As you know, the new Defamation Act was passed and awaits signing into law by the President. It will now be a criminal offence in Ireland to ridicule a religion.
I have no doubt we can expect complaints from outraged Moonies, Scientologists and assorted cults of every hue. Therefore, I decided to approach the police to see how they intend to handle complaints.
Here’s an email I sent to the Garda press office, and I’ll let you know what they say, in the unlikely event that I receive any reply.
I am currently preparing an article on the operation of the anti-blasphemy law, as set out in the new Defamation Act.
The provisions appear to be quite wide-ranging, and it is open to the adherent of any religion to make a complaint to an Garda Síchána if they feel offended by any published material. In this context you will recall some years ago the controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons in in a Danish newspaper which caused outrage among some Muslims. It appears that an editor could now be prosecuted if he published those cartoons in Ireland.
In the event that a complaint is made to an Garda Síchána under this Act, could you please clarify whether all religions will be given equal weight? For example, would a complaint from the Church of Scientology or the Moonies be treated with the same gravity as a complaint from the Catholic Church? Likewise, will some procedure be put in place to determine which religions are recognised as valid and what criteria might be used to make this determination?
You are perhaps aware that certain religions which most people would regard as spurious, such as Pastafarianism and the Jedi religion, are widespread across the world. If a journalist should write an article ridiculing a church that worships a spaghetti monster (Pastafarianism), or makes fun of a religion based on a science fiction movie, would an Garda Síchána take such a complaint at face value, and consider prosecuting that journalist for blasphemous libel? If not, would the decision not to proceed be made by a member with special training in determining whether a particular religion is a legitimate one?
I would also be interested to know what procedures might be put in place where one religion’s beliefs are deeply offensive to another. For instance, Judaism teaches that Jesus is not the Messiah. Many Christians find this deeply offensive, and it is not inconceivable that a complaint might be made against Jews under the terms of the new Act. In such a case, would a complaint be entertained and perhaps brought before the DPP?
Finally, could you please advise whether an Garda Síochána is currently taking measures to equip its members with the necessary expertise to deal with this difficult issue if and when it arises?