Blasphemy needs to be decriminalised

January 24th, 2015 10:16 AM

By Southern Star Team

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Southern Star January 24 2014

THE brutal murders in Paris the week before last and the subsequent publication of a front page cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has brought as renewed focus on the possibility that our blasphemy laws, which are part of the 2009 Defamation Act, would be invoked in order to curb freedom of expression.

While it might sound like a contradiction in terms, free speech and expression need to be exercised responsibly and the mainstream Irish media generally does this under a voluntary code of practice agreed with the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman. However, the threat by some Muslim clerics to make a complaint under the blasphemy laws was not the main reason Irish media organisations did not publish the Charlie Hebdo front page cartoon; the media wanted to avoid causing gratuitous offence to the wider Muslim community, which has been tarnished by the violent actions of a tiny radicalised minority in their midst.

A referendum with a view to removing the constitutional ban on blasphemy, which remains an impediment to freedom of expression, is pending, but sadly the government is in no hurry with it.

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