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.
The Minister has the power to sign different provisions of the Act into law at different times.
He has already said that he does not want blasphemy to be illegal. He repeatedly told the Oireachtas that he only included the blasphemy sections into the Defamation Act because he was advised that he was constitutionally obliged to do so, and that to not do so would result in him having to withdraw the entire Defamation Bill.
The Minister has now satisfied the obligation that he stated himself to be under, and he has also succeeded in his more important stated aim of passing the Defamation Act. He should now delay making operable the sections of the Act that he says he does not want to be illegal, and give the Irish people the opportunity to address the issue by referendum.
A citizen charged with blasphemy can still challenge the constitutionality of this law.
- It is inconsistent with the guarantees in our Constitution of freedom of equality, freedom of conscience and religion and freedom from religious discrimination.
- It reverses the burden of proof to the defendant in a criminal trial, and it does not meet the standard of prevention of 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.
As well as the constitutional issues, our original concerns with this law still remain.
- It does not protect religious belief; it incentivizes outrage and it criminalises free speech. Instead of incentivizing outrage, we should be educating people to respond in a more healthy manner than outrage when somebody expresses a belief that they find insulting.
- It treats religious beliefs as more valuable than secular beliefs and scientific thinking. There is no equivalent of a blasphemy law for scientific ideas. We should respect people as individuals, but beliefs as abstract ideas should always be open to scrutiny and challenge.
- We should be removing 1930s religious references from the Irish Constitution, not legislating to enforce them. For example, conscientious Irish atheists are precluded from becoming President or judges because of the religious oath in the constitution.
Today we begin our campaign for the repeal of this law, as part of our wider campaign for an ethical and secular Ireland.