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(Jan 08, 2010) On January 1, 2010, new provisions contained in the Defamation Act, 2009 of the Republic of Ireland, on prohibiting the making of blasphemous statements, came into effect. The relevant section of the new law states that a person "publishes or utters blasphemous matter" if the material "is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents … and he or she intends … to cause such outrage." (Defamation Act, 2009 (Act No. 31/2009), §36, IRISH STATUTE BOOK, http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2009/en/act/pub/0031/index.html (last visited Jan. 5, 2010).) The law does provide, however, that it is a valid defense "to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter" (id.). The maximum penalty for making a blasphemous statement under the new law is a fine of €25,000 (about US $36,000) (id.). The law also authorizes members of the Garda Siochana to obtain warrants to search for and seize blasphemous matter (§37, id.).

The new Irish law on blasphemy has been sharply criticized by many political commentators. Some critics see it as being "medieval" and other as an extension of "political correctness." (See, for example, Karla Adam, Atheists Challenged Ireland's New Blasphemy Law with Online Postings, THE WASHINGTON POST, Jan 3, 2010, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/02/AR201001
0201846.html
; Jason Walsh, Ireland's Bizarre War on Blasphemy, SPIKED, July 20, 2009, available at http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7171/; & John Allen Paulos, New Blasphemy Law in Ireland: Monitoring the Illogic of Modern-Day Religious Persecution, ABC NEWS, Aug. 2, 2009, available at http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/WhosC
ounting/story?id=8222603&page=1
.)

However, article 40(6)(i) of the Irish Constitution provides that the right of freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution is subject to an exception that states that blasphemy is to be punished in accordance with the law. (Irish Constitution, 1937 [Nov. 2004 ed.], Department of the Taoiseach [Prime Minister] website, http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Publications/Publications_Archive/Publications
_2006/Publications_for_2002/Bunreacht_na_hÉireann_-_Constitution_of_Ireland.html
(last visited Jan. 5, 2010).)

Thus, in enacting a new Defamation Act, the Government felt obliged to include a new prohibition on blasphemy, even though it had only tried to enforce the prior 1961 law on one occasion; in that instance, the Supreme Court of Ireland had held that the relevant provision was too vague to be enforceable. (Corway v. Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, [1999] IESC 5, July 30, 2009, Supreme Court of Ireland Decisions, BAILII [British and Irish Legal Information Institute] online databases, available at http://www.bailii.org/ie/cases/IESC/1999/5.html.)

One alternative to adopting new blasphemy provisions would have been to amend the Constitution. However, that alternative would have required the holding of an expensive referendum. Members of Parliament committed to redefining the offense of blasphemy in Ireland opposed that option. (Walsh, supra.)

Author: Stephen Clarke More by this author
Topic: Church and state relations More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Ireland More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 01/08/2010