Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Discuss church-state separation issues that are relevant in Ireland.
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ctr
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Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by ctr » Wed Apr 29, 2009 2:38 am

A NEW crime of blasphemous libel is to be proposed by the Minister for Justice in an amendment to the Defamation Bill, which will be discussed by the Oireachtas committee on justice today.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “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.”

Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/fro ... l?digest=1


So, wrt to this forum and AI members I believe we all would be subject to the provisions of this proposed law and we need to NOW start campaigning against it.

This is just sick!! :evil:
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by UDS » Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:25 am

OK.

This is not quite the novelty that the Irish Times article suggests.

Blasphemous libel is already an offence at common law in Ireland. Along with many other former British possessions, we inherited it from our colonial overlords. So far as I can find out there has never been a single prosecution in the history of the state for blasphemous libel. Nobody really knows exactly what a “blasphemous libel” is, but most commentators agree that it involves an attack on Christian beliefs, rather than on the beliefs of any religion. (Though, as the Irish Times article points out, the Supreme Court has suggested that a law privileging Christian beliefs over others would be repugnant to the Constitution.) In 1961 the government of the day legislated to set the penalties for blasphemous libel (£500 or 2 years or both), still without defining the offence, but also to provide that newspaper editors and publishers could not be prosecuted for blasphemous libel without first getting a High Court order.

This looks like a typically Irish arrangement; a law which, in principle, gratifies the feelings of a certain section of socially conservative religious opinion but which, in practice, is never enforced. And nobody really knows what it means anyway.

It’s not, though, a uniquely Irish arrangement; Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other former British possessions, and of course England itself, were all in a similar situation for many years.

It’s obviously anomalous, but there are two different ways of correcting the anomaly.

England abolished the offence entirely a couple of years ago. They have other legislation which targets hate speech directed at people on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc; this extends to hate speech targeted on the basis of religion. They reckon that provides sufficient protection.

Canada, New Zealand and other countries have legislated to define the offence, and to introduce a defence of expressing an opinion on a religious subject in good faith and in decent language.

The Irish government seems to be going down the second route, defining and limiting the offence. On the one hand, they are broadening it so that it protects all religions equally (as they must, if they are going to keep the offence). On the other hand, they are narrowing it; a person must intend to cause outrage by what he says in order to commit the offence. It’s not enough that he says something that outrages people.

We’ll have to wait until the government explains its thinking in the parliamentary debate, but I presume they have considered the alternative of simply abolishing the offence. Their problem, I suspect, is that the Constitution says that blasphemous libel is to be an offence, and if they attempt to abolish it entirely they run the risk of the legislation being found to be unconstitutional. They can only solve this problem with a referendum, and they’re not going to do that.

Somehow, I doubt that New Improved Blasphemous Libel will be prosected any more often than Original Blasphemous Libel was.
ctr
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by ctr » Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:03 am

Mmmm
Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.
In the only Irish case taken under this article, Corway -v- Independent Newspapers, in 1999, the Supreme Court concluded that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”.

It also stated that a special protection for Christianity was incompatible with the religious equality provisions of Article 44.
So we are giving definition for the Court to allow for the Anti-Blasphemy provisions in the Constitution to be enforced.

I still think this will criminalise me and most others here. Regardless whether this is enforced or not and this I find repugnant.
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by UDS » Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:20 am

Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.
I’m slightly surprised (and disappointed) that Labour aren’t pressing the alternative of complete abolition. But perhaps they reckon that because of the constitutional issue it’s a fight they can’t win, and they want to keep their powder dry for some other battle.
ctr wrote:So we are giving definition for the Court to allow for the Anti-Blasphemy provisions in the Constitution to be enforced.

I still think this will criminalise me and most others here. Regardless whether this is enforced or not and this I find repugnant.
I don’t think it will be enforced, but I still agree that the whole thing is repugnant. There is a case for criminalising hate speech, but it needs to be thought through very carefully. I don’t see any need to treat religiously-focussed hate-speech any differently from other kinds of hate speech, and in any event [speech that causes outrage] is much wider than [hate speech]. This is bad legislation.
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by Hobbesian World View » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:39 am

It seems to me that this is being tacked onto the Defamation Bill to make it comply with the constitution. Its an attempt to head off any legal challenges to the Defamation Bill, on constitutional grounds.

Although, I cannot see why the punishments have to be so high, €100,000. I would support labours amendment as the best immediate course of action.
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by Hobbesian World View » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:49 am

UDS wrote:This looks like a typically Irish arrangement; a law which, in principle, gratifies the feelings of a certain section of socially conservative religious opinion but which, in practice, is never enforced. And nobody really knows what it means anyway.
I can see why you think it might never be enforced. Its worded in such a way as to make it unproveable in most cases. As its going to be a criminal offence, they would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you absolutely "intend to cause outrage".

Quite hard to prove intention, in this case. But obviously we still need get this blasphemy bill neutered.
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by MichaelNugent » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:58 am

This will now definitely be part of the focus of our public launch, which was referred to in our recent membership recruitment email.

Our policy on a secular constitution had downplayed the blasphemy issue as it was not being enforced but if the Government is proactively focusing on the issue we will have to give it a higher priority.

We should also act more immediately on this. If anyone has time today to contact the Justice Minister, their local TD or the members of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, please do so.

The members of the Justice Committee, who are discussing this today, are:

TDs
Brendan Kenneally FF Chairman
Dinny McGinley FG Vice Chairman
Sean Connick FF Govt Convenor
Brian O'Shea Lab Opposition Convenor
Darragh O'Brien FF
Thomas Byrne FF
Jimmy Deenihan FG
Michael Mulcahy FF
Denis Naughten FG
Charlie Flanagan FG
Niall Collins FF
Pat rabbitte Lab
Noel Tracey FF

Senators
Eugene Regan FG
Ivana Bacik Ind
Lisa McDonald FF
Denis O'Donovan FF
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by UDS » Wed Apr 29, 2009 9:37 am

Hobbesian World View wrote:I can see why you think it might never be enforced. Its worded in such a way . . . .
Actually, the main reason I think it's not going to be enforced is that there has been no appetite to enforce it for the last eighty-seven years, and nothing has changed now that would make enforcement politically palatable.

Why are they doing anything at all about blasphemous libel? Well, the Supreme Court pointed out nine years ago that the constitutional provisions about blasphemy needed amplification by legislation and were unworkable until that happened. The situation could only be resolved by (a) legislating to regulate the offence of blasphemy, or (b) holding a referendum to remove the offence altogether.

It would be possible to introduce a Defamation Bill and not address the issue, letting the present half-arsed state of affairs continue, but in that case the Supreme Court could be expected to engage in some fairly plain speaking about the Government and its attitude to the Constitution when the issue next came before them. Probably the calculation was that moving to regulate blasphemy would be less politically costly than abolishing it, since abolition would require a referendum (always unpopular) and would attract very vocal opposition from a small but loud section of the population. Whereas confirming the offence by regulating it will attract only a few hostile opinion pieces in the Irish Times and, so long as there are no prosecutions, there will be no real political cost.

(The level of fine, I'm pretty sure, is the standard fine for every offence under the Bill. It's not that the government decided that blasphemy was worth that; it's just that they couldn't be bothered creating a separate fine for blasphemy. What's the point, given that no-one will ever be convicted?)
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by IrishAndroid » Wed Apr 29, 2009 9:47 am

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Adam and I over on uccatheists.com are rallying the troops. I hope those TDs are ready for a barrage of very angry phone calls, emails and letters. :)

Some lines shouldn't be crossed in relation to free speech. This is one of them.
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Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by Hobbesian World View » Wed Apr 29, 2009 10:57 am

UDS wrote:Actually, the main reason I think it's not going to be enforced is that there has been no appetite to enforce it for the last eighty-seven years, and nothing has changed now that would make enforcement politically palatable.
Ah but something has changed. And that something is islam. The islamic community is bigger now and growing and they will demand enforcement of this blasphemy law, whenever anyone criticizes islam.

And the government will cave in rather than risk our business relationships in the middle east. Dont forget we still export loads of beef and butter to Saudi and the rest of the oil states. Government has learnt from the Danish cartoons crisis. We cannot count on this blashphemy law not being enforced. It must be watered down urgently.
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