Religion and Law round-up – 4th January

So that’s the carols and mince pies over for another year, then. Back to work…

… but not before tonight’s Epiphany Carol services, when some choirs will take the opportunity to dust off the Crotch – Lo, Star-Led Chiefs, Assyrian Odours Bring – a sort of Pirates of Penzance meets Messiah. For some, the Christmas season extends until Candlemas; but now that The Low Churchman’s Guide to the Solemn High Mass has ceased its regular postings we will no longer be reminded of the evils of “prolix ritual and ostentatious ceremonial”.

Abortion, blasphemy and the Constitution of Ireland

The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in England and Wales by s 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. In Ireland, however, Article 40.6.1°.i of the Constitution [Bunreacht na hÉireann] declares that

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.

In 1999 the common law offence of blasphemous libel was ruled to be incompatible with the Constitution’s guarantee of religious equality; but after a hiatus a new offence of “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” was created by the Defamation Act 2009. The argument advanced by the Fianna Fáil Government was that it was necessary to have such an offence in order to fulfil the terms of Article 40.6.1°.i. To describe this as controversial would be a major understatement; and after the last general election, the incoming Fine Gael–Labour Coalition’s programme promised a Constitutional Convention to draft a range of reforms, including “Removing blasphemy from the Constitution”. Continue reading