I write further to the well publicised intention of the Minister for Justice, Mr. Dermot Ahern to introduce a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to €100,000 of blasphemy.
It is the Minister’s declared intention to thereby give statutory provision for the Constitutional offence of blasphemy.
However this approach is wrong both in principle and at a practical level. In principle, as recognised by Brian Lenihan TD in the Seanad debate on this Bill when he was Minister for Justice, “the essence of the offence seems to consist of the hurt that is caused to the believer. This is a dangerous basis for an offence.”
The Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution recommended that the reference to blasphemy be removed from the Constitution. That having been decided upon, there is no reason why the government should not make park the matter, by making it punishable by a fine of negligible proportions- for example €1- until such time as a referendum can be conveniently held on the matter.
In addition, the Minister’s proposal runs contrary to the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations, the intent of your own Committee recommendations, the logic of his predecessor’s stated assessment as well as European and international norms of freedom of speech and of religious and artistic expression.
I attach some discussion from the Twitter community on the issue for your consideration. You will see that, posting under the handle Tupp_ed, I have been making statements regarding various religions during the day. Each is (a) intended to cause offence and (b) likely to do so if publicised amongst adherents of those religions. I do not believe that any of them ought to be criminalised.
I would urge you to make a stand in favour of free speech and open the exchange of ideas and beliefs. Pat Rabbitte’s amendment, setting the fine at €1,000, does not go far enough as it remains a serious and considerable threat to anyone voicing a provocative opinion on a religious matter.
I would urge you to reject the Minister’s proposed amendment.