the law.
Under the Irish constitution, the state is obliged to have blasphemy laws. The bill going through the Dáil would amend the Defamation Act of 1961, which includes blasphemy as a crime. To
abolish blasphemy laws, the government would have to hold a referendum to amend the constitution. The duo described the blasphemy law contained in the new bill covering defamation in Ireland as a return to the Middle Ages.
Linehan told the
Observer that the justice minister Dermot Ahern, who introduced the bill, should be challenged to define what he meant by blasphemy . This is insanity. Please, Mr Ahern, define the things we can't say, please! Can we say, 'Jesus is gay'? Or can we
ask, 'Is God in a biscuit? Could he tell us what it means? It is just insanity. After all, there are things contained in the holy books of one religion that are blasphemy to another religion. The logic behind this comes from Alice in Wonderland. He
said the Irish blasphemy law was part of a trend in the west where freedom of expression was being attacked to placate the craziest people on earth.
Linehan said that technically, under the new bill, certain scenes from Father Ted could be deemed blasphemous:
In Ted we kind of generally avoided central tenets of belief, because it was not what the show was about. It was about a very bad priest who didn't think about religion a lot. Writers should not be looking over their shoulders. If you are writing a
satire today, the Irish government are making it harder to do that.
The Irish Minister for Injustice, Dermot Ahern, is to cut proposed fines for blasphemy from €100,000 to €25,000, under changes to be made to the Defamation Act next week.
Ahern claimed the legislation, which passed its committee stage in the
Dáil yesterday, has been drafted to make it virtually impossible to get a successful prosecution [for blasphemy] out of it.
A blasphemy prosecution has not been won for a century, while powers already in force under the 1961
Defamation Act have never been used.
The Government is currently amending Ireland's defamation laws, which passed its committee stage in the Dáil last evening.
Under Article 40 of the Constitution, the publication or utterance
of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is a criminal offence.
Ahern insists blasphemy must remain a crime, unless the reference to it in the Constitution is removed. It is already there in the 1961 Act, and it is in the Constitution
and we have to comply with the Constitution. You are in derogation of your duty if you ignore the Constitution, he told Opposition TDs.
The inclusion of the blasphemy clause was accepted by Government TDs and passed by nine votes to six
during yesterday's committee stage debate.
Fine Gael TDs, Charlie Flanagan, Denis Naughten and Jim O'Keeffe, and Labour's Pat Rabbitte criticised the Minister, suggesting he abandon the blasphemy clause, or that he hold a referendum to remove the
reference to it in the Constitution.
Naughten said the legislation will be impossible to enforce because it is entirely subjective, and it could threaten Ireland's future economic interests. Islamic countries could retaliate if the DPP did not
prosecute some future alleged insult against Islam, he warned.
The fact that the legislation will be unworkable is the classic Irish solution to an Irish solution, said Charlie Flanagan.
Irish Minister for Injustice Dermot Ahern has said he is bemused by recent criticism of his ludicrous proposal to include an offence of blasphemy in new defamation legislation due to be debated before an Oireachtas committee.
responding after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the Government’s plan to introduce the blasphemy law would be in violation of international agreements on media freedom. OSCE representative on freedom of the media,
Miklos Haraszti, said new court cases that might emerge as a result of criminalising blasphemy would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
Ahern insists he is obliged to take account of the offence of blasphemy, which is
provided for in the 1937 Constitution. A spokesman for Ahern said he had two options, either to amend the Constitution, or amend the law.
The Minister will propose an amendment to the 2006 Defamation Bill at the Committee stage in the Oireachtas
Under the Minister’s amendment, the offence of blasphemy can only be prosecuted following a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The offence will also no longer be punishable by a jail term.
That amendment will state
that it shall be a defence where a prosecution is taken under the section on blasphemy for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find general literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in the material to
which the alleged offence relates.
Haraszti welcomed the Government’s plan to decriminalise defamation, but said the proposal to create the offence of ‘blasphemous libel’ risked jeopardising OSCE media freedom commitments. It would
therefore be unfortunate to introduce at the same time a new crime of 'blasphemous libel'.
Haraszti has written to Ahern and to the Oireachtas committee debating the Bill, urging that it be passed without the blasphemy provision.
If Jesus were in Ireland today, under the new law, wouldn’t he be one of its first victims, held in Portlaoise, perhaps, while lawyers debated whether he should be deported to Israel, or the Palestinian Authority, or tried here? Muslims might find their
mosques under close inspection, too
WE can only speculate as to why Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is proposing to introduce a new crime of blasphemous libel punishable by fines up to €100,000. Is it to salve his conscience for having to implement
other policies which offend his personal sense of what is right and wrong? Is it a government ploy to distract attention from more pressing matters? Who knows?
Suspicion that move to up-date Ireland's Defamation Act is an attempt by a desperate government to divert voters’ attention
The government’s plan to create a crime of blasphemous libel, punishable by a fine of up to €100,000, should be of concern
to anyone who values freedom of expression. The stealthy manner in which Dermot Ahern, the minister for justice, inserted the blasphemy clause into the Defamation Bill was itself a cause of concern, with his justification unconvincing.
offence of publishing or uttering blasphemous matter is defined as anything 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 . The
offender must intend to cause such outrage.
Ahern’s justification is that the Irish constitution states that the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with
law. The Defamation Act of 1961 is outdated, Ahern argues, and he needs to modernise it.
He does not. The justice minister’s protestations that the mention of blasphemy in the constitution “cannot be ignored” ring hollow.
Atheist Ireland says the proposed legislation combines the oppressive religious thinking of 1950s Catholic Ireland and Islamic fundamentalism.
Co-founder Michael Nugent said they intended to launch a roadshow in the republic to kick-start their
This new law will treat religious beliefs as more valuable than secular beliefs and scientific thinking, Nugent said: The bill's first test of blasphemy is that religious adherents express outrage. Instead of encouraging
outrage, we should be educating people to respond in a more healthy manner when somebody expresses a belief that they find insulting. More worryingly, this law would encourage the type of orchestrated outrage that Islamic fundamentalists directed against
Under the proposed law, Ding Dong Denny O'Reilly, a spoof Irish republican extremist who sings in a Celtic shirt, could be prosecuted for his song The Ballad of Jaysus Christ, Nugent said.
Other than that it is a ruse to distract the public’s attention from the Government’s handling of the economic crisis, it is difficult to arrive at any insight into why the Minister for Justice has proposed the introduction of a new crime of blasphemous
Perhaps some lobby group has been beavering away, tormenting the Minister and his department. If so, one could readily imagine such a group: wearing its religiosity like a shield against the world, beleaguered in its piety and defensive
about its beliefs. But if we succumb to the anxieties of these who wear their religiosity as a suit of armour against reality, we succumb also to the taunts of the ignoramuses who tell us that religion is (at once!) a dangerous and a dying phenomenon.
The proposal to make blasphemous libel an offence would likely criminalise many writers and publishers.
What about other religious groupings and faiths? The proposed amendment makes the degree of outrage among adherents of any religion, in
response to things said or written about them, a defining factor in determining whether an offence has been committed. We have seen elsewhere in Europe large-scale expressions of outrage by members of the Muslim community in response to films, books and
cartoons. Books such as Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and films and cartoons, such as those published by a Danish newspaper and which offended some Muslims, would almost certainly be criminalised in Ireland by the present proposal.
A new crime of blasphemous libel is to be proposed by the Irish Minister for Injustice in an amendment to the Defamation Bill, which will be discussed by the Oireachtas committee on injustice today.
At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on
the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution. Article 40 of the Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech, qualifies it by stating: The State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press,
the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or
indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.
Last year the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, under the chairmanship of Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ardagh, recommended amending this Article to
remove all references to sedition and blasphemy, and redrafting the Article along the lines of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression. It also stated that a special protection for Christianity was
incompatible with the religious equality provisions of Article 44.
Minister for Injustice 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.
Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this
section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.