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Monday, August 3, 2009


It may seem odd that a 21st century European country, one that has recently thrived in the global economy (or did until the blow-out of the past year) would ban speech challenging the authority of the church (see here), but the Irish parliament (or Oireachtas, as it is called), had its hands forced by the 1937 Irish constitution. That document provides speech rights but only in the context of "the public good" and allows for the punishment of speech "used to undermine...order, morality or the authority of the state." Then it goes further, actually mandating the punishment of "blasphemous, seditious, or indecent" utterances. Ironically, the church itself had no role in pushing the new law and in fact the law may be an improvement on existing speech freedoms.

It replaces Ireland's 1961 Defamation Act which contained even more stringent speech restrictions, even though only one case of "blasphemous" speech has been heard since 1937, one which prompted Ireland's highest court to side strongly with the speaker and declare that the law has no teeth since "blasphemy" cannot be defined. Still, the restriction remains there for latter day interpretation and while punishing blasphemy may be unpopular in the West, there is growing concern for the global influence of Muslim countries, particularly the 57-nation UN Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which since since 2005. has been voting up a non-binding resolution, aimed at satisfying fundamentalists, that would have all countries condemn religious defamation.

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