There is no constitutional or statutory definition of blasphemy in this jurisdiction.
The Oxford dictionary definition is 'the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or a sacred thing'.
The offence of blasphemy came from the English Common Law offence and applied only to christian religions and indeed for a period applied only to the 'established church'. The Common Law offence dates back to at least the 14th century.
In Ireland, the offence is created in Bunreacht na hEireann 1937.
Article 40.6.1.i states that the state guarantees 'the right of citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.' It goes on to say that 'the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law'.
The word 'blasphemous' is not defined in the Consititution.
SECTION 13 DEFAMATION ACT 1961
Section 13 of the Defamation Act 1961 makes blasphemous libel punishable by 7 years in prison or a fine of £500.
Again the word 'blasphemous' is not defined.
SECTION 36 DEFAMATION ACT 2009
Section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009 made the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter against any religion an offence, punishable by a fine not exceeding €25,000.
The word 'blasphemous' is not defined in the Act.
The last prosecution for blasphemy in this jurisdiction was taken against a redemptorist priest in 1855. the priest was accused of burning a bible. The priest said he did so accidentally. He was acquitted.
CORWAY -V- INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS S.C. 1999
Both the High Court and the Supreme Court refused to allow a private prosecution for blasphemy saying that the 1937 Constitution had extinguished the common law offence of blasphemy and stated that in the absence of any legislative definition of the Constitutional offence of blasphemy ' it is impossible to say of what the offence of blasphemy consists'.
STEPHEN FRY CONTROVERSY
Stephen Fry appeared on the 'Meaning of Life' show hosted by Gay Byrne in February 2015. When asked by Gay Byrne as to what he would say to God if and when he met him at the pearly gates he replied as follows:
" bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.”
A complaint was made to the Gardai. the Gardai investigated the matter. However, no prosecution was taken as the Gardai could not find a large number of people who were outraged by Stephen Fry's comments.
On 26th October 2018 there will be a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the constitution.
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