Home > Criminal Justice, human rights > Do religions have rights? ‘Ireland bucks trend with anti-blasphemy law’ (The Register, 8 May 2009)

Do religions have rights? ‘Ireland bucks trend with anti-blasphemy law’ (The Register, 8 May 2009)

ireland-flagThere have much criticisms at the Human Rights Council in recent weeks for their passing of a resolution that condemns attacks on religions as a human rights violations.  Most of the countries that passed the resolution in the Human Rights Council were Muslim countries, who sees this as a way of combatting ‘Islamophobia’.  Many human rights non-government organisations however have labelled this as an attack on ‘freedom of expressions’.

Ironically, one country that might find itself supporting this resolution is the Republic of Ireland.   ‘Ireland bucks trend with anti-blasphemy law’ (The Register, 8 May 2009) The particular person responsible for this rather problematic law is the Irish Minister of Justice.  The proposed law hits prospective blasphemers in the pocket.

“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.”

What does it mean to “blaspheme”?  According to the proposed legislation, a blasphemous act is one 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.

Does that mean that atheists cannot criticise or satirize religions in Ireland?  How about comedians who want to satirize religions in comedy clubs.   Certainly this appears to be the case.  The proposed legislaton arose out of a 1999 case in which a Dublin newspaper was prosecuted for a satirical article attacking religions, thereby violating a clause in the Irish constitution that

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

However no such law actually existed.  (See explanation on Corway v Independent Newspapers (1999) Irish Supreme Court.)  Therefore the judge had to dismiss the case.  This raised the attention of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.  However, rather fixing it by removing the arguably outdated clause in the constitution, they decided to make it legally enforceable.

This raises a legal and philosophical question.  Do religions even have ‘human rights’?

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