Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Irish Anti-Blasphemy Law Passes

Wow. Here's something alarming: Ireland apparently just passed an anti-blasphemy law. An excerpt, from the other end of the link:

Section 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 €100,000. [Amended to €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.

There are lots of loose criticisms of this law flying around on the web...but, contrary to what some are saying, e.g. denying the infallibility of the Pope, or denying that Joseph Smith was visited by a flaming salamander or making fun of atheism or whatever doesn't seem to be prohibited by this law. Rather you've got to:

(i) Write or say something "grossly abusive or insulting in matters held sacred" by some religion or other,


(ii) Intend to cause outrage by the writing or utterance,


(iii) The writing or utterance must, in fact, cause "outrage among a substantial number" of adherents of the religion in question

So, basically, you can't say something really obnoxious about some religion in an attempt to stir up its adherents...or, rather, you can, but if you're successful, you've broken the law.

So the law is far less outrageous that some would have us believe. Apparently all genuine, serious criticisms of any religion are still lawful.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it still looks like an utterly mad law to me--a blatant violation of one's inalienable right to free speech. But this is the sort of thing legal scholars will have something interesting to say about, and there's no reason for folks like me to spend any time on it until such folks have had their say. There's no doubt there are some well-known and important issues in play here, and legal scholars are the ones who'll know the lay of that land.

(Via Sullivan's digs.)


Blogger Joshua said...

I think the concern is that the implementation of the law will resemble the implementation of libel law in England and other systems derived from English common law, where essentially the burden of proof is on the accused to demonstrate that they did not blaspheme in such a way that the law is violated, rather than on the accuser to prove that the accused did blaspheme.

Thus, the intention clause becomes the ultimate sticking point. How does one prove negative intent?

6:28 PM  
Blogger Spencer said...

Not to mention that the law gives grounds to the Irish police to search one's house at "all reasonable times."

7:05 PM  

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