Irish blasphemy law highlights increasing international threats to free speech

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has commented on reports that an atheist is to walk the length of Ireland to protest against the Republic’s new blasphemy law, which came into force at the beginning of this year.

Commenting on the news, BHA Head of Public Affairs, Naomi Phillips, said: ‘There are serious threats to free speech and civil liberty coming from within Europe, such as this new blasphemy law in the Republic of Ireland. This is a dangerous and disgraceful law which seeks to stifle freedom of expression and to protect religious beliefs from abuse or insult. Modern laws should always seek to protect real people and their rights, but not to protect their thoughts and beliefs from criticism.’

Internationally, threats to free speech come from a wide range of sources, from individuals and groups wishing to censor criticism particularly of religion, through to powerful nations seeking to outlaw and criminalise any perceived negative critique or portrayal of religion. The BHA believes that, internationally, the UK should be a leader in championing free speech issues.

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on 020 7079 3585.

Read comment by the BHA on international threats to free speech and civil liberties.

Read more about our work on free speech issues.

The outdated and discriminatory blasphemy laws in the UK were abolished when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill received Royal Assent in May 2008.

The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were common law offences which were not repealed until 2008, despite the lack of social, political or judicial support for keeping them in British law. The blasphemy law was contrary to the principle of free speech and was probably contrary to human rights laws adopted by the UK, which protect freedom of expression. The law protected certain, Christian, beliefs and makes it illegal to question them or deny them. See our parliamentary briefing on the compelling reasons to abolish the blasphemy.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.