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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In Ireland: a legal matter on blasphemous libel?

Over at Slashdot, I found this link to Jason Walsh's criticism of Ireland's amended Defamation Bill. The slashdot post naturally elicited some criticism of Ireland's alleged return to the dark ages and so on, as well as quite a flurry about agnosticism, atheism and so on.

I posted a response because what Jason Walsh writes is incorrect. The bill's amendment wasn't about "shield[ing] religious belief from criticism". It defines what the Irish constitution does not, about what blasphemous matter is. Such vaguness caused a few problems in the past, apparently. The amended bill promises penalties for infractions, but significantly gives a definition of blasphemous matter (according to the Irish Times) as

.. matter "that is *grossly abusive* or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; *and he or she intends*, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage." (emphasis mine)

I repeat what I wrote in my Slashdot post:

Freedom of speech should not include grossly abusive speech that would take away from other people their own freedom to hold beliefs without anxiety about arbitrary gross insults. Engaging in healthy criticism and the debate that ensues is one thing, and is welcome. There is a meeting of minds and a clash of ideas. It is an entirely different thing to grossly abuse the beliefs of a group of people concerning what they hold to be sacred matter simply for the sake of insulting them.

It would be nice if governments didn't need to legislate such things, and for the citizenry to exercise common decency and engage instead in honest criticism whose objective is to right wrongs in the context of dialogue. Unfortunately, we have many published celebrities today who instead exercise their ego and vile contempt for those whom they disagree with, and copycats aplenty with blogs, YouTube accounts and art degrees at their disposal.

I truly do not think it ideal to have to enact such laws, but it's hard to blame lawmakers who look at things from a different perspective. Anti-religious bigotry are on the rise, in levels not seen in quite a while, and the world both watches and, sadly, emulates at times. I'm thinking about those museum exhibits involving Catholic personages and symbols in fecal matter, or urine. I also recall a fairly drawn out YouTube matter involving the consecrated host, abuse by bullet, blade, fire and what-not, and a college professor cheering and apparently paying for more. Who would welcome such vile contempt amplified in print?

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