Convention’s vote on blasphemy could bring Ireland back to the 1980s

We are pleased that 61% of the Constitutional Convention members have rejected the reference to blasphemy in the Constitution. But we are shocked and concerned by some aspects of the outcome.

We are shocked that 38% of the members voted to keep this anachronistic reminder of the Ireland of Eamon de Valera. We are also shocked that 49% want there to be a law against blasphemy in 21st century Ireland. If these votes reflect Irish society generally, we may be in for a more difficult 1980s-style referendum campaign than we had anticipated.

It shows that we cannot become complacent in the ongoing campaign for pluralism, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and ethical secular separation of church and state in Ireland.

It shows that we still have considerable work to do in removing the harmful impact of this clause internationally, where Islamic States have used the Irish blasphemy law at the United Nations to promote blasphemy laws around the world.

New clause including incitement to religious hatred?

We are concerned that 53% of the Convention want to replace the offence in the Constitution with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred. 38% wanted to remove it altogether, and 9% were undecided.

For a start, the word ‘include’ is ambiguous. Does this mean a new general provision that bans both blasphemy and incitement to religious hatred? Or does it mean a new clause that allows blasphemy but bans religious hatred?

Whatever it means, why should we again give undue privilege to religion? If we were to include prohibition of incitement to hatred in our Constitution, why should we discriminate against many victims of other types of hatred by focusing only on religious hatred, as opposed to hatred on the ground of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation?

The ballot paper did not include the option to replace the clause with a positive clause on freedom of expression based on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This option was recommended by Atheist Ireland, and previously by the 1996 Irish Constitution Review Group chaired by TK Whitaker.

New law against blasphemy?

We are shocked that 49% of the Convention members want there to be a law against blasphemy in 21st century Ireland, and that 82% believe that, if there should be such a law, it should be a new detailed law including incitement to religious hatred.

The terms of reference did not suggest that the Convention would be voting on this, and so Atheist Ireland concentrated (in our written submission and our speeches to the Convention) on the problems with the Constitutional clause, and the existing law that the Government felt obliged to pass solely because of that Constitutional clause.

Here are two initial responses to this development.

Firstly, we already have a law against incitement to hatred. It is the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. It bans incitement to hatred on account of race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation. Why should we need a new law that isolates one of these categories of incitement to hatred, and bans it again?

Secondly, blasphemy laws and incitement to religious hatred laws are different things. The UK recently decided it could not allow both to exist and repealed its blasphemy law. You can commit incitement to religious hatred against people, but you cannot commit blasphemy against a person.

We will prepare a more detailed response on this issue soon.

Posted in Atheist Ireland | 1 Response

Atheist Ireland speeches about blasphemy at the Constitutional Convention

Michael Nugent, Prof David Nash and Jane Donnelly, on behalf of Atheist Ireland, made the following three speeches today at the Constitutional Convention meeting about blasphemy law. They run from 2:42 – 11:44 on the video.

Speech by Michael Nugent, Chairperson Atheist Ireland
(2:42 – 6:36 on video)

You have rights, your beliefs do not. That is the essence of freedom of conscience.

You can respect my right to believe that there is no God, while not respecting the content of my belief. And I can respect your right to believe that there is a God, without respecting the content of your belief.

But blasphemy laws discriminate against atheists. They treat religious beliefs and sensitivities as more worthy of legal protection than atheist beliefs and sensitivities.

For example, we were recently at a conference in Limerick about religious pluralism in Irish schools, at which two Catholic theologians said that atheists are not fully human.

A recent edition of the Catholic newspaper Alive quoted an article from the Telegraph that said that “atheists live short, selfish, stunted little lives, often childless, before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in trench.”

Now, that may be intended as satirical – certainly the comment about atheists being not fully human was not meant as satirical – but can you imagine the reaction if an atheist published such comments about religious people?

But here is the point. We are not reacting with outrage. We are not calling for Alive to be banned, or for Catholic theologians to be censored.

We are happy to react in a more proportionate manner than by expressing outrage when people say things that are insensitive to what we believe. And we think that the Constitution and law should encourage religious people to do the same, rather than incentivizing expressions of outrage.

It is also important to remember that blasphemy laws, as well as being discriminatory against atheists, affect religious people too. We in Atheist Ireland campaign for many Christians and Muslims who are victims of blasphemy laws in mostly Islamic states

From the day that Ireland passed our new blasphemy law, we have campaigned tirelessly against it. We have held public meetings, we have lobbied politicians, we have liased with international human rights monitoring bodies.

In Ireland we are used to pretending that laws don’t mean what they say that they mean, and most people are bemused to even discover that we have a blasphemy law. But internationally, where people take laws at face value, they are astonished that a modern western democracy has passed a new blasphemy law in the 21st century.

And they ask us, do we not realise the political support that this gives to Islamic States who infringe on human rights through blasphemy laws and who use the Irish law as part justification at the United Nations.

You were told earlier on by an expert that that was a misquote. It’s not a misquote. Pakistan cited the Irish definition of blasphemy as what it wanted implemented internationally in its proposals to the ad hoc committee on the elaboration of complementary standards in its call for an international instrument preventing the defamation of religion at the United Nations.

That is happening, and it’s not just in Pakistan. Islamic States are using the Irish blasphemy law as an example of it being normal to have such laws.

And when we tell these people that it is our Constitution that requires us to have a law against blasphemy, they ask us how and when can we change that clause in our Constitution.

The answer to that question is here and now. You today have a unique opportunity, as members of this Convention, to recommend to the Irish Government that we replace this anachronism with a positive clause about freedom of expression, modeled on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Please read our written submission for more details. I now ask Professor David Nash, of Oxford Brookes University, and Jane Donnelly, our Human Rights Officer, to elaborate further.

Speech by Professor David Nash, Oxford Brookes University
(6:36 – 9:40 on video)

I have researched and published on blasphemy for 20 years, and have advised a number of western governments for 10 years notably in the UK and Australia.

Very few countries still have blasphemy laws, as blasphemy laws as opposed to religious hatred laws, and these are entirely the remnant of much older laws and the attitudes that go with them. But Ireland’s constitutional requirements have led to a new law – the only newly constructed modern law in the west. As such it is a significant break with past laws (and past laws in Ireland itself).

Although there have been no prosecutions in Ireland, it is clear that this law has victims beyond these shores, as other countries actively cite and view Ireland’s law as a precedent to persecute both the religious and non-religious in their own societies.

It is this which has led the United Nations special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion (Professor Heiner Bielefeldt) to liaise with me, and to request reports from me on the situation in Ireland, in recognition of the potential impact of Ireland’s law upon other nations.

He has asked me to pass on this message to you, the members of this Convention.

‘There is a growing consensus within the human rights community that we have to move away from anti-blasphemy laws which, as countless examples demonstrate, generally have intimidating effects on religious belief minorities, dissenters, converts and others.

Rather than resorting to blasphemy legislation, what we ought to do is try to overcome stereotypes and prejudices by enhancing interreligious and intercultural communication’

Professor Bielefeldt, myself and others request the removal of Ireland’s Constitutional requirement to have this law, thus ending the damage it currently does to the secular and religious life of this and other nations.

Speech by Jane Donnelly , Human Rights Officer Atheist Ireland
(9:40 – 11:44 on video)

Asia Noreen Bibi is the face of blasphemy laws. She is a 43-year-old Christian mother from Pakistan, who faces execution by hanging after being convicted of blasphemy. And two politicians who supported her have been murdered for doing so.

In April 2009, Dermot Ahern told the Dail that the Irish Constitution obliged him to introduce a new law against blasphemy. Two months later, in June 2009, in Pakistan, Asia Bibi went to fetch water while picking fruits in the fields near her village.

Some Muslim co-workers objected to Asia touching the water bowl because she was a Christian and therefore unclean. Five days later, her co-workers claimed that Asia had made critical comments about Muhammad, and a mob gathered to punish her.

Asia was convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to hang. When the Governor of Punjab questioned her conviction, he was murdered by one of his own bodyguards. The Minorities Minister in the Government, a Christian, defended her and he was murdered too.

We in Atheist Ireland, along with other human rights campaigners, have sought the release of Asia Bibi, and other such victims. We are regularly told that we in Ireland have just passed our own new blasphemy law, so why are we complaining about theirs?

During all of this, the Pakistani Government was leading the Islamic States at the United Nations in calling for an extension of blasphemy laws around the world, using wording taken directly from Ireland’s new blasphemy law.

In today’s world, our actions in Ireland affect real people elsewhere. Please send a message to Asia Bibi, the face of blasphemy laws, and to her captors, by voting to remove the blasphemy clause from our Constitution.

Posted in Irish Constitution | 1 Response

Atheist Ireland asks Constitutional Convention to remove blasphemy offence

Atheist Ireland has today made the following submission to the Irish Constitutional Convention, seeking the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

1. Executive summary

1. Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for atheism, reason and ethical secularism. We are participants in the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies. We campaign internationally against the use of blasphemy laws to infringe the human rights of religious minorities and atheists, including by hosting an event at the 2012 OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw. We have opposed the Irish blasphemy law since it was first announced, including by lobbying Irish politicians and international regulatory bodies.

2. We argue that blasphemy laws generally are harmful for three reasons:

(a) They endanger freedom of speech and deny equality.
(b) They are used to infringe on human rights around the world.
(c) They have been condemned by reputable international bodies.

3. We argue that the Irish blasphemy law in particular is harmful for three reasons:

(a) It reinforces the religious ethos of the 1937 Constitution.
(b) It brings our parliament and our laws into disrepute.
(c) Islamic states use it at the UN to promote universal blasphemy laws.

Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, advised us as we prepared this submission:

“Of course you are right that the major damage done by this legislation is the international one. I wouldn’t expect any harsh verdicts being handed down in Ireland, but those countries that continue to have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy. So I hope things will be moving in the right direction. One can also cite General Comment no. 34 of the Human Rights Committee and the Rabat Plan of Action. Both documents call upon States to move away from criminalizing so called blasphemy.”

4. Summary and recommendations

(a) Many Irish bodies have already recommended removing the offence of blasphemy.

(b) We ask the Convention to recommend the following:

(i) Remove the offence of blasphemy from Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution.
(ii) Revise Article 40.6.1 generally, modeled on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
(iii) Include in the revised Article a clause prohibiting laws against blasphemy.
(iv) Consider the inter-related impact of the blasphemy clause and other religiously-inspired aspects of the Constitution.

2. Why blasphemy laws generally are harmful

2(a) Blasphemy laws endanger freedom of speech and deny equality

(i) Blasphemy laws are arguably against Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This was recognised by the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences (2003)

(ii) Blasphemy laws are known to have a universal ‘chilling effect’ upon normal freedom of expression.

(iii) The law of blasphemy is a class discriminatory law (as many blasphemy laws which focus upon the act and function of expression are) since it creates provisions whereby a skilled and educated debater stands far less chance of prosecution than a less educated individual in a non-academic context.

(iv) Blasphemy law is a species of libel with no real rules of evidence or proof. Likewise it is an offence for which the mens rea assumptions of guilt are, and always have been, very difficult to establish.

(v) An inclusive blasphemy law, which Ireland’s law seeks to be, has been historically shown to be inadequate for protecting religious beliefs in conflict with one another.

(vi) The legal criterion for recognition as a religious group, within laws not protecting a specific established church, are problematic and poorly defined.

(vii) It is possible that an extended blasphemy law potentially enshrines religious protection for the act of blasphemy, and does not protect society from its ramifications.

2(b) Blasphemy laws are used to infringe on human rights around the world

(i) Some examples from recent years: Asia Bibi, a Christian mother, is facing execution in Pakistan for comparing Jesus with Mohammad, and two politicians were assassinated for speaking out on her behalf. Rimsha Masih, a 14 year old Christian girl with special needs, was charged with blasphemy in Pakistan after a Muslim cleric planted burnt pages of the Quran as evidence against her. Mirza Alfath, a Muslim law lecturer, was arrested in Indonesia for criticising the modern use of Sharia Law. Hamza Kashgari, a Muslim poet, was extradited from Malaysia and jailed in Saudi Arabia after tweeting that he would shake hands with Mohammad as an equal. Alexander Aan, an atheist civil servant, was jailed in Indonesia after writing on Facebook that God does not exist. Sanal Edamaruku, a rationalist writer, is facing blasphemy charges in India for exposing that a ‘miraculous’ weeping holy statue was caused by faulty plumbing.

(ii) Blasphemy laws breach accepted human rights standards
Pakistan – Section 15 of the Penal Code breaches Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Poland – Article 196 of the Penal Code conflicts with accepted standards of freedom of expression and has been criticised by the Venice Commission.

(iii) Blasphemy frequently leads to arbitrary arrest, detention, poor treatment in custody (including torture), dubious legal procedures and poor application of justice
Greece, Poland, Algeria (prison sentences of varying length, failure of due process in trials, trials in absentia); Indonesia (longer prison sentences); Sudan (corporal punishment); Egypt (torture) Pakistan, Saudi Arabia (capital punishment). This is incompatible with UN guidelines on the use of the death penalty (UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 6); Pakistan (arbitrary detention contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(iv) Blasphemy laws in action in other countries in the last 3 years
Bangladesh (three incidents), Pakistan (eighteen incidents) Saudi Arabia (three incidents), Kuwait (one incident), Iran (two incidents), Turkey (four incidents), Egypt (three incidents), India (four incidents).

(v) Arbitrary and discretionary nature of such laws
Pakistan – definition of the offence in the hands of police and judicial authorities.

(vi) Governments Silencing political opponents
Egypt – bloggers prosecuted under Article 98 (f) of the Egyptian Penal Code. Violation of human rights in this case was highlighted by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Malaysia – journalist detained under the 1960 Internal Security Act.

(vii) Individuals fabricating charges against others in communal disputes
Pakistan – (blasphemy has been the pretext for settling land disputes – as accusations of witchcraft did in seventeenth century Europe and America).

(viii) Religious extremists using blasphemy laws to attack opponents
Pakistan – (principle of Hisba has been used to police non observance of religious practices); Egypt – (principle of Hisba has been used to police non observance of religious practices – accepted as a precedent in court); Algeria – (laws used against Christian Commentators); Malaysia– prosecution of Non-Sunni Muslims and other groups not listed as religions acceptable to the state.

(ix) Preferential protection for one religion
Algeria, Malaysia – protection of Sunni Islamic faith but failure to protect the religious rights of Catholics.

(x) Religious authorities have used blasphemy laws to impose religious orthodoxy on members of religious groups with the sanction of the state
Pakistan – of those accused of blasphemy in this country half of these come from the 3 per cent of the population that are the smallest religious minorities; Algerian Penal Code Article 144 bis 2 used against failure to practice in an orthodox manner. Penalty of five years imprisonment and a considerable fine. This has been found to not comply with international human rights standards, although Algeria subscribes to the ICCPR and other human rights conventions; Indonesia Article 156 (A) of the Penal Code has been used against branches of Islam that are considered unorthodox.

(xi) Unofficial action by individuals
Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan (violence by mobs).

2(c) Blasphemy laws have been condemned by reputable international bodies

(i) International law requires that any legal trigger in hate speech laws should be at an acceptably high level so that their intention is to prevent acts of violence rather than to supervise culture.

(ii) Since 2011 the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has considered laws against blasphemy and religious defamation as constituting violations of international law and has generally asked for their removal.

(iii) The ICCPR considers blasphemy and religious defamation laws as contrary to human rights and constituting violations of international law. Article 20(2) considers that only extreme speech should be banned and the test should be set at a very high level indeed.

(iv) The Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality, an accepted standard of free speech imperatives, has in Article 12 (ii) a clear sense of intention to be part of ‘advocacy’ of material that would promote hatred towards a specific group. The Camden Principles state the need for a target group which has to receive ‘opprobrium, enmity and detestation’ and that these have to occur in an ‘intense’ manner.

(v) General Comment no. 24 of the UN Human Rights Committee focusses upon the issue of incitement as likely to trigger ‘discrimination, hostility or violence’ as imminent risk. These are standards set considerably higher than those in Ireland’s current blasphemy law.

(vii) Blasphemy laws are condemned by General Comment no.34 of the Human Rights Committee Section 48.

(viii) The Rabat Plan of Action (2012) recommends: ‘States that have blasphemy laws should repeal these as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion.’

(ix) In UN Doc. A/HRC/2/3 20 September 2006 the then United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief declared ‘expressions should only be prohibited under article 20 if they constitute incitement to imminent acts of violence or discrimination against a specific individual or group.’

(x) The Venice Commission published a report in 2009 on freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The report concluded that incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, should be a crime; that insult to religious feelings should not be a crime; and that the offence of blasphemy should be abolished and should not be reintroduced.

(xi) In 2010 the then United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (Frank La Rue) argued blasphemy laws were incompatible with human rights principles and many laws that reflect these.

(xii) In December 2012, in response to the current situation in Ireland the United Nations Special Rapporteur Professor Heiner Bielefeldt has commented in the following manner; “There is a growing consensus within the human rights community that we have to move away from anti-blasphemy laws which, as countless examples demonstrate, generally have intimidating effects on religious or belief minorities, dissenters, converts and others. Rather than resorting to blasphemy legislation, what we ought to do is try to overcome stereotypes, prejudices by enhancing interreligious and intercultural communication, including between believers and non-believers. Moreover, potential target groups of national, racial or religious hatred may need support and protection and we should try to be creative in expressing sympathy for their vulnerable situation so that they can rightly feel not to be left alone.”

3. Why the Irish blasphemy law in particular is harmful

3(a) The Irish blasphemy law reinforces the religious ethos of the 1937 Constitution

(i) We should be removing 1930s theistic references from the Irish Constitution, or updating them to reflect the reality of Ireland today, not legislating to enforce them.

(ii) The preamble to our Constitution states that all authority of the State comes from, and all actions of the State must be referred to the Most Holy Trinity. It also humbly acknowledges all of the obligations of the people of the State to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

(ii) Under the Irish Constitution, you cannot become President or be appointed as a Judge unless you take a religious oath under God asking god to direct and sustain you in your work. These religious declarations are contrary to Ireland’s obligations under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

(iv) In Article 44, the State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. This is not even an assertion of the right of citizens to worship this god. It is an assertion of the right of this god to be worshipped by citizens.

(v) The Constitution also contains other references to this god. Article 6 states that all powers of government derive, under God, from the people. The last line of the Constitution dedicates the Constitution to the glory of God and the honour of Ireland. There are also other references in the Constitution to religion, as opposed to gods.

3(b) The Irish blasphemy law brings our parliament and our laws into disrepute

(i) The Irish blasphemy law does not protect religious belief; it incentivizes outrage and it criminalises free speech. It also treats religious beliefs differently to atheistic or secular beliefs, which are not protected by similar laws.

(ii) There are clear and obvious definitional problems around the wording that is citing elements of degree to enact the offence.

(iii) Within the provisions of the law the blasphemous matter has to be ‘grossly’ abusive and there is no clear definition of when this level of abuse has been reached as opposed to ‘mild’ or ‘minimal’ abuse, currently deemed acceptable within the law.

(iv) This matter also has to cause ‘outrage’ which is again not clearly defined. This contains a clear element of ‘intention’ which with blasphemy is very hard to prove in court. Moreover the legal test of a sufficient level of outrage is more likely to ensure this level of reaction is inspired amongst those so offended. Arguably this offers an incentive for such behaviour and reaction. We should be educating people to respond in a more healthy manner than outrage when somebody expresses a belief that they find insulting.

(v) The law requires a ‘Substantial number’ of adherents to be offended by blasphemous material. This number is not defined, neither is ‘adherents’.

(vi) There is no clear suggestion that the law in section 32 has any targeted intention to prevent a breach of the peace – a state of affairs universally accepted as central to the retention of laws of blasphemy into modern times.

(vii) The requirement that a ‘Reasonable person’ be offended is another conception lacking definition. Likewise ‘matters held sacred’ is again poorly defined and liable to selectively be misinterpreted by victim or perpetrator alike.

(viii) The requirement to establish ‘… genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value’ is also problematic. It is unclear what might constitute such proof and whether this can be unequivocal.

(ix) Attempts to define ‘religion’ are clumsy at best and have been productive of problems for other legislatures. When the Home Office in Britain investigated widening the law beyond Christianity in the early 1930s it gave up since defining ‘religion’ was considered to be spectacularly problematic.

(x) The definition of ‘religion’ seeks to rule out ‘cults’ (again not positively defined) or organisations the ‘principle object of which is the making of profit’ or that ‘employs oppressive psychological manipulation.’ Court cases where these characteristics are associated with any religion (conceivably even with established mainstream religions) will themselves cause great offence. This whole situation is likely to prove similarly embarrassing for the Irish government and judiciary.

(xi) It has been suggested that the law as constructed was made deliberately unworkable to ensure it was never enacted. Even if this was true, such a stance relies upon a prevailing and consistent attitude amongst those in government considered sensible enough to ensure this remains the case. This is a dangerous assumption. We have already seen from the X Case, when the State sought an injunction to prevent a raped pregnant child from leaving the country, that religiously-inspired Constitutional provisions can be implemented when nobody expects it to happen.

(xii) Likewise, if the law was constructed with such assumptions, this is parochial in the extreme and neglects the wider global implications of its existence. Indeed Ireland’s law has explicitly been cited as a precedent that should allow other countries to develop laws against blasphemy. Ireland’s stance on the matter runs counter to what is occurring in other western countries, and its own actions no longer occur in isolation and convey signals to the rest of the world. Blasphemy laws oppress ALL religious believers and non-believers as demonstrated by the actions taken by governments listed in Section 2(b).

3(c) Islamic states use the Irish blasphemy law at the United Nations to promote universal blasphemy laws

(i) The Islamic States at the United Nations have been campaigning to have laws against blasphemy, or defamation of religion, implemented internationally. They make political use of laws against blasphemy which are are recent innovations, passed in western states such as Ireland.

(i) Pakistan has used the language of Ireland’s law in its proposals to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards in its call for an international instrument preventing the defamation of religion. Many legal authorities have argued that a universal law against defamation or blasphemy would subvert the principles of human rights and free expression legitimising a range of unacceptable actions taken by governments.

(iii) Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, shares this concern, as is reflected in the quote from him on page 1 of this submission.

4. Summary and recommendations

4(a) Many reputable Irish bodies have already recommended removing the offence of blasphemy from our Constitution and laws

(i) In December 1991, the Law Reform Commission recommended deleting the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution on the grounds that there was no place for such an offence in a society which respects freedom of speech. The President of the Commission was Justice Ronan Keane, then a High Court Judge and later Chief Justice of Ireland.

(ii) In May 1996 the Irish Constitution Review Group recommended that the reference to blasphemy be deleted from the Constitution. The Review Group was chaired by TK Whitaker, and had fifteen members from the fields of law, administration, economics, education, political science and sociology. With regard to freedom of expression, the Review Group recommended that Article 40.6.1 should be replaced by a new clause protecting the right of free speech which was modeled on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. It said that the onus should be on the Government to show that restrictions on free speech were objectively necessary.

(iii) In July 2008 the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution recommended deleting the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution, on the grounds that a modern Constitution should not expressly prohibit blasphemy, and that the Supreme Court decision of 1999 had already rendered the offence a dead letter anyway. The Committee suggested that, If there is a need to protect against religious offence or incitement, it is more appropriate that this be dealt by way of legislative intervention, with due regard to the fundamental right of free speech.

(iv) In December 2008 in Durban, the United Nations discussed an Egyptian motion on “combating defamation of religion”. Ireland voted with the other EU states that there should not be such a crime as “defamation of religion”. The Minister for Foreign affairs, Micheal Martin, later explained why Ireland had taken this position. He told the Dail that: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

(v) In 2008, the Venice Commission, the body that advises the Council of Europe on constitutional matters, published a report on freedom of expression and freedom of religion which was co-written by the Commission’s Irish member, Finola Flanagan, the Director General and Senior Legal Advisor in the Office of the Attorney General. The report concluded that incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, should be a crime; that insult to religious feelings should not be a crime; and that the offence of blasphemy should be abolished and should not be reintroduced.

The report advised that the purpose of any restriction on freedom of expression must be to protect individuals, rather than to protect belief systems from criticism. It said people must be able to criticise religious ideas, even harshly and unreasonably, and even if it hurts other people’s religious feelings, as long as they do not advocate hatred against an individual or groups. The report said that democratic societies must not become hostage to the excessive sensitivities of certain individuals, and that freedom of expression must not indiscriminately retreat when facing violent reactions. Instead, the level of tolerance of these individuals and of anyone who would feel offended by the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression should be raised.

The report found that it is not exclusively or even primarily for the courts to find the right balance between freedom of religion and freedom of expression, but rather for society at large, through rational discussions between all parts of society, including believers and non-believers. The report concluded that: “Democracy must not fear debate, even on the most shocking or anti-democratic ideas. It is through open discussion that these ideas should be countered and the supremacy of democratic values be demonstrated. Mutual understanding and respect can only be achieved through open debate. Persuasion, as opposed to ban or repression, is the most democratic means of preserving fundamental values.”

In an appendix to the report, Finola Flanagan answered questions about Ireland. She was asked: “Is there in your opinion/according to the leading doctrine a need for additional legislation concerning: (a) the prohibition of blasphemy or religious insult? (b) incitement to religious hatred? (c) hate speech concerning a group? (d) speech or publication with a discriminatory effect?” She replied: “In general the legislation provides adequately for these matters. The criminal law, together with the Prohibition on Incitement to Hatred Act and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, provide for appropriate offences. In addition to legislation outlined above, there is equality legislation which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief (or the absence of belief) and on grounds of racism.”

4(b) Atheist Ireland is asking the Convention to recommend the following:

(i) Remove the offence of blasphemy from Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution. This would enable the Oireachtas to remove the offence of blasphemy from Section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009.

(ii) Revise Article 40.6.1 generally, modeled on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as recommended by the 1996 Constitution Review Group.

(iii) Include in the revised Article 40.6.1 a clause prohibiting laws against blasphemy. This would oblige the Oireachtas to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Defamation Act, and it would also protect the Irish people from future such laws.

(iv) Consider the inter-related impact of the blasphemy clause and other religiously-inspired aspects of the Constitution.

Posted in Atheist Ireland, Irish Constitution | 2 Responses

Alexander Aan jailed today in Indonesia – Intensify campaign for his release and for repeal of blasphemy laws

Atheist Ireland condemns the jail sentence imposed today on Indonesian civil servant Alexander Aan for sharing material on Facebook about the Prophet Mohammad. The law should protect people from harm, and not protect ideas from criticism.

We ask all Irish people to contact the Indonesian embassy demanding his immediate release, and to ask the Irish Government to urgently raise the issue with the Indonesian authorities.

Atheist Alliance International, of which Atheist Ireland is a member, has also condemned the conviction, and has published this list of contact details of Indonesian authorities.

In Ireland, Senator Ivana Bacik and Senator Jillian Von Turnhout have raised Aan’s case in the Seanad in February, and called on the Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore to raise the issue with the Indonesian authorities.

Cases like this also show the urgency of Ireland repealing our own new blasphemy law. Islamic states led by Pakistan have praised the new Irish law at the United Nations. And when the Indonesian blasphemy law was constitutionally challenged in 2010, the existence of the new Irish blasphemy law was cited in its support.

Alexander Aan is a 32-year-old Indonesian civil servant who started an atheist group on Facebook on which he published articles about Mohammad and questioned the existence of God. He was beaten up by his work colleagues then arrested for blasphemy. He was today jailed for two and a half years and fined Rp 100m (about $10,000).

Aan was originally charged with blasphemy and persuading others to embrace atheism, but was instead convicted under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law of deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity.

This shows the dangers of mixing the ideas of blasphemy and incitement to religious hatred, as prosectors can easily interchange one with the other. The law should protect people, not ideas. And it should protect people from actual harm, but not from being offended.

Atheist Ireland has consistently highlighted this case as part of our overall campaign to repeal blasphemy laws, including in this talk by Michael Nugent at the European Atheist Convention in Cologne in Germany last month, on the topic ‘Why we must combat blasphemy laws’.

Posted in Alexander Aan, Defamation of Religion, International, Islam | Leave a comment

Why we must combat blasphemy laws – Michael Nugent at the European Atheist Conference in Cologne

On May 26, Michael Nugent gave this talk about blasphemy laws to the European Atheist Conference in Cologne in Germany.

Posted in Campaign, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Michael Nugent | Leave a comment

Repeal blasphemy laws: David Nash and Austin Dacey talk to Atheist Ireland

This is the second in a series of occasional lectures hosted by Atheist Ireland and livestreamed on the Internet. Professor David Nash and Austin Dacey talk about blasphemy laws, at a discussion chaired by Michael Nugent.

Posted in Austin Dacey, David Nash, Michael Nugent | Leave a comment

Two Irish Senators support Alexander Aan in Indonesian blasphemy case

Following a briefing of politicians by Atheist Ireland on Tuesday, two Irish Senators have asked the Irish Government to support Alexander Aan, the indonesian civil servant who is facing blasphemy charges for writing on Facebook that God does not exist.

Speaking in the Seanad this Thursday, Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Ivana Bacik both asked Eamon Gilmore, who is Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, to take a strong line in support of Alexander.

Atheist Ireland thanks both Senators for their quick response to this case. We also thank Senator Ivana Bacik for her request in the Seanad on Wednesday for a full debate on the Irish blasphemy law and its national and international impact.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Tánaiste’s commitment to Internet freedom through his work as chair of the OSCE. It is on this note that I draw his attention to the recent arrest of a 31 year old Indonesian civil servant, whose name I will supply to the Tánaiste separately, for having questioned the existence of God on his Facebook profile page. He has been charged under Indonesian law prohibiting blasphemy and faces five years imprisonment if found guilty.

The reason I raise this case with the Tánaiste is that Indonesia is one of a number of Islamic states that has cited Irish blasphemy legislation in support and defence of its own. Irish blasphemy law was cited as an authority in support of Indonesia’s constitutional court decision to uphold its law prohibiting blasphemy in 2010.

While I fully support the repeal of this law, I do not believe the intention of the blasphemy legislation introduced by Mr. Dermot Ahern in 2009 was to infringe upon the rights to freedom of expression, religion, belief and conscience in Ireland. Nor do I think it is a desirable consequence that our law is being used to support such infringements, including against Christian religions in Islamic countries anywhere else in the world.

I consider this as much a foreign affairs concern as a domestic concern. I welcome that this law is up for review in the programme for Government.

Senator Ivana Bacik:

I would like to echo Senator van Turnhout in urging the Tánaiste to take a strong line in support of the Indonesian civil servant she mentioned. We need to examine our blasphemy law because it is clearly having a repressive effect in Indonesia, Pakistan and other countries. I know the matter will be reviewed as part of the constitutional convention, but I believe the law should be repealed. Perhaps progress can be made more quickly in this regard.

Here is the Seanad transcript of the above contributions and here is Senator Bacik’s request the previous day for a full debate on the Irish blasphemy law. Atheist Ireland asks everybody who reads this to contact your local politicians, your local Indonesian embassy, and the Indonesian Government to call for the immediate release of Alexander Aan.

Posted in Alexander Aan, Campaign, Irish Politics, Islam, Ivana Bacik, Jillian van Turnhout | Leave a comment

Senator Ivana Bacik calls for debate on Irish blasphemy law

Senator Ivana Bacik yesterday requested a Senate debate on the Irish blasphemy law and its international implications, following a briefing by Atheist Ireland of politicians in Leinster House the previous day. Senator Maurice Cummins responded that the Government can certainly look at this.

Here is Senator Bacik’s contribution on the Seanad Order of Business:

I call for a debate on blasphemy law. There was an excellent briefing yesterday from Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University, a leading expert on blasphemy, who spoke about the international impact of the passage of the 2009 Defamation Act in Ireland, particularly section 36, which created a new statutory offence of blasphemy. There was an excellent debate on it in this House, and many colleagues participated in it.

There is an issue as there was an adverse international impact, with certain countries adopting Irish arguments on blasphemy and using this to bolster prejudice against different religions, even Christian religions in Islamic countries. We have also seen that Ireland has gone against the EU norm in adopting a new statutory definition of blasphemy based on a definition of offence.

It is outdated and I am glad it is up for review in the programme for Government. We must move forward by having a debate in the House on how we can ensure incitement to religious hatred laws are strengthened in the Statute Book. We no longer need an offence of blasphemy.

Posted in David Nash, Irish Politics, Ivana Bacik | Leave a comment

Update on the campaign against the Irish blasphemy law

This is an update on the ongoing work that we have been doing in the campaign against the Irish blasphemy law, which is still on the Irish statute books.

Our campaign against this law took a different and less confrontational focus when the previous Justice Minister accepted that the law should be repealed, and again when the new Government was elected and has outlined the process by which it intends to address the issue, i.e. through a Constitutional Convention which should be established next year to address this and other Constitutional issues.

Because of these developments, and also because Atheist Ireland was at the time a new organisation and we did not want to be defined solely by our opposition to the blasphemy law, we have been focusing publicly on other issues including the need for a secular education system. However, in the background, we have been actively continuing the campaign against the blasphemy law.

  • We have raised it with every political party and candidate in the last General Election, and with the Programme for Government negotiating teams.
  • We have raised it in a submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Irelands human rights record with regard to secular issues.
  • We have had it incorporated into a joint submission made to the UNUPR by several Irish human rights advocacy groups.
  • We have highlighted it at the World Atheist Convention that we held in Dublin in June.
  • We have incorporated it into the Dublin Declaration on Secularism adopted by the World Atheist convention.
  • We are including it in a submission to the Council of Europe under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
  • We have raised the blasphemy law and other secular issues in a meeting with the Department of the Taoiseach about our overall political agenda.
  • We are preparing a submission specifically on the blasphemy law for the new Government’s Constitutional Convention.
  • Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University, who assisted in having the UK blasphemy law repealed, has been approved for research funding to help us prepare this submission and to give evidence to the Convention.
  • We have raised the issue at the human rights conference in Warsaw of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  • We will be raising it and other secular issues in a series of public meetings around Ireland in the coming months.
  • If you would like to help with any of this you are most welcome to do so. You are also welcome to help with other parts of our campaign for an ethical secular Ireland. In the past year, as well as campaigning against the blasphemy law:

  • We have written to all candidates and parties in the General Election asking their views on six secular policy issues, and published the results to enable secular voters to take this into account when voting.
  • We have published secular analyses of the manifestos of each political party.
  • We have made a submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Ireland’s human rights record with regard to secular issues.
  • We have contributed to a joint submission made by several Irish human rights advocacy groups.
  • We ran a campaign to be honest about religion in the census.
  • We met in Brussels with the Presidents of the European Parliament, Commission and Council.
  • We made submissions written and oral to the Department of Education’s Forum on patronage in the Primary Sector.
  • We met with the Taoiseach’s office to arrange ongoing dialogue with Government Departments on secular issues.
  • We participated in the OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw, raising Constitutional and legal issues about secularism in Ireland and internationally.
  • We helped to restructure and launch Atheist Alliance International and hosted a World Atheist Convention in Dublin with high profile speakers from around the globe.
  • We have also held social events and taken part in media interviews and public debates on atheism, reason and secularism.
  • Please get involved. You can find more information here on how to Join Atheist Ireland and help us to build an ethical and secular Ireland free of blasphemy laws and with separation of church and state.

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign | Leave a comment

    25-day walk for Irish blasphemy referendum

    Starting today, Thursday May 6th, Atheist Ireland member Paul Gill will walk the length of Ireland, from Mizen Head in Cork to Malin Head in Donegal, to highlight the need to vote Yes in the coming Irish blasphemy referendum.

    On January 1st, the day Ireland’s new blasphemy law became operational, Atheist Ireland published 25 blasphemous statements on our website. We continued lobbying at home and at European Parliament level. We also supported two blasphemy-themed art exhibitions in Dublin.

    In March Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said he will propose a referendum later this year, along with other referendums, to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution. Paul’s walk will encourage people to campaign for, and vote yes in, this referendum.

    Appropriately, Paul’s walk started on May 6th, which is International Day of Reason. And to mark the start of Paul’s walk, we now publish 25 quotes on the Irish blasphemy referendum and the right to freedom of expression.

    Read More »

    Posted in Campaign, Freedom of Speech, Irish Constitution, Irish Politics | Leave a comment

    New blasphemous art exhibition opens in Dublin

    A new art exhibition titled Blasphemous opened (appropriately) on Good Friday in the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art (IMOCA) in Lad Lane, off Baggott Street, Dublin 2. It’s the second art exhibition to highlight and challenge the new Irish blasphemy law, which became active on 1st January 2010.

    Since then, the Irish Justice Minister has responded to the campaign against the law by saying that he will propose a referendum, later this year, to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution, thus enabling the blasphemy law to be repealed.

    This makes the new exhibition in IMOCA not just a challenge to the blasphemy law, but also a celebration of artistic freedom, and freedom of expression generally. The exhibition runs until 25 April and is open from 12 noon to 5 pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment through contacting IMOCA.

    Posted in Freedom of Speech, Irish Politics, Is this Blasphemy?, Michael Nugent, Videos | Leave a comment

    Ahern proposes Autumn referendum on blasphemy

    Atheist Ireland welcomes the statement from Dermot Ahern, the Irish Justice Minister, that he is proposing a referendum this Autumn to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution, along with two other referendums that the government is already committed to.

    The Minister has told the Sunday Times that “I was only doing my duty” in bringing in the new blasphemy law, and that “there was an incredibly sophisticated campaign [against me], mainly on the internet.”

    Atheist Ireland thanks everyone who has helped to make the campaign against this new law as effective as it has been to date. It is now important we maintain the pressure on this issue to ensure that the referendum happens as proposed and, more importantly, that it is won.

    We reiterate our position that this law is both silly and dangerous: silly because it is introducing medieval canon law offence into a modern plularist republic; and dangerous because it incentives religious outrage and because its wording has already been adopted by Islamic States as part of their campaign to make blasphemy a crime internationally.

    The following is the text of the article in today’s Sunday Times:

    Read More »

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, Dermot Ahern | 2 Responses

    Blasphemy art exhibition in Dublin this month

    A blasphemy art exhibition in Dublin during February is a direct response to the new Irish blasphemy law. It’s a fascinating show, and well worth a visit.

    It is on in the Oonagh Young Gallery in James Joyce Street (formerly Corporation Street) off Talbot Street until Saturday 27 February, and is open from 12 to 6pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

    This Wednesday at 7pm there is a special screening of Rocky Road to Dublin and The Making of Rocky Road to Dublin, which should be watched by anyone interested in secularism and censorship in Ireland.

    Posted in Is this Blasphemy?, Michael Nugent, PZ Myers, Videos | Leave a comment

    PZ Myers to speak at Atheist Ireland meeting this Monday

    PZ Myers, author of the science blog Pharyngula and biology professor at the University of Minnesota, USA, will speak at an Atheist Ireland meeting at Buswells Hotel, Dublin, at 7.30 pm tomorrow, Monday 1st February.

    Admission is free, and members of the public are welcome.

    The theme will be the Atheist Ireland campaigns against the Irish blasphemy law, and for a secular constitution and a secular education system.

    The following quote from PZ Myers about the desecration of communion hosts is among the 25 blasphemous quotes that Atheist published a month ago when the Irish blasphemy law became operational:

    “You would not believe how many people are writing to me, insisting that these horrible little crackers (they look like flattened bits of styrofoam) are literally pieces of their god, and that this omnipotent being who created the universe can actually be seriously harmed by some third-rate liberal intellectual at a third-rate university… However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel.”

    While in Ireland, PZ will also be speaking about science and creationism at UCD on Tuesday Feb 2nd, and at NUI Galway on Thursday February 4th, at meetings organised by the UCD Secular Humanist Society and the NUI Galway Skeptic Society and ZooSoc. You can get details on tickets for these events, subject to availability, by emailing ucdhumanistsociety@gmail.com or k.mcinerney3@nuigalway.ie

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, PZ Myers | 1 Response

    In the News – Jan 8 to Jan 14

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    Irish Senator Defends New Blasphemy Law

    Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh has become the first Irish Government politician to publicly defend the new blasphemy law since it became operational on 1 January (a spokesperson for the Minister for Justice did tell the Sunday Times that I was “some crackpot sitting in an attic somewhere”, but that did not really constitute a reasoned defence of the law). So, without further ado, here are the words of wisdom that Senator Jim Walsh conveyed to the Sunday Sequence Show on BBC Radio Ulster on 10 January:

    “It’s probably somewhat different in Ireland, in that we have a Constitutional requirement, which means that, you know, blasphemy, is an offence under our laws, and as a consequence, it has to have penalties which will be commensurate with that, and respect our Constitutional position, but, having said that, I think, over the period that it’s been there, as far as I can understand, there has been very few, perhaps one, case ever taken, which I think may have been unsuccessful, so it’s not a major issue, I think, for the vast majority of, sane, sensible people… In Ireland the laws that we have, based on the Constitutional position, would, in fact, you know, cover all religions, and indeed, we’ve seen where, you know, remarks passed have caused serious offence to people in other religions, and that has its own reactions, and its own ramifications, and I think in any society, I know there’s, you know, freedom of expression is very important, I mean it’s fundamental to democracy, and to be able to express your viewpoint is a fundamental, and in fact, can I just say, and this would be different than in Britain, in fact, it is a Constitutional requirement here to have freedom of speech, but I think most people, again, recognise that freedom of speech is not an absolute, it has to be done in a measured, responsible way, and, indeed, there, it can be, you can infringe, if you like, that entitlement by Incitement to Hatred Acts, which we have here, which has been contravened, and indeed there are other countries, you know, in Europe, like Germany, Austria and that, where, for example, you know, denial of the Holocaust is an offence punishable by imprisonment.”

    All of these arguments have been addressed by Atheist Ireland, both in articles on this website and in submissions made to the Justice Minister, the Justice Committee and the Council of State while this Act was making its way through Parliament.

    It was not Constitutionally necessary to pass this particular law. Indeed, it may have been unconstitutional to pass this particular law. It may not have been Constitutionally necessary to pass any blasphemy law. And the Constitution could have been amended in conjunction with the Lisbon II Referendum that was being held around the same time as the law was being passed.

    The new Irish law does not protect the fundamental beliefs of all religions. It arbitrarily excludes what it describes as “cults” whose primary aim is to make profit or who employ oppressive psychological techniques. And it does not protect the fundamental beliefs of atheist citizens, merely those of citizens whose fundamental beliefs are religious.

    Nobody is suggesting that the right to freedom of expression is absolute, merely that blasphemy is not a justifiable reason to qualify it. Incitement to Hatred laws criminalise harm to individuals, while blasphemy laws criminalise harm to ideas. The existence of Holocaust Denial laws in specific countries do not justify a blasphemy law in another country.

    Senator Walsh’s arguments merely strengthen the case for the immediate repeal of this anachronistic law, and for the development of a modern secular Irish Constitution.

    Posted in Irish Law, Irish Politics | 2 Responses

    In the News – Jan 1 to Jan 7

    International

    Posted in In the News | 1 Response

    Atheist Ireland Publishes 25 Blasphemous Quotes

    From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

    This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentivises religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

    We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.

    Publication of 25 blasphemous quotes

    In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.

    Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.

    Campaign begins to repeal the Irish blasphemy law

    We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

    We also ask all TDs and Senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.

    If you run a website, blog or other media publication, please feel free to republish this statement and the list of quotes yourself, in order to show your support for the campaign to repeal the Irish blasphemy law and to promote a rational, ethical, secular Ireland.

    List of 25 Blasphemous Quotes Published by Atheist Ireland

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    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, Freedom of Speech, Is this Blasphemy?, Quotes | 60 Responses

    Campaign for a Secular Irish Constitution

    Today is International Blasphemy Day, administered by the Center For Inquiry as part of its Campaign for Free Expression. Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for an ethical and secular Ireland: see details in these Irish Times articles on the Irish blasphemy law and our first AGM.

    Atheist Ireland is seeking your help today to launch and shape a new long-term campaign with two important aims: to repeal the new Irish blasphemy law and to attain a secular Irish Constitution. Specifically, we are asking you to do three things: send us a message of support, get actively involved in shaping this project, and lobby to persuade Irish politicians to pursue these policies.

    We will soon be holding public meetings around Ireland to launch this campaign. We want it to include religious and nonreligious people working together, within Ireland and with international support. The campaign has one common aim that transcends any other differences we may have: that all Irish citizens, of all beliefs and none, can live together in equality, with the State being neutral on matters of religion.

    In recent decades, several independent and all-party committees (most whose members were Christians) have repeatedly called for an end to discrimination against nonreligious citizens in our Constitution. Not only has this not been done, but a new religious crime has now been created. The blasphemy law is the final straw. We need a secular Irish Constitution, and we need it now. Please help to make this happen.

    Read More »

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, Irish Constitution, Irish Law, Irish Politics | 6 Responses

    Blasphemy law delayed until October

    The Defamation Act will probably not become operable until mid to late October, because the rules of court need to be amended to accommodate it. The Law Reform Division of the Department of Justice has confirmed that:

    “The Act is subject to a commencement order. It is intended to commence all provisions of the Act simultaneously. However, it is not possible to make a commencement order at present as the Circuit and Superior Court Rules need to be amended to accommodate a number of procedural changes in the new legislation. It is not possble to give an exact date yet for commencement of the Act but it is expected to be mid to late October.”

    The Minister has the option of commencing different parts of the Act at different times. Atheist Ireland will continue to ask him to delay commencing the blasphemy sections, until such time as a referendum can be held to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution.

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Irish Law, Irish Politics | 1 Response

    In the News – July 27 to Aug 2

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    Campaign to Repeal the Blasphemy Law

    Today the Irish President signed into law the Defamation Act that includes the newly-defined crime of blasphemy. This law will become operable when the Minister for Justice signs an order making it so.

    Atheist Ireland will now campaign for the repeal of this anachronistic and dangerous blasphemy law, and for a referendum to remove the blasphemy reference from the Irish Constitution, as part of our wider campaign for an ethical and secular Ireland.

    We call on the Minister for Justice to delay signing the order that would make the blasphemy sections of the Defamation Act operable, until such time as a referendum can be held to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution.

    Read More »

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, Irish Constitution, Irish Law, Irish Politics | Leave a comment

    In the News – July 20 to July 26

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    Is the Blasphemy Law Unconstitutional?

    Atheist Ireland has sent a letter to the President of Ireland, outlining our concerns about the constitutionality of the new blasphemy law, for her to consider before she discusses the issue with the Council of State tomorrow. In our letter we argue the following:

    • The law is contrary to the guarantees of equality under the law enshrined in Article 40.1 of the Irish Constitution, and of freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in Article 44.2.
    • The law is contrary to Article 44.2.3 of the Irish Constitution, which says that the State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.
    • The law shifts the burden of proof to the defendant in contravention of Article 38 of the Constitution, and of Schedule 1, Article 6, 2. and 3(a) of the European Convention on Human Rights Act, 2003.
    • The law does not meet the standard of prevention of imminent public disorder that made the old English blasphemy law compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.
    • The definitions in the law are too vague to allow citizens to regulate their conduct, and it could make it unlawful for a religious citizen to inform his co-religionists about a statement he believes to be blasphemous.

    Here is the full content of our letter:

    Read More »

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, Irish Constitution, Irish Law, Irish Politics | 4 Responses

    In the News – July 6 to July 19

    Posted in Atheist Ireland, Campaign, In the News | Leave a comment