Blasphemy

The Defamation Act of 2009 came into force on 1st January. Blasphemous libel is a section in this Act. It makes such utterances punishable by a €25,000 fine. It can be used to silence dissent. It interferes unreasonably with freedom of expression and gives succour and encouragement to the supporters of Sharia law in Europe and elsewhere. Outrage provoked by religious belief is not uncommon and should not be legally sanctioned in a liberal society. The Act allows a defence if a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

The remedy for this absurdity from the government is to include the removal of blasphemy from the constitution as part of the next referendum and repeal this section of the Act. A presumed unintended consequence of this Act is the likelihood that it will form a core pillar in any referendum campaign to oppose the admission of Turkey to the European Union. The experiences of Salman Rushdie issued with a Fatwa and death threats in 1989 following the publication of the Satanic Verses and the censorship regime in this state orchestrated by former Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Charles McQuaid should be object lessons for liberals in the consequences of legalising religious intolerance.

A further unintended consequence is a plea of justification or mitigation for crimes committed in the name of religion. The Dutch experience, including the murder of Theo van Gogh, is salutary in this regard.

Religious freedom and freedom to criticise must be protected in Irish society.