Blasphemous libel is now against the law in Ireland. Putting this in context, from the Defamation Act signed into law this morning by the President Mary McAleese:
36.—(1) 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.
Before we get onto the meat of the post, let’s consider whether the Christian churches, Islam and Judaism are cults now under the Irish definition in (4). Any person who’s been to the Vatican in recent years might be left scratching his or her head over (4)(a) as well. Anyway…
The steps to be taken to commit an offence are quite massive, to be honest. You would have to be going some to deliberately outrage ‘a substantial number’ of adherents to any religion, and in general, that’s just prohibitively expensive, though it can be hilarious. Much better to be casually offensive at a pretty low level. For instance, dear reader, if I was able to convincingly argue that I wrote ‘God doesn’t exist and each world religion is a tool by which the terminally stupid are controlled’ either as a statement of belief or in the furtherance of a logical scientific objective, such as driving more blog hits and advertising revenue, it would be tough to convict me.
Further, it is not enough to be insulted on others’ behalf. You have to actually live the dream in which your invisible sky friend is incapable of tolerating one of her creations taking the piss out of them, and needs one of his unworthy, repressed simpering imbecile followers to be insulted on his/her/its behalf.
I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea the religions need to be protected. Either something is utter bullshit or it’s not, and me expressing an opinion on it will not change the veracity of the statement or even the soundness of the idea. The god either does not exist or is big and ugly enough to look after him/herself, and people getting outraged over his existence or non-existence ought to be no concern of mine, and was no concern of mine, until this ridiculous legislation.