Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Down with that sort of thing!

I’d thought before about mentioning a Facebook campaign to declare September 30th as an annual Blasphemy Day. The date concides with the publishing of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, and you can find the group at
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=45065875259#/group.php?gid=50200339561 if you’re interested.
Since then we’ve also seen the attempt by Islamic nations to have the UN prevent folk poking fun at their precious prophet. Though an international clampdown on religious jokes led by the kind of freaks who like to stone women to death sounds far more serious, I still wasn’t worried.
Then I read that this month even the Irish government may regress to the middle ages and introduce a crime of blasphemous libel into a new Defamation Bill.
Ironically, one reason seems to be that there’s only been one (unsuccessful) attempt at a blasphemy conviction over there under legislation based on the original English law (which was itself finally abolished last year). That was in 1999, and failed because Ireland’s Supreme Court concluded that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”.
An added complication, of course, was that the English legislation to which they had to look for guidance in effect only prevented people waxing cynical about Anglicanism – as Muslims discovered during the Satanic Verses saga.
So now the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, has proposed a new section for the Defamation Bill, stating:
“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 €100,000”.
Obviously keen not to drop another bollock in court, they’ve also defined blasphemy as material:
“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 he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”
But where it gets really startling is when you see that:
“Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.”
Once my jaw was back off the floor I just creased myself laughing, having had a vision of a bunch of burly gardai storming into Waterstones and seizing the entire James Joyce section.
OK, the opposition is proposing reducing the fine to €1,000 and excluding 'matter of artistic merit', but why can’t politicos just tackle spook fanciers head on about their fear of legitimate criticism?
You can read more about the whole depressing thing at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2009/0429/1224245599892.html.
The funniest thing is, there’s a perfectly good mechanism to tackle this in Ireland already, and the Humanist Association of Ireland, the nation’s humanist group, are part of it.
In 2005 the group were the first to make a submission to the ‘Dialogue between Government and Religious, Philosophical and Non-Confessional Groups’ but had to wait until 26th February 2007 for the eventual launch of the project. I gather much of that was because Catholic bishops were playing hard to get.
25 religious bodies are involved in a bilateral project where all meet several government ministers on an open, transparent basis, with government obliged to listen to concerns raised.
HAI in particular have aimed to remove numerous religious assumptions and references in the Irish Constitution and press for changes emphasising ‘a republic which treats people of all religions and none in an equal manner’, which sounds about right to me.
Mind you, their representative, Catherine O’Brien, once described to me and some other Celtic heathens the hissy fits when she walked into the first meeting.
Just what was it about the sight of a middle aged woman that drove 24 Father Ted clones to huddle up in one corner of the table fingering their rosaries and whimpering? Silly sods even tried pulling a few strings to try and get her removed on the grounds a ‘militant atheist’ wasn’t a fit person to sit in such exclusive company.
What worried them? Concern that she looked better in a dress than they do?
Anyways, September 30th. Mark it in the calendar and be sure to take time out to mock voodoo merchants mercilessly, and often.


Baal's Bum said...

Sep 30th now in my diary
The Irish government bringing a blasphemous libel law....So if you insult someone's invisible friend you can be sued....That's fine as long as the invisible friend makes the complaint and must appear at the hearing.

Richard T said...

Delete all references to 'religion' and substitute 'Holy Mother Church' and you've got it.

Andy Armitage said...

The curious "crime" of blasphemous libel was used against Gay News in England in the 1970s. The paper lost, unfortunately. There's an archived series of articles (including one by Yours Truly) on that infamous trial here.