Atheists and others are protesting a new law in Ireland, under which a person can be found guilty of blasphemy if "he or she publishes or utters matter 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." The penalty is a fine of up to about $35,000. Should Ireland or any nation have a law against blasphemy?
Cover photo: Comedian George Carlin portrayed Cardinal Ignatius Glick in the controversial, profane and popular 1999 movie "Dogma".
Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham on January 4, 2010 10:57 AM
If the law of the land grants the right of civil union to gays and lesbians, is it too great a leap to think that those who refuse to conduct civil unions or speak against it because of religious reasons make also one day be fined and imprisoned?
Posted by Vashti Murphy McKenzie, on January 11, 2010 12:11 AM
Since the United States curtails the freedom to spread racial hatred or racial prejudice, there is no reason why there cannot be laws limiting the freedom of spreading slanderous information against religious groups.
Posted by Adin Steinsaltz, on January 8, 2010 9:31 AM
When laws are made primarily to placate extremists rather than to benefit the society at large, then the lawmakers are essentially succumbing to fear and are allowing the violent to set the agenda. Although blasphemy in itself does little to make life better, laws used to suppress it make life much worse.
One of my teachers once said that the way to raise a religious child is to teach her defiance. If she doesn't learn how to question authority, to challenge what seems unjust, to refuse to follow directions that don't make sense, she'll never achieve true piety.
Posted by Sharon Brous, on January 6, 2010 11:24 PM
Ireland's law against blasphemy is as wrong-headed as calls from the Muslim world for a UN treaty to protect religions from mockery. Ridicule, insult, biting sarcasm, invective, and heretical, blasphemous words -- everything that these groups object to -- are important parts of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience.
Posted by Pamela K. Taylor, on January 6, 2010 9:42 AM
This Irish blasphemy law may be silly and will probably collapse because it is unforceable, but the concept of blasphemy as an offense punishable by the state--or by violent individuals--is more than offensive. It has been an evil throughout history.
Posted by Susan Jacoby, on January 5, 2010 3:24 PM
Baptists and all champions of religious liberty and the cause of conscience have condemned theocracies and attempts on the part of government officials to dictate spiritual matters, including passing blasphemy laws.
Posted by J. Brent Walker, on January 5, 2010 12:00 PM
In every human society, speech is adequately regulated by social sanctions and should not be throttled by legal sanctions. "Politically correct" speech should not be politically defined and enforced, nor should "hate speech" or "blasphemy" be subject to court punishment.
Posted by Willis E. Elliott, on January 4, 2010 11:54 PM
The crime of blasphemy has little to do with what you say, and lots to do with how others feel: so insulted and outraged by it that they want you silenced and punished. In other words, those uncivil libertarians opposed to free speech determine what is blasphemy.
Posted by Herb Silverman, on January 4, 2010 7:28 PM
Anachronistic blasphemy laws dangerously combine sacred and secular power. Certainly, the "right to offend" should not be exercised lightly. But it is also important for religious people to consider what really is at risk, both spiritually and politically, when they assert that their own "right to take offense" should outweigh all other social or legal concerns.
Posted by Mathew N. Schmalz, on January 4, 2010 6:42 PM
Blasphemy laws are irreverent (that is, offensive to religion) because making criticism of religion a crime can choke off one of the most vital element of living religions, the drive to reform religion again and again and again throughout the ages.
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on January 4, 2010 6:34 PM
Absolutely not! I write this from Ireland where the media and many of those interviewed are shocked at their government's attempt to curtail free speech. This is nothing more than a sop to Europe's growing number of radical Islamists.
Many Christians on the theologically-traditional end of the spectrum are likely to support this kind of thing, but I am convinced that doing so would be a mistake. There is already some momentum in the larger culture for inhibiting our own Christian right to say things.
Posted by Richard Mouw, on January 4, 2010 3:33 PM
I can think of no circumstance in which limiting people's freedom of expression to that which is acceptable to the members of a particular religious group being good for anyone. In fact, whether in Ireland, Israel, or Saudi Arabia - and by no means are the three all equally problematic, the track record of allowing the state to dictate religious norms to its citizens pretty much always goes badly.
Posted by Brad Hirschfield, on January 4, 2010 1:11 PM
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