Thursday, April 30, 2009

Irish Blasphemy Law threatens free speech and expression

I did one of these quizzes on Facebook recently which "told" me that the city I should be living in is Dublin. To be sure, I would have preferred somewhere a bit more temperate, maybe like Barcelona or Palma de Mallorca, but Dublin is gorgeous, the people are lovely and the Guinness divine.

However, I'm not sure I could afford to go there now, given that the Irish Government is planning on re-introducing a pretty draconian blasphemy law which I'd no doubt fall foul of at some point, being an atheist who's spent her life campaigning on equal rights issues. I know I couldn't afford the rather steep 100,000 euro penalty.

The crux of the law could mean anything:

“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.”

I'm sure that anyone trawling through this blog would find a number of postings which are open to interpretation as being "insulting to matters held sacred by any religion". I've denied the existence of God, advocated equal marriage, denounced homophobia - more than enough to outrage "substantial" numbers of followers of some religions. And what the hell does substantial mean, anyway? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? A hundred thousand?

It's publishing or uttering that gets me too. Could an innocent late night kitchen table philosophical discussion result in people being arrested?

And what's intrinsically wrong with causing outrage, anyway?

There's a Labour amendment reducing the fine to 1000 euro and exempting "literary, artistic, social or academic merit." I think a red line through the clause would have been better.

This sounds to me like a law which could easily be hijacked by a few intolerant people to stifle debate and freedom of speech. The only people likely to benefit are lawyers who could make a fortune from arguing the interpretation of the law in Court.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'm an Irish atheist. More people need to come out against this.

Caron said...

As I understand it, it's not law yet, just making its way through Parliament. Is there any serious campaign against it in Ireland? Do people realise just how scary this proposal is?

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Do you know if there will be an organised campaign against this?

Thanks,
Horrified ex-pat.

Caron said...

I can't find one now, but if I do, I'll certainly point people to it.

Am encouraged by this crop of letters to the Irish Times - not one of which is in favour of the proposed law and some in fact suggesting that it's the Government's way of hiding unemployment figures. You would certainly think that the Government has more important things to do at the moment.

http://www.irishtimes.com/letters/

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