Atheist Ireland meets chairman and secretariat of Constitutional Convention

by Michael Nugent on June 14, 2013

Jane Donnelly, David Nash and I met yesterday with Tom Arnold, chairperson, and Richard Holland, secretariat member, of the Irish Constitutional Convention.

This built on our previous discussions with Convention staff. We wanted them to meet with David, the expert on blasphemy law from Oxford Brookes University in the UK who has been in Ireland this week helping us to prepare our submission to the convention.

At our meeting yesterday, we discussed the procedures for Atheist Ireland’s submissions on the question of removing the blasphemy law, which is item 8 on the agenda; and separation of church and state, which we hope to have included under item 9 of the agenda, which allows recommendations on issues other than those set out by the Government.

We were pleased and impressed with the efficiency and fairness of the Convention’s procedures, and we look forward to continuing to work with it to advance the cause of secularism in Ireland.

Draft executive summary of Atheist Ireland submission on blasphemy law

Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for atheism, reason and ethical secularism. We are participants in the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies. We campaign internationally against the use of blasphemy laws to infringe the human rights of religious minorities and atheists, including hosting an event at the 2012 OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw. We have opposed the Irish blasphemy law since it was first announced, including by lobbying politicians and international regulatory bodies.

We argue that blasphemy laws generally are bad for the following reasons:

  • They endanger freedom of speech and deny equality
  • They are used to infringe on human rights around the world
  • They have been condemned by reputable Irish and international bodies

We argue that the Irish blasphemy law in particular is bad for the following reasons

  • It reinforces the religious ethos of the 1937 Constitution
  • It brings our parliament and our laws into disrepute
  • Islamic states use it at the UN to promote universal blasphemy laws

Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, advised us as we prepared this submission: “Of course you are right that the major damage done by this legislation is the international one. I wouldn’t expect any harsh verdicts being handed down in Ireland, but those countries that continue to have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy. So I hope things will be moving in the right direction. One can also cite General Comment no. 34 of the Human Rights Committee and the Rabat Plan of Action. Both documents call upon States to move away from criminalizing so called blasphemy.”

The Irish blasphemy law has two components – Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution, which makes blasphemy an offence that is punishable in accordance with law, and Section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009, which defines the offence and makes it punishable. We ask the Constitutional Convention to recommend the following:

  • Remove the offence of blasphemy from Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution. This would enable the Oireachtas to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Defamation Act.
  • Add a clause prohibiting blasphemy laws. This would oblige the Oireachtas to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Defamation Act, and it would also protect the Irish people from future blasphemy laws.
  • Revise ARticle 40.6.1.i generally, closely modelled on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as recommended by the 1996B review Group.
  • Examine the inter-related impact of the blasphemy clause and other religiously-inspired aspects of the Constitution.
We will soon have the final version of this submission completed, along with our submission on separation of church and state generally for item 9 of the Convention’s agenda.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Thomas June 14, 2013 at 3:03 am

I know that this is the summary but shouldn’t the reasons the blasphemy law is bad include the fact that blasphemy itself as a criminal offence is a fundamentally flawed concept, in addition to the excellent follow on effects identified.

2 christopher mahon June 15, 2013 at 12:03 am

Good luck on your endeavor to get separation of church and state in Ireland. I left Ireland many years ago and never thought I would see this topic even discussed in “Catholic Ireland”.

3 Ferelith June 17, 2013 at 1:33 am

Asked a friend of mine from Pakistan who is a legal academic if he would collaborate with me in writing an article about blasphemy laws in our respective countries and he replied that it was too dangerous and contentious an issue for him to feel safe working on. Viva freedom of speech!

4 steve white June 19, 2013 at 11:54 pm

if you can’t argue why a law is bad in the jurisdiction that it applies…

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