Blasphemy Made a Crime in Ireland:

Here's the just-enacted statute:

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.

(4) In this section "religion" does not include an organisation or cult --
(a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation --
(i) of its followers, or
(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.

Now I oppose this law, for the obvious reasons, which I won't repeat here. The Irish Constitution does expressly calls for the punishment of blasphemy -- "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law" -- so the absence of a blasphemy law until now (an earlier law was struck down for not defining "blasphemy") has itself been unconstitutional. But it seems to me that Irish legislators should have tried to amend the constitution via referendum rather than enacting this sort of ban.

But here I'd like to say a bit about some slightly less obvious problems with the law. To its credit, the legislature tried to minimize the risk that (say) the Satanic Verses, the Last Temptation of Christ, the Mohammed cartoons, and other such speech would become criminal. True, a court might well find that (1) the speech "is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion," and (2) the speech intentionally caused "outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion." But presumably this danger might be mitigated by the defendant's ability to get off the hook if he shows that "a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value" in the speech.

Yet it seems to me that a court decision saying that the Mohammed cartoons or the Satanic Verses can't be punished because it has "genuine literary, artistic, [or] political ... value" would cause even more insult and social tension than the original speech itself would. At least without the blasphemy law, the government can say the speech is protected no matter how awful it might be. But with the blasphemy law, a government body must either find the speech unprotected -- or place its imprimatur behind the view that the "reasonable person would find genuine ... value" in it.

Likewise, another defense requires courts to decide which religions "employ[] oppressive psychological manipulation" "of [their] followers." Is threatening eternal damnation oppressive psychological manipulation, for instance? How about urging women to conceal themselves behind veils? I agree, of course, that religions should have the right to engage in such behavior, regardless of whether the government views it as "oppressive psychological manipulation" -- but if the law sets up "oppressive psychological manipulation" as a legal standard for determining which religions' adherents are protected from "blasphem[y]," then courts would have to apply that standard. Is religious tolerance and amity really advanced by official court decisions (and presumably jury decisions) about whether a religion practices "oppressive psychological manipulation"?

Thanks to Baran Alpturk for the pointer.

Brian S:

Is religious tolerance and amity really advanced by official court decisions (and presumably jury decisions) about whether a religion practices "oppressive psychological manipulation"?

Isn't it transparently obvious that this entire section is designed to make sure Scientologists can't make any complaint under the blasphemy law?
7.24.2009 5:29pm
Mark N. (www):
I suspect the second of your concerns will in practice be sidestepped, because the definition of "cult" by reference to "oppressive psychological manipulation" is more of an attempt to say "fringe religious group" in a neutral-sounding manner, than anything that judges are likely to apply as written. I doubt the major established religions will even be subjected to an analysis to determine if they fit the law's criteria, and instead it'll just be used as a way to throw out blasphemy accusations by fringe groups.
7.24.2009 5:29pm
Doesn't the Irish constitution acknowledge some sort of special status for the Catholic Church? I believe it did as originally written, but I don't know what happened to this provision in recent years. It will be interesting to see if blasphemy against Holy Mother Church is treated more harshly than say, blasphemy against Islam.

It also occurs to me that Sunnis and Shia insult each other on a regular basis--when they are not killing each other outright. What happens when a Sunni blasphemes the Shia version of Islam, or vice versa?

Finally, a minor point. Why is the fine set forth in British Pound Sterling? Ireland has been using the Euro since 1/1/2002.
7.24.2009 5:56pm
Eoin O'Dell -- the Eugene Volokh of Ireland -- has been blogging about this for a while at Cearta -- the Volokh Conspiracy of ... well, you know. His latest entry is here, with links to prior entries.
7.24.2009 6:02pm
Comp Sci Phd:
Didn't they just outlaw christianity? As it's blasphemous to judaism. :)

heck, one could make the same about Islam.

Wondering if there are any baal worshipers around anymore to claim that judaism blasphemizes them?
7.24.2009 6:38pm
I think this law is blasphemous, and the members of the Oireachtas should be each fined 25 kilopounds forthwith.
7.24.2009 6:47pm
Mike McDougal:
I like the "oppressive psychological manipulation" defense. You apparently get to turn every blashpemy proceeding into an expose of the religion's dirty laundry.
7.24.2009 6:55pm
One can only imagine James Joyce's reaction:

STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

-- Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

-- Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.

-- Back to barracks, he said sternly.

He added in a preacher's tone:

-- For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.

And so on.
7.24.2009 7:14pm
Melancton Smith:
Didn't they also just ban handguns? Things that make you go hmmmm.
7.24.2009 7:15pm
Big Roy (mail):
Well after the last generation, I was beginning to fear my mother's Ireland, with stinking thatched roofs, toothlessness, all the young men gone over the water to find a job, had gone away. How would my own descendants understand what it meant to be Irish. For pete's sake, I had wonderfully cooked dinner in Cork recently, the telephone never went out the whole time I was in the West Country, and everyone under the age of 30 had a full set of teeth. It was getting to the point where you couldn't recognize anything. It is good to see things are getting back to normal. This adoration of Joyce and Synge was getting unbearable, maybe they can start dynamiting country houses again.
7.24.2009 7:17pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
So how is this different from all those EU and UK laws that prohibit "insulting a religion"? I submit the matter of Oriana Fallaci. From Wikipedia:
In May 2005, Adel Smith, president of the Union of Italian Muslims, launched a lawsuit against Fallaci charging that "some of the things she said in her book The Force of Reason are offensive to Islam." Smith's attorney cited 18 phrases, most notably a phrase that referred to Islam as "a pool that never purifies." [16] [17] Consequently an Italian judge ordered Fallaci to stand trial set for June, 2006 in Bergamo on charges of "defaming Islam." The preliminary trial began on 12 June in Bergamo and on 25 June Judge Beatrice Siccardi decided that Oriana Fallaci should indeed stand trial beginning on 18 December.[18] Fallaci accused the judge of having disregarded the fact that Smith called for her murder and defamed Christianity.[19]
I don't know if insulting Islam is a crime in Ireland, perhaps this new law just evens things up.
7.24.2009 7:27pm

a pool that never purifies

Does using creative metaphors constitute "genuine literary or artistic value"?
7.24.2009 7:41pm
pmorem (mail):
I'm confused.
The "sacred" text of my faith, the Principia Discordia, is now banned?

This law is blasphemy.
7.24.2009 7:53pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Does using creative metaphors constitute "genuine literary or artistic value"?

It must. I can't write that well.
7.24.2009 7:56pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Comp Sci Phd, no, I think 4(a) puts the Catholic church outside the act.
7.24.2009 7:57pm
Can't find a good name:
The maximum fine is actually 25,000 euros, not 25,000 Irish pounds.
7.24.2009 8:12pm
Danny (mail):
So let me get this straight, the EU made a huge stink over Turkey's law against "insulting Turkishness", in the name of free speech, and now they are silent on this?

I DARE them to apply this law. It will be great publicity for freedom of speech.
7.24.2009 8:48pm
And to think that the Irish intelligensia used to make a big stink about that religious nutcase GW Bush....
7.24.2009 9:42pm
John R:
Can someone please explain how Section 4 doesn't describe every religion that has ever existed?
7.24.2009 11:01pm
FIRST! to say that Section 4(b)(1) is aimed at Scientology, and will never be applied against Islam by an Irish Court.
7.25.2009 6:01am
martinned (mail) (www):
The Bunreacht na hEireann, the Irish constitution, has the most glorious language on religion of any constitution I have ever seen. I think I've put it in a VC thread before, but it bears repeating.


In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire,

Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,

Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,

And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,

Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

Article 6

1. All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.

2. These powers of government are exercisable only by or on the authority of the organs of State established by this Constitution.

Article 44

1. The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.

2. 1° Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.

2° The State guarantees not to endow any religion.

3° The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.

4° Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

5° Every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire and administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.

6° The property of any religious denomination or any educational institution shall not be diverted save for necessary works of public utility and on payment of compensation.
7.25.2009 7:01am
martinned (mail) (www):
And, BTW, here in the Netherlands we have a law similar to this one. However, in the 70-odd years that it has been on the books, it has only been used a handful of times, and the last time is already a few decades ago. The simple reason for this lack of popularity is that behaviour banned by the law in question are generally protected by the ECHR, making enforcement impossible.

(In recent years, christian-democratic politicians have been talking about strengthening the law, while a number of liberal politicians have suggested abolishing it altogether. So far, it's still on the books.)
7.25.2009 7:07am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
7.25.2009 10:20am
But it seems to me that Irish legislators should have tried to amend the constitution via referendum rather than enacting this sort of ban.
Not an easy way to go and who knows what might emerge in the end. I would have had them leave things as they were, that is continue on in the "unconstitutional" state of having only a dead-letter blasphemy law, or adopt the law they did but with a maximum penalty of a farthing or whatever is the most minimal coin of the realm.

I presume that only the state can initiate prosecution for blasphemy, so let's hope that no prosecutor ever charges anyone with this offense. Of course, just having such a law on the books cannot help but have a chilling effect. (The Fallaci case, outrageous as it was, was a civil one, not the state prosecuting any individual for what they have said or written.)
7.25.2009 11:13am
Thanks, martinned, for bringing to our attention those parts of the Irish constitution. How curious the so unequivocally Christian, if not specifically Catholic, preamble in light of what follows in articles 6 and 44.
7.25.2009 11:19am
markm (mail):

(4) In this section “religion” does not include an organisation or cult --
(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation --
(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.

Wouldn't that apply to expounding the doctrine of Original Sin? Isn't telling people that they are guilty for even existing "oppressive psychological manipulation"?
7.25.2009 11:52am

Isn't it transparently obvious that this entire section is designed to make sure Scientologists can't make any complaint under the blasphemy law?

The transparently obvious today may be conveniently forgotten by others who wish to use the law to their advantage down the road

FIRST! to say that Section 4(b)(1) is aimed at Scientology, and will never be applied against Islam by an Irish Court.

Did you really make a "First!" post 20 posts in a thread where the very first post made the same point?
7.25.2009 12:19pm
Volokh Groupie:
@Mike McDougal

Indeed. How do the catholic camps meant to 'save' homosexuals from themselves not fall under "oppressive psychological manipulation"?

How about any type of corporal punishment in and standardized religious education in say a catholic/muslim/jewish school not also qualify?

It looks like the Irish are just trying to follow the French attempt to weasel their way out of applying their religious laws consistently (by the cult demarcation). Why are they so afraid of the flying spaghetti monster?
7.25.2009 8:11pm
Volokh Groupie:
seconding the thanks to martinned for linking that fascinating bit of the Irish constitution - it reads like their framers were characters from lord of the rings
7.25.2009 8:17pm
John A (mail):
And, oh dear, that "reasonable person" shows up again. Why not "community standards" as well?

Remember, a Walt Disney nature documentary (The Vanishing Prairie) was banned in Chicago by "reasonable" persons acting in accord with "community standards."

If that is the best manner any lawmaker can come up with of defining something as being either legal or illegal, said lawmaker should be made to spend a year in exile a minimum of one thousand miles from home - preferably where he/she does not understand the predominant language.
7.25.2009 8:45pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The Monte Python skit sums it all up better than anything else. Who needs courts?
7.25.2009 8:50pm
NorthernDave (mail):
Now see you're interpreting this from a N.A. perspective.

Section 4 of the blasphemy law obviously (to a traditional Irish weltanschauung) applies to anyone who isn't a loyal member of Mother Rome.

Simple really, Rome is True Religion and all else is evil cult (see Council of Trent fully reaffirmed by Vat. II).

Ah Europa, thou who seeketh to undo the Battle of Chrysopolis

I predict it will begin by being implemented against smaller groups (JW's, Mormons, the Scientologists we all abhor, etc.) move up against moderate groups (Baptists, Pentacostals and others who actually read their bibles) and then move to remove the larger opponents (mainline Protestants, Islam, etc...........).....

As long as the Atheists attend Mass and bow to the Priestly class they will be tolerated....

Reminds me of a song, "The more things change, the more they stay the same......."
7.25.2009 9:12pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

Isn't it transparently obvious that this entire section is designed to make sure Scientologists can't make any complaint under the blasphemy law?

exactly. which religion's negative reinforcement principles do not fall under the umbrella of "employing oppressive psychological manipulation of its followers or to gain new followers"? this law is a joke.
7.25.2009 11:18pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
Or, it maybe a fiendishly deep, clever maneuver by libertarian Irish parlimentarians. Since they can't *not* have a blasphemy law, they write one which allows the defendant to make the "oppressiveness" of the religion an issue in the case. A good incentive for religioius leaders to publicly urge the authorities to adopt a forgiving attitude toward poor benighted blasphemers
7.26.2009 1:00am
The counterpart to distrust of applying international norms wholesale to our laws is distrust of applying our norms wholesale to other countries.

I wouldn't necessarily want to live this way. There is, however, a huge gray area between countries which don't live up to our standards, on the other hand, and countries which do really depraved things like massecring their citizens on the other. We have to have the ability to conduct foreign policy with countries whose norms are far worse than this, and this requires a certain thickness of skin.
7.26.2009 1:11am
Portia27 (mail):
"employing oppressive psychological manipulation of its followers or to gain new followers"?

This is precisely what the Roman Catholic Cult has been doing to human beings for thousands of years.

Shall we look and see how blasphemy was dealt with in the past by this Patriarchal system.

Look closely at what the Holy Trinity really was?
The Holy Trinity:

When a sinner had "blasphemed the holy name of god", or when he had perhaps told some truth about the local priest, it was customary to apply the holy trinity.

The Iron mask was heated in an open fire until red hot, then put upon his head.

The scourge, also red hot, was then applied to his back.

After the mask had cooled, it was removed from the sinner, taking skin (and usually eyeballs) with it.

The prisoner's mouth was then opened and red hot pincers were used to remove the prisoner's tongue.

It is interesting to note that the Holy Trinity was designed not to cause death, so that the maimed, blinded and mute prisoner could live out his days as a burden to his family and as a testimony to what happens when one lets his tongue wag too freely.
7.26.2009 11:20am
Portia27 (mail):
Who needs courts?


Who needs court corporations- designed to make money out of human beings- who often do not even understand this legal jargon in the first place.

One could always say they had no knowledge of committing this "crime" of blasphemy.

I mean, how can you insult an invisible man made God?

As for cults- now that is a joke.

I was once deemed a member of a Cult in Eire, so I asked who are the other members, because I sure do not know anyone else that thinks the same as me?

Oh , just you was the reply- so you see how crazy Ireland really is- the court can deem you a member and a leader of a cult with just 1 human being in it.

Worse still, the Judge agreed.

That is what happens when you free yourself from the Catholic Cult and think for yourself.
7.26.2009 11:28am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
May Cromwell's Legacy live on Forever and Ever.

...tee hee.
7.27.2009 10:19am
Do jokes about priests buggering little boys count?
7.27.2009 2:21pm
"Blasphemy" is hardly a new concept, but I don't know that I have ever seen it defined in multi-faith way. This is a new thing under the sun.

The statute's decision to create a hierarchy of denominations, with a established church, and recognized dissenting churches, and a further tier of cults that do not receive the benefit of the protections affford to religions, is hardly new.

Also fascinating, is that the "substantial number of the adherents of that religion" clause does not appear to have geographical limitation other than the intent of the person uttering it. A comic intended to outrage the five Jewish families at your local school might be non-criminal. A comic intended to outrage five hundred thousand people in Israel, in contrast, might be criminal. Indeed, this might even be true for the same comic. The vile act of bullying intended by the author might be non-criminal; but the assistant principal's decision that the comic deserved a world audience and should be posted on the Internet might merit a criminal sanction.

The "he or she publishes or utters" clause also poses an interesting hypothetical. Suppose that you design a computer program that randomly develops insulting utterances and publishes them, knowing that some might be blasphemous in some religion, but without knowing precisely who or how in advance. Is the computer program designer at fault? Or, is the computer itself the violator? And, if the computer either a "he" or a "she"?
7.27.2009 6:56pm
The point made by neurodoc is a good one. Given the expressly trinitarian Christian position of the Irish Constitution itself, can a definition of blashemy inconsistent with that definition be consistent with the Irish Constitution?
7.27.2009 7:01pm
feptannittivy (mail) (www):

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7.27.2009 9:25pm

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