'Blasphemy' comes from the Middle English word, blasfemen, which comes from the Latin word blasphemare, which comes from the ancient Greek ‘βλασφημέω’ (which comes from βλάπτω = "I injure" and φήμη = "reputation") so it’s fair to say that people have been (or have been accused of) taking the piss out of their god(s) since the days that people thought casual pederasty and marathons were the way to go about business.
Yesterday in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, proposed an amendment to the current Defamation Bill; extending the ambit of the proposed law to create the crime of criminal blasphemy. Mr Ahern is a qualified solicitor and has served with distinction in the Cabinet, but I believe that this law is very clearly a pile o’ wank.
The Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) at Article 40, guarantees the right to free speech but qualifies it by allowing for the restricition of several types of publication:
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”
The Court has said on several occasions that the crime of blasphemy is almost impossible to define, and in practice, speech relating to religion (such as the case of Murphy v. IRTC) has only really been restricted when there was a perceived danger of public unrest and and only used with the utmost reluctance. Wee Dermy describes what'll happen to the blaspheming riff raff,
“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.”
“Jesus, what a ridiculously vague and overtly broad piece of proposed legislation.” (I hear you all yell, angrily, and not realizing the irony) and you’d be right. The Minister does, however, try to placate our worries with a lovely, and not-at-all-fuckwitted, definition of blasphemy as language…,
“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,”
and establishing that a fine up to €100,000 may be imposed, upon conviction.
At a first glance, this could be seen as an attempt to allay fears that our print- and broadcast-media could inadvertently, by clumsiness or negligence, stumble into the kind of scenario that led to the “Mohammed Cartoon” controversy, and the ensuing tsunami of global rioting and hatemongering, and to protect religious minorities from persecution.
However, the “substantial number of adherents” and “intent to outrage” requirements of the above definition leave us in a position where one right is being created in the vaccuum created by the destruction of another. As the right to freedom of speech is being curtailed, the Minister hopes that those substantial adherents will feel that their religious convictions are being vindicated.