Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Blasphemy in Irish Law"

Paul O'Higgins, Blasphemy in Irish Law, 23 Modern L. Rev. 151 (1960)

Last year's passage of a new blasphemy law in Ireland presents a good opportunity to study the history of the offense in that country. O'Higgins' article, published in 1960, discusses several interesting facets of Irish blasphemy law: (1) How the Constitution's exemption of blasphemy laws from the free speech guarantee ties into "the Christian inspiration of the whole" document; (2) How various Irish statutes on blasphemy and related crimes stretch back hundreds of years; (3) How common law prosecutions for blasphemy in the 18th and 19th century indicate that authorities, at that time, had not adopted the matter/manner distinction later created by the House of Lords in Bowman; and (4) How it is difficult, due to a paucity of subsequent cases and disagreement over whether Bowman binds Ireland, to decide what the current common law crime of blasphemy is. Thus, O'Higgins states that "[t]he conclusion is then forced upon us that there is considerable doubt as to the meaning of the term 'blasphemous' as used in the Irish Constitution and in modern Irish legislation." (p. 166)

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