Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Discuss church-state separation issues that are relevant in Ireland.
Post Reply
adamd164
Atheist Ireland Member
Atheist Ireland Member
Posts: 1004
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 11:58 am
Location: Cork
Contact:

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by adamd164 » Fri May 01, 2009 8:28 am

Why did he feel the need to so explicitly define it as outlined in his "three requisites" for material to be deemed blasphemous? Stinks of a move to make prosecutions easier in light of the 1999 Supreme Court case. If he had just wanted to remove the possibility of prison sentences as he claims, then this reform went unnecessarily far in the direction of making prosecutions themselves a distinct possibility in the near future.

Although jail sentences are out the window, as he trumpets, the fact is that no one could have been convicted before now with the aforementioned precedent until blasphemy was explicitly defined. And given that his only reason for not calling a referendum is apparently monetary, there doesn't seem to be any real justification for this. His piece is extremely disingenuous in that regard. Further, why such a hefty maximum fine for those convicted? Again, this goes above and beyond the mark if one was to take his claims at face value.
UDS
Posts: 120
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 7:23 am

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by UDS » Fri May 01, 2009 9:18 am

adamd164 wrote:Why did he feel the need to so explicitly define it as outlined in his "three requisites" for material to be deemed blasphemous?
Because the Supreme Court said, in the Corway case, that the Oireachtas had to define the offence of blasphemy. In light of this, he couldn’t introduce legislation on this subject which didn’t define the offence; it would probably not have survived scrutiny in the Supreme Court.
adamd164 wrote:Stinks of a move to make prosecutions easier in light of the 1999 Supreme Court case. If he had just wanted to remove the possibility of prison sentences as he claims, then this reform went unnecessarily far in the direction of making prosecutions themselves a distinct possibility in the near future.
The three elements, in fairness to Aherne (much as I hate being fair to him) are probably designed not to make prosecution easier, but more difficult. The “intent” element in particular puts a significant hurdle in the way of a successful prosecution.
adamd164 wrote:Although jail sentences are out the window, as he trumpets, the fact is that no one could have been convicted before now with the aforementioned precedent until blasphemy was explicitly defined. . . . Further, why such a hefty maximum fine for those convicted? Again, this goes above and beyond the mark if one was to take his claims at face value.
The hefty level of the fine ensures that the offence can only be prosecuted on indictment, meaning (a) that there must always be a jury trial, and (b) that only the Director of Public Prosecutions can make the decision to prosecute. Offences with a modest penalty can be tried summarily, in the District Court, which means no jury, and also means – at least in theory – that an aggrieved private citizen can mount a prosecution if the DPP fails to. One of the few blasphemy prosecutions in England in recent decades was a private prosecution (of the editor of Gay News for publishing a homoerotic poem about the crucified Christ); I think Aherne is trying to head off that kind of scenario ever unfolding here.
adamd164 wrote:And given that his only reason for not calling a referendum is apparently monetary, there doesn't seem to be any real justification for this. His piece is extremely disingenuous in that regard.
In the continuing spirit of fairness to Aherne, he is genuinely in a bit of a bind here. The media/publication/journalism industry have been crying out for reform to Irish defamation law for at least ten years; everybody recognises that a Defamation Bill it is long overdue, and that any credible bill has to repeal the Defamation Act 1961, the last piece of legislation on the subject. But, after Corway, any Bill which does this must also legislate on blasphemy, unless the constitutional provision is first amended or removed.

Now, it may be true, as some have suggested, that Aherne’s own instinct would be to keep the offence of blasphemy and legislate for it, rather than abolish it. But even if his preference were for abolition, he would need to convince the cabinet of the need to hold a referendum on this subject, and then to convince his own backbenchers, and motivate his party. And, let’s be honest, however enthusiastic he was for this, it wouldn’t happen. There needs to be a Lisbon II referendum, it will be bloody difficult, and everybody is keeping their powder dry for that. Even the Labour Party is not attempting to embarrass the government over not holding a referendum on this issue at this time; there is simply no mileage in it.
MichaelNugent
Atheist Ireland Member
Atheist Ireland Member
Posts: 619
Joined: Wed Jun 04, 2008 1:50 am
Location: Dublin
Contact:

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by MichaelNugent » Fri May 01, 2009 10:01 am

I have posted a message on the announcements section of the forum about an active response to this bill.

If you want to help organise this, please check out this post.
adamd164
Atheist Ireland Member
Atheist Ireland Member
Posts: 1004
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 11:58 am
Location: Cork
Contact:

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by adamd164 » Fri May 01, 2009 11:01 am

UDS wrote:Because the Supreme Court said, in the Corway case, that the Oireachtas had to define the offence of blasphemy. In light of this, he couldn’t introduce legislation on this subject which didn’t define the offence; it would probably not have survived scrutiny in the Supreme Court.
I take the point that he couldn't introduce new legislation without clarification, but what is disingenuous is his suggestion that there was a need for such amendments given the potential for jail time on conviction that had existed: there was manifestly no possibility of this becoming an issue precisely because the term had not been defined. Therefore, no matter which way it's spun, the fact is that conviction for the offence was hitherto impossible but is now possible.
Neil
Posts: 97
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 2:27 am
Location: Dublin

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by Neil » Fri May 01, 2009 12:09 pm

That's what I was thinking. The court ruled that if you want to convict someone, you need to define blasphemy. It seems to follow that the only reason you would want to define blasphemy is to make it possible to convict...

It was a harmless, pointless law before. Now it's one that can be put to use. That's frightening, and it's dangerous.
"The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it."
- Terry Pratchett
lostexpectation
Posts: 1993
Joined: Wed Feb 07, 2007 11:28 pm

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by lostexpectation » Fri May 01, 2009 12:59 pm

UDS wrote:
lostexpectation wrote:so dermot doesn't even take one sentence to consider actually having a referendum.
He obviously doesn’t feel the need to justify the decision not to go for a referendum; he expects people to see that as reasonable and right.

As you note yourself, Pat Rabbitte may say in e-mails that he favours deleting the constitutional provision, but the Labour Party has not taken this opportunity to call for a referendum and appears to be exclusively following “Plan B”, to water down the proposed statutory offence by reducing the penalty. That might suggest that they share Aherne’s view, that public opinion would not favour a referendum, and they don’t want to be seen to be calling for one – they reckon the stance would be unpopular.

I don’t think this means that they think the public reckons blasphemy should be an offence; just that the public doesn’t like referendums, except on issues that they recognise as being of major and immediate importance. And, since no-one has ever been prosecuted for blasphemy or is ever likely to be, this is not such an issue.

They could of course be wrong about public attitudes to a referendum on this topic but, to be brutally honest, I suspect they are not wrong. But, right or wrong, if even the Labour Party is taking this view of matters, there is no realistic prospect of securing a referendum.

And, if there is no referendum, then this Bill pretty well has to regulate the constitutional offence of blasphemy. The only way to get it out of the Bill is to get a commitment to a referendum.

All of which suggests to me that a campaign to get this out of the Bill by having a referendum instead will almost certainly fail.

Which is not to say that it’s not worth mounting a campaign. If nothing else, it will serve as an exercise is raising awareness and drawing attention to issues. This helps to build a support base for the longer term. Plus, the more heat the politicians feel over this episode, the more willing they will be to contemplate a generally secularising constitutional reform programme at some point. Plus, it could lead to the statutory provisiosn being further modified, not just with the “literary, artistic” etc defence suggested by Labour, but with a second defence protecting good faith discourse and debate and – irony of ironies – freedom of religious expression. (What if my religious belief is that Jesus was not the Son of God, or the Pope is the AntiChrist? Do I not have a right to say so?)
well now we got UDS's opinion on it we can start breathing again.

he said it was a cost issue cost isn't an issue when it comes to referendums
test
nozzferrahhtoo
Atheist Ireland Member
Atheist Ireland Member
Posts: 1140
Joined: Thu May 29, 2008 8:17 am

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by nozzferrahhtoo » Fri May 01, 2009 3:37 pm

Thank you for your email.

A press release explaining and clarifying this matter is in your newspaper today. I hope it will relieve you of your concerns.

Rath Dé ort.

JIM WALSH
======================

Has anyone read this press release, or is it just referring to the opinion piece posted above?
adamd164
Atheist Ireland Member
Atheist Ireland Member
Posts: 1004
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 11:58 am
Location: Cork
Contact:

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by adamd164 » Fri May 01, 2009 5:46 pm

Not sure, I got the same response earlier.

Either way, Ahern's piece clears up nothing other than that he's out to obfuscate and slyly win the sympathy vote: potential for jailtime was non-existant given that the term "blasphemy" had not been defined and could not be prosecuted. Now it can be because of his reform.
gcooke
Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:53 pm

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by gcooke » Sat May 02, 2009 11:15 am

adamd164
Atheist Ireland Member
Atheist Ireland Member
Posts: 1004
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 11:58 am
Location: Cork
Contact:

Re: Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

Post by adamd164 » Sat May 02, 2009 3:00 pm

Sir,

Eric Conway (letters, 02/05) suggests, apparently entirely seriously, that atheism should be legally branded a thought crime by the Irish state. Notwithstanding the obviously ludicrous nature of this dystopian fantasy, which in itself scarcely deserves consideration, I feel it important to correct his preceding misunderstandings, which are perhaps a little more widely held.

A fact that seems to be acknowledged for all areas of social dialogue apart from religion is that scorning the views or beliefs held by another is quite distinct from criticising or ridiculing the individual themselves. No one set of beliefs or ideologies such ever be put off the table of rational debate; for this is the point at which we enter the realms of totalitarianism. Consider, for example, how ridiculous it would rightly be perceived if offence towards the political inclinations or musical tastes of others were outlawed, and you'll immediately notice the cognitive dissonance that seems to occur when religion is substituted for these fields.

The real problem here is that religion has carved itself a niche in society whereby it gains immunity from even the mildest of criticisms. In reality, all that most atheists are advocating is the extension of free and open discussion, a concept that seems worryingly, but not suprisingly, troubling to large swathes of religious sentiment. In the spirit of Voltaire, I may not agree with the conflicting views of my compatriot, but I'll defend to the death his right to express them: and that goes for religion, too.

Yours etc,
Post Reply