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Nov 04 2013

Loosen the screws, the better to tighten them

Hmm, it’s good to get rid of a blasphemy law, but it’s not good to replace it with “a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred” – meaning, apparently, to include something that forbids so-called incitement to religious hatred. Unfortunately that’s just what Ireland’s constitutional convention has recommended, according to the Irish Times.

The constitutional offence of blasphemy should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred, the constitutional convention has recommended.

Voting today on whether the reference to the offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution, 38 per cent said Yes, 61 per cent said No and 1 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

In a follow-up question, 38 per cent of members believed the offence should be removed from the Constitution altogether, 53 per cent said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred and 9 per cent had no opinion.

A provision that would criminalize “incitement to religious hatred” is in effect a blasphemy law, ffs.

But it appears that the problem with the law against blasphemy is that it’s drawn so narrowly that the “crime” can’t be prosecuted. It appears that the problem is not that “blasphemy” should not be a crime at all, anywhere, ever.

Dr Neville Cox of Trinity College Dublin said the relevant part of the 2009 Defamation Act, which sets a maximum fine of €25,000 for those found guilty of publishing or uttering blasphemous material, was too tightly drawn to be applied in practice.

He said the law’s requirement that a publisher must be proven to have intended to cause outrage among a substantial number of a religion’s adherents in effect meant “that will be very difficult successfully to prosecute the offence”.

The law also makes it a defence to the crime to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in the publication of the material. “It makes it so hard to operate the law… that I think the 2009 act effectively kills off the crime,” Dr Cox said.

So the point of the provision that would criminalize “incitement to religious hatred” would be to make sure that “blasphemy” could be prosecuted after all, under a different name?

Not progress.

 

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Well, I’d have no problem with a law that criminalises actual incitement to violence (e.g. calling for “Death to Muslims” or “Death to Infidels”), but not a law that criminalises making people feel bad because drawing pictures of Mohammed or calling the Sky Tyrant a genocidal misogynist asswipe.

  2. 2
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Ah. Re-read. Incitement to *hatred*. Well how the fuck are we supposed to figure that out? And why the special privilege for religion? Should incitement to any hatred be equally bad?

  3. 3
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Ok, just for the sake of interest, here is the relevant law in the Canadian Criminal Code:

    319. (1) Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of

    (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

    (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

    Wilful promotion of hatred

    (2) Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of

    (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

    (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

    Defences

    (3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2)

    (a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true;

    (b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;

    (c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or

    (d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada.

    There’s pretty wide latitude for free discussion there (and for calling pieces of fruit Mohammed), while still making it not okay to have neo-Nazi rallies inciting hatred against Jews. The only thing that I don’t really like in there is the defence that the incitement to hatred is an opinion based on a religious text. That gives a lot of stuff that ought to be illegal a free pass.

  4. 4
    Eamon Knight

    @3: And be that as it may w.r.t. hate-speech laws, such things certainly shouldn’t be in a country’s *Constitution*. It doesn’t warrant that high level of enshrinement.

  5. 5
    Crimson Clupeidae

    So, the next time the catholics wanna say that all atheists will burn in hell, we can get them prosecuted for incitement?

    Sweet….. (not really, but the potential unintended consequences might make the point they seem intent on missing.)

  6. 6
    Latverian Diplomat

    I’m not a constitutional scholar, and I can’t intelligently weigh in on the merits of this specific proposal. But I can appreciate why a country with Ireland’s history would want to address religious hate speech in their Constitution.

    I’m also think that any such provision that left alone the outrageous statements of many Irish clergy about atheists could only be viewed as a failure.

  7. 7
    Gordon Willis

    “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
    Hosea 13:16

    But religious religious hate-speech is all right, then? Thought so.

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