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.