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Northwest of Egypt

Speaking of “blasphemy,” Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent have been working on the Atheist Ireland submission to the Constitutional Convention on blasphemy, with David Nash from Oxford Brookes University.

We will be meeting the secretary of the Convention tomorrow for feedback on how best to formalise the submission, and we will then finish the final report.

The Irish blasphemy law has two components – Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution, which makes blasphemy an offence that is punishable in accordance with law, and Section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009, which defines the offence and makes it punishable.

We are recommending (a) removing the offence of blasphemy from Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution, which would enable the Oireachtas to remove the offence from the Defamation Act, and (b) including a clause in the Constitution prohibiting blasphemy laws, which would oblige the Oireachtas to remove the offence from the Defamation Act, and would also protect the Irish people from future blasphemy laws.

It’s interesting how circumspect their reasons are.

1. Blasphemy laws generally are bad for the following reasons:

1.1 They endanger freedom of speech and deny equality

1.2 They have been condemned by reputable bodies

1.3 They are used to infringe on human rights around the world

I think there’s an even more basic reason (and perhaps so do they, perhaps there are tactical reasons to cite the items they did and not others). It’s that blasphemy is about a subject and about putative agents that are supernatural, and thus not open to inquiry or falsification or confirmation or testing or anything that would make them capable of being universalized. Shorter version: they are imaginary and arbitrary, and there is more than one. People disagree about them. They sometimes agree in order to pick fights with secularists and atheists, but apart from that, they support their own team and reject all the others. All this together makes imposition of laws about “blasphemy” a really terrible thing for a state to do.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    1.2 They have been condemned by reputable bodies

    Is this further elaborated on? If not and by itself, it looks a rather weak and circular argument.

    Blasphemy (or its political counterpart, when it comes to criticism of tyrants or absolutist leaders) is a tool used to silence dissent and to shield the subject of the absolutist claim from scrutiny and criticism. It’s anti-democratic and anti-free-speech, and therefore has no place in a secular and democratic country.

    And yes, obviously, since the claimed supernatural entity’s existence(and its annoyance over, say, having its image drawn) can never be proven, no country, even the non-democratic and non-secular ones, should have any blasphemy laws, because it’s stupid. But that’s not how the world rolls at the moment, unfortunately.

  2. says

    For my money, the obvious thing is to keep blasphemy on the books, but make it a civil tort, rather than a crime, and have the damages as punitive as you like, but stipulate that the only beings with standing to sue are the deities being blasphemed. That way, no one who actually believes in a deity could reasonably object without having to admit that the deity either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care.

  3. says

    Blasphemy laws are just the most egregious aspect of state-sponsored religion. They seem to be trying to thread that needle, to roll back blasphemy laws without attacking the whole edifice. The result is pretty weak by atheists’ standards.

  4. anthem says

    David Hart wrote:

    For my money, the obvious thing is to keep blasphemy on the books, but make it a civil tort, rather than a crime, and have the damages as punitive as you like, but stipulate that the only beings with standing to sue are the deities being blasphemed.

    Any church/mosque/temple/etc. could sue as the deity’s representative. E.g., Jesus is quoted as saying “Upon this rock (Peter) I shall build my church” and supposedly that authority has been passed down through generations. At any rate if the law was written as you prefer it’s probable that some court somewhere would accept this position.

    In the real world, if you have a dispute with IBM, “IBM” does not show up in court.

    You could subpoena the deity I suppose. Good luck getting service.

    Oh, by the way, your law wouldn’t work at all in some places, like Japan. The Emperor himself is a god, remember?

  5. iknklast says

    anthem – in my state (Nebraska), a legislator actually sued God. He went to the court, filed suit, and asked for a restraining order against God to prevent him (god) from making continued threats against the good people of Nebraska (his words, not mine). Unfortunately, the judge threw it out in the grounds that he had not been able to deliver the paperwork to the accused. The legislator, name of Ernie Chambers (an out agnostic, elected in a deep red state – though only Omaha would have the good sense to elect someone like this) argued that, since God is everywhere, and omnipotent, he would be aware of the lawsuit, and there would be no need to file. Of course, the judge didn’t accept that argument, and would not have accepted an argument about a representative of the deity.

    Had it been the other way around, the way that David Hart describes, I imagine he would not have thrown the case out of court.

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