Ahhh, the memories. Blasphemy used to be a English law exam and essay topic favourite. It had everything.
Blasphemy was especially fun to research and write about as you could chart English legal history from canon to common law, all the way down and through to Mary Whitehouse’s private prosecution of Denis Lemon for his publication in Gay Times of the poem, “The Love that Dares to Speak its Name” in 1977.
Blasphemy remained a LL.B exam favourite, even in the 90s, and essayists went on to consider whether a law protecting Christian beliefs, as held by the Church of England, should be extended to “protect” all faiths – or whether it had any role at all in a post-modern, multi-faith society.
Some argued that the extension of a law against blasphemy covering all faiths would send a signal to all that their religious traditions were valued by society.
Others wondered how blasphemy experts, judges and juries would be selected. Why should religious hurt feelings and insult be treated any differently than any other insult or “hurt” feeling? What is the legitimate Government aim of shutting down religious debate or comment in a free society?
The English law against blasphemy was finally abolished in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, 2008. (Although that was a trade off for amendment of the Public Order Act to include, “Incitement to Religious Hatred” in 2007″.)
It is therefore somewhat surprising, to me at any rate, that blasphemy’s been resurrected in Ireland to cover all faiths.
Michael Nugent, Chair of the “Atheist Ireland” said the following:
“We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.”
While better legal minds than mine held in Wingrove v UK that blasphemy laws are compatible with Article 10 Freedom of Expression rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, I just don’t see where in the ECHR we are given a “right not to be offended”? Why haven’t Ireland, if they felt the pressing need to address “intemperate” religious speech, simply made it a public order offence rather than a matter of blasphemy?
Did Ireland take the easy way out by making blasphemy an “equal opportunity” law rather than amending its Constitution and abolishing it altogether?