Wednesday, May 06, 2009

'Blasphemous libel' to be a criminal offence

Just two questions. Why? And why now?

Melancholicus was surprised to learn that, despite the reputation of Ireland’s Catholic past, blasphemy has never been a criminal offence in this country.

One would have thought that in this secular age, and in the midst of the most serious economic downturn the State has seen since its inception, the last thing required to occupy the attention of government ministers would be legislation introducing a new offence of ‘blasphemous libel’.

Melancholicus is not impressed.

For the past two hundred years it has ever been the fashion for the rulers of the States, as embodying the temporal power, to pretend incompetence in matters spiritual in order to excuse themselves from the obligations attendant upon adherence to the Christian religion: this, that they might be unfettered in their rule by the doctrines of any Church, whether Catholic or Protestant, and that they might appeal to both by appealing to neither.

The notion of the agnostic or atheistic State was condemned by the Popes down to the middle of the twentieth century.

Then in the 1960s there occurred an EventTM which saw the holy Church turn turkey and completely reverse her position, in which religious liberty for all and sundry was ebulliently proclaimed from the basilica of St. Peter’s, and enshrined for Modern ManTM in Dignitatis Humanae.

So if even the Catholic Church herself now prescinds from the notion of the confessional State, what business does an elected politician—here today, gone tomorrow—have in prescribing penalties for controversies touching upon religious matters?

How ironic, that the same State which confessed itself agnostic in matters religious these many years past suddenly claims to know what blasphemy is, how to sniff it out, and how best to punish it when detected.

When Melancholicus first heard of this proposed law, and once he had retrieved his jaw from its recumbent position on the floor, he wondered if it might not actually be a good thing. The Irish media, and not least RTÉ, have for unnumbered years made a sport out of baiting doctrines, practices and persons associated with Catholicism, not least the Holy Father himself. It would not be at all unpleasant if a stop were to be put to such odious practices.

Melancholicus has read grossly offensive articles in daily newspapers in which the writer’s treatment even of our Divine Saviour and His Blessed Mother has appalled him. But instead of going out rioting and setting cars on fire and taking up a scimitar to start beheading people, Melancholicus’ response has been simply to stop reading, or to say a prayer for the smug, self-satisfied writer—or at the most, to submit a letter of complaint to the paper concerned.

Then he realised he was deluding himself by believing that this might redress the current state of open season against the religion he himself professes. The proposed law will be of no benefit whatsoever to Christians. It is now many decades since the government of this country pretended concern for the welfare of Christians and for the integrity of the religion they profess. The relentless spiteful, sarcastic and mocking attacks in the nation’s media on the religion of the majority of the nation’s citizens—attacks including ridicule and defamation which could certainly be regarded as blasphemous—has in recent years never been a cause of concern to the nation’s government.

So why start now? Has Dermot Ahern suddenly found God?

Blasphemy is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2148) as “uttering against God—inwardly or outwardly—words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name. St. James condemns those “who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called” (2:7). The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ’s Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death”. (This last sentence is as clear a condemnation of the religion of Mahomet as ever was written).

As Ireland is now what they call a ‘diverse’ and ‘multi-faith’ society, the Church’s definition of blasphemy is most certainly not that which will inform the proposed law. Instead, we find blasphemy now defined 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”.

This law will not take a single step towards banishing anti-Christian prejudice from the airwaves and the printsheets. No, this law is being introduced in order to protect the Mahometan—or rather, to appease the Mahometan and thus protect the peace by forbidding any criticism of Mahomet, or the religion he founded, or the Qur’an, or the behaviour of those who practice that religion, lest there be disturbances against public order. For if anything which might offend Mahometans be prohibited by the new law against blasphemous libel, perhaps they shall not riot if they see the offender punished by the full rigors of the law.

Melancholicus rather doubts that. The Mahometan will riot anyway because it is in his nature to do so. Perhaps by saying so Melancholicus has himself uttered blasphemy—at least according to how Dermot Ahern might define it.

From The Irish Times:

Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

CAROL COULTER, Legal Affairs Editor

A NEW crime of blasphemous libel is to be proposed by the Minister for Justice in an amendment to the Defamation Bill, which will be discussed by the Oireachtas committee on justice today.

At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution.

Article 40 of the Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech, qualifies it by stating: “The State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

Last year the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, under the chairmanship of Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ardagh, recommended amending this Article to remove all references to sedition and blasphemy, and redrafting the Article along the lines of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression.

The prohibition on blasphemy dates back to English law aimed at protecting the established church, the Church of England, from attack. It has been used relatively recently to prosecute satirical publications in the UK [Although Melancholicus has no knowledge of such matters, he guesses Private Eye as a likely victim of that law. The ironic thing is that the Church of England now, more than at any other period of her history, most fully deserves a thoroughgoing lampooning].

In the only Irish case taken under this article, Corway -v- Independent Newspapers, in 1999, the Supreme Court concluded that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists” [and the Supreme Court is impeccably correct since its judgement is not informed by adherence to one religion or another].

It also stated that a special protection for Christianity was incompatible with the religious equality provisions of Article 44 [indeed. Denial of special protection for Christianity ipso facto confers that special protection to other religions, of which Mahometanism will no doubt be the chief beneficiary].

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.” [That’s rather steep. To deter those who persist in warning the western world about the grave threat posed by Islam, perhaps?]

“Blasphemous matter” is defined [by whom, precisely?] as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, [pay attention... here’s the meat] thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; [of what religion, gentle reader, do “a substantial number of adherents” become outraged when confronted with ‘blasphemous’ matter? It ain’t Catholicism. When was the last time Catholics rioted because an off-colour journalist made some off-colour remark about the Pope or about the doctrines of the faith? When was the last time a film-maker was murdered by outraged Catholics after a piece of his work which reflected badly on the Church was screened by RTÉ?] and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.” [One thinks at once of the Motoons, and perhaps indeed those who drafted this definition even had the Motoons in mind when they did so]

Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them [in order that books, pamphlets, other writings, images, video footage, computer disks or any other media containing criticism of Islam may be seized and destroyed. Melancholicus wonders if it will even be an offence to download Pat Condell’s videos for personal use].

Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.

The Legal Affairs Editor of The Irish Times clearly disapproves of the proposed law. Melancholicus cannot blame her.

1 comment:

Christopher Mc Camley said...

There was a crime of criminal blasphemy - trouble was judges, liking to right (or is it write) the law themselves, decided they had no way of knowing what blasphemy was since it wasn't actually defined in law. But this new law is clearly a muslim charter. Question is why? What's the politics? Who gains? Love the pig photo by the way which I have stolen. Will you add me to your blog roll as I have you? Would that Smasher Lagru was still around as you say to include.