The West appears undeterred in its rush to embrace prosecutions for criticizing religion. This week Ireland is considering creating its own blasphemy law to allow for criminal prosecution — the same week as Finland began prosecuting a politician for blasphemy.
I wrote a column recently on this dangerous trend in the West. “Blasphemous libel” crimes would be added to the Defamation Bill proposed by the Irish government. The Constitution already contains Article 40 which states: “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.”
It is an outrageous provision that strikes at the heart of free speech. The government should be proposing to repel it rather than codify a new crime to crackdown further on civil liberties. Atheists are opposing the law.
Indeed, last year, a committee proposed amendment Article 40 to remove this language, which originated back in the time when the Church of England was given protections from critics. Likewise, in 1999, the Irish Supreme Court noted in Corway -v- Independent Newspapers that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”.
Under the new law, a “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.” “Grossly abusive or insulting”? It is astonishing that such language would find any supporters in the West, let alone the Irish Justice Minister.
Civil libertarians need to create a united front against this insidious trend. It is the most misguided interpretation of pluralism. In the name of pluralistic societies, you criminalize free speech and free thought.
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