Censorship of books and magazines has been a feature of the Irish state ever since the Minister for Justice established The Committee on Evil Literature in 1926, to report on the need for more censorship.
In 1987, the less-comedically-named Irish Censorship Board renewed its ban on The Joy of Sex by Dr Alex Comfort, which they had first banned in 1974. For good measure they also added a new ban on a scholarly book about Hindu erotic sculpture.
Anne Spicer of Dublin noticed the hypocrisy of these books being banned while the Christian Bible was freely on sale, endorsing sexual abuse of young girls, glorifying violence and supporting mutilation.
Anne and her husband Dick were (and are) longtime secular activists, and in February 1988 Anne submitted the Bible to the censorship board.
She asked the board to explain how it bans publications like The Joy Of Sex, which seek to enhance or portray sexual techniques, while not banning the Bible, which is full of obscene incitement to crime.
She pointed out that mutilation and genocide coupled with graphic obscenity and ritual murder is a prominent theme and indeed many of the heroes and heroines are extolled for their murderous ability and promiscuous prowess.
She cited the Bible’s endorsement of the murder of disobedient children, capital punishment for adultery, mutilations as punishment, and sexual abuse and slavery of youngsters.
In particular, she highlighted this notorious passage: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
The censorship board met to consider Anne Spicer’s complaint, and decided not to ban the Bible. They referred to their requirement to have regard to the “literary, artistic, scientific or historic merit or importance” of a publication when assessing whether it should be banned.
Anne Spicer responded that the board had also banned the Hindu book of erotic art. She said that Hinduism has at least as valid a claim to historical importance as Judeo/Christian writing. She said that the Hindu book celebrated lust and sexuality and was banned, while the Bible glorified death and destruction and was not banned.
She said that the censorship act allowed a select unaccountable group to arbitrate on what constitutes artistic merit, and that they allowed the upper classes their titillation, as in Ulysses, while denying the ordinary people their pleasures, as in Playboy.
The following year, 1989, the Irish Censorship Board unbanned The Joy Of Sex. Six years later, in 1995, they unbanned Playboy magazine. The only other country in the Western world that also banned Playboy at that time was Turkey.