NEWS: Don’t Blaspheme in Ireland—It May Cost You!

Irish atheists are rallying against a new blasphemy law included in an Irish defamation act passed in 2009. Under this law, “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.” “Blasphemous matter” is defined as “matter that is [intentionally] 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.” However, if a defendant accused under this provision can prove (to a “reasonable person”) that their blasphemous matter has “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value,” they can be defended from prosecution. Further, the “religions” protected under the law do not include “cults” whose “principal object” is determined (by the court?) to be the making of a profit or the psychological manipulation of members or potential members.

According to the Irish Times, Irish Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern defended the law, pointing out that it is in keeping with the Irish constitution and  “he did not believe there was a public appetite to amend the Constitution to remove the blasphemy provision.” Critics of the act, such as Roy Greenslade, however, refer to the law as a violation of freedom of expression and as running “counter to the spirit of the times.”

As both critics and proponents have noted, this act is similar to recent UN resolutions condemning the defamation of religion—an action that aroused similar controversy and criticism, including the inauguration of an international Blasphemy Day.

Related Articles:

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Secrecy and New Religious Movements: Concealment, Surveillance, and Privacy in a New Age of Information
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Religion in Ireland

By Sean J. Connolly

From A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain

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