Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blasphemy in the Internet Age and other Oddities

On finally reading the soon-to-be Defamation Act, I am struck by the absurdity of section 37. If legislating for a criminal offence of blasphemy wasn't bad enough, section 37 allows for search, seizure and disposal of blasphemous matter. Logical I suppose, but the days — if they ever existed — when you could destroy a blasphemous book by burning all the copies are surely long gone. Publication on the internet will frustrate any powers of search and seizure, and any search, seizure and disposal that might take place would be entirely pointless.

Another curious oddity of the new offence is that it will an indictable offence (placing it in a class along with treason, murder, rape and riot) but one for which you can't be sent to prison (like littering) unless you refuse to pay or don't have the money, that is. As a consequence, people accused of blasphemy will face a jury trial, even though this is normally reserved for people facing fairly stiff terms in prison. Normally when the Oireachtas create new offences, they create them as "either/or" which can be tried either summarily before a district judge or upon indictment before the Circuit Court or the Central Criminal Court.

And another thing. The justification given for enacting a blasphemy law is complete nonsense. The Minister for Justice may well be right to say that they can't — within the terms of the Constitution — repeal all of the 1961 Defamation Act without in some way replacing its blasphemy provision, but there was no need to repeal all of that act. The relevant provisions could have been left unrepealed.


  1. In the 21st century, few Europeans want to live where blasphemy laws are all the rage.

    Where does Ireland want to stand in the political geography of the world?

  2. That's a good question, I don't think blasphemy should be illegal, but I think there are actually a fair number of European countries with similar laws and the ECHR upheld such a law in the Gay News case.

    Unfortunately as the Irish Constitution requires that blasphemy be a criminal offence, we'll probably need a referendum if we want to abolish it.