Blasphemous libel

Blasphemy has made the news with reports that Irish police are investigating Stephen Fry for it after remarks he made on television in 2015.

The Telegraph: Stephen Fry under police investigation for blasphemy after branding God an ‘utter maniac’

According to reports , Irish police are investigating  Fry, once voted the most intelligent man on TV, for insulting God. To be precise Fry accused God of being an ‘utter maniac’.

The Irish Independent claimed police launched its inquiry after comments made by Fry during an interview with the national broadcaster RTE.

A member of the public contacted the Gardai after Fry disclosed his thoughts on God in an interview first broadcast as long ago as February 2015.

The footage, which showed Fry questioned by Irish veteran presenter Gay Byrne, went viral after it was aired and has now been viewed more than seven million times on YouTube.

The individual, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Irish Independent it had been his “civic duty” to report the comments which he alleges were in breach of the Defamation Act.

In the interview Fry was asked what he would say if he was confronted by God. He responded:

“How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil.”

“Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

“I would say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?’

“Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac.

“Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of God would do that?”

Under Irish law blasphemy comes under the Defamation Act and has a maximum fine of 25,000 Euro.

We still have blasphemy in New Zealand law, and the penalties are higher.

Stuff: Surprise as public figures told New Zealand still has anti-blasphemy laws

New Zealand still has an anti-blasphemy law, though neither the prime minister nor the Anglican archbishop was aware of the fact.

The law – which appears not to have been used since 1922 – came to light after reports British entertainer Stephen Fry faced police investigation in the Republic of Ireland for comments he made about “a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God”.

New Zealand has laws covering crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare. And blasphemous libel – though vaguely defined – remains an offence punishable by up to 12 months’ jail.

Here is Part 7, section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961:


Part 7
Crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare

Crime against religion

123 Blasphemous libel

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year who publishes any blasphemous libel.

(2) Whether any particular published matter is or is not a blasphemous libel is a question of fact.

(3) It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

(4) No one shall be prosecuted for an offence against this section without the leave of the Attorney-General, who before giving leave may make such inquiries as he or she thinks fit.


This is indeed very vague. I don’t know how something that could be so subjective could be considered a question of fact.

What exactly constitutes blasphemy?

blasphemy
noun

the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.

That’s no clearer. This is what Wikipedia says about it:

Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, to religious or holy persons or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.

Some religions consider blasphemy as a religious crime. As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group. Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in Muslim-majority nations, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa, although they are also present in some Asian and European countries.

And also present in at least one South Pacific country.

As of 2012, 33 countries had some form of anti-blasphemy laws in their legal code.[6] Of these, 21 were Muslim-majority nations – Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Maldives, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, the UAE and the Western Sahara. The other twelve nations with anti-blasphemy laws in 2012 were Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands (abolished in 2014), Nigeria, Poland and Singapore.

Add New Zealand to that list.

Christian theology condemns blasphemy. It is spoken of in Mark 3:29, where blaspheming the Holy Spirit is spoken of as unforgivable—the eternal sin.

Blasphemy has been condemned as a serious, or even the most serious, sin by the major creeds and Church theologians (apostasy and infidelity [unbelief] were generally considered to be the gravest sins, with heresy a greater sin than blasphemy, cf. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae).

“[if] we compare murder and blasphemy as regards the objects of those sins, it is clear that blasphemy, which is a sin committed directly against God, is more grave than murder, which is a sin against one’s neighbor. On the other hand, if we compare them in respect of the harm wrought by them, murder is the graver sin, for murder does more harm to one’s neighbor, than blasphemy does to God.”

The most common punishment for blasphemers was capital punishment through hanging or stoning, justified by the words of Leviticus 24:13–16.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”

The last person hanged for blasphemy in Great Britain was Thomas Aikenhead aged 20, in Scotland in 1697. He was prosecuted for denying the veracity of the Old Testament and the legitimacy of Christ’s miracles.

Blasphemy (and blasphemous libel) remained a criminal offence in England & Wales until the passing of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, but was last successfully prosecuted in the case of Whitehouse v Lemon (1977), where the defendant was fined £500 and given a nine-month suspended prison sentence (the publisher was also fined £1,000).

So it is no longer a crime in England and Wales, but it is here.

Islam:

Blasphemy in Islam is impious utterance or action concerning God, Muhammad or anything considered sacred in Islam. The Quran admonishes blasphemy, but does not specify any worldly punishment for blasphemy. The hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, suggest various punishments for blasphemy, which may include death. However, it has been argued that the death penalty applies only to cases where there is treason involved that may seriously harm the Muslim community, especially during times of war.

Judaism:

In Jewish law the only form of blasphemy which is punishable by death is blaspheming the Ineffable Name. The Seven Laws of Noah, which Judaism sees as applicable to all people, prohibit blasphemy

It will be interesting to see what happens with Fry in Ireland.

Just to be safe please express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject at Your NZ. That’s not bad advice on any topic.

26 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  May 9, 2017

    Maybe if Fry read the bible, or other sacred texts, he would realise there is no capricious god. God gave man free will according to the bible. The Hindu writings hint at similar. But with free will went the understanding that bad deeds and sin are punished if they break universal laws.

    • Gezza

       /  May 9, 2017

      Aw come on Corks. Any plain reading of the OT in Bible immediately reveals a capricious God. And a reading of the NT shows him to be an immoral one too.

      • Corky

         /  May 9, 2017

        That’s man’s writings.

        • Gezza

           /  May 9, 2017

          Well, obviously. That’s been known for centuries. That’s why all the problems with it arise. The Judeo-Christian God certainly didn’t write the Bible.

          • Corky

             /  May 9, 2017

            Correct…it wrote our conscience. That little small voice.. that’s above man’s teachings.

            • Gezza

               /  May 9, 2017

              It’s not above man’s teachings, Corky. There’s a huge amount of teachings about it. That little small voice tells people lots of different things. Various teachings & experience & emotions & upbringing inform it, as well as possibly something as yet unknown or undefined.

            • Corky

               /  May 9, 2017

              No,you are talking of societal and cultural conditioning. I’m talking of your whole being screaming you are doing something wrong.

              It’s hard to explain. Its not open to the type of debate where people debate with themselves the moral rights of a case based on experience, what mum said, or Father Ryan teaches.

            • Gezza

               /  May 9, 2017

              The brain has to develop & learn before the conscience & the little voice appear. Small children have to be taught not to hit each other & why it is wrong until they begin to learn from that & to then experience empathy & compassion. Those two are the fundamental drivers for what is right & wrong.

            • Corky

               /  May 9, 2017

              I disagree. But we are short of the full story as you hint at

              .

            • Gezza

               /  May 9, 2017

              No worries. I never mind someone disagreeing with me when they’re wrong Corks. 👍

  2. Gezza

     /  May 9, 2017

    It’s certainly past time for s.123 of our Crimes Act to be repealed. Amazed to learn it’s still even in there. Needs to be gone by lunchtime.

    • Gezza

       /  May 9, 2017

      Think I’ll just repeat my comment from a couple of days ago when Alan first posted The Telegraph report:

      “Interesting. Will be fascinating to see what further, if anything, comes of this. It’s a fairly skeletal article. I’d be interested to know how any charge of defamation of God would be framed in their legal system. I rather suspect, if true, the complaint will actually be ultimately treated in the nature of a crank phone call. Even in Ireland one would have to prove that God is real I imagine. And that’s not evidentially demonstrable. It’s only opinion. Wonder if any other papers will pick the case up. Could certainly spark some interesting debates until the next time another celebrity nude shot or sex tape or political scandal goes viral.”

      I doubt it will even make it to Court.

  3. Missy

     /  May 9, 2017

    On the news this morning it was said that this is the first time anyone has been investigated in Ireland for blasphemy. It will set a precedent if nothing else.

    • Gezza

       /  May 9, 2017

      Fry should lodge a retaliatory complaint against God with their equivalent of our Commerce Commission for being an anti-competitive business entity.

      • Gezza

         /  May 9, 2017

        Of course they have. And God knew they would.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 9, 2017

    The Independent is reporting the Irish police have dropped the case for lack of sufficient outrage and harm.

    • Gezza

       /  May 9, 2017

      Of course they have. And God knew they would.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 9, 2017

    Fuckwitted laws need to be broken and challenged.

    • Corky

       /  May 9, 2017

      I didn’t take you for a heathen, Alan?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  May 9, 2017

        Why ever not? Once a sceptic always a sceptic.

        • Corky

           /  May 9, 2017

          Good on ya. Said like a true Rightie.

        • Gezza

           /  May 9, 2017

          Just wondering. Could a group of experts who get together for the express purpose of preparing & publishing papers & articles refuting AGW Climate Change claims be legitimately called a Sceptic Tank?

  6. Why wouldn’t we have such laws? We’re a Christian country …

    Western Secular Judeo-Christian to be exact, because we haven’t let go of the Old Testament …

    As a devout Christian friend of mine says, “You don’t put new wine in an old flask”

    I agree with you Alan … except there’s still the factor of interpretation … What exactly constitutes “Fuckwitted laws”? By one person or another’s standards there must be hundreds, maybe thousands of them?

    A good topic for a referendum perhaps? A long list of legislative fuckwittery and tick boxes for YES = KEEP, NO = DISCARD …?

    Let’s make a list … 1) Cannabis … 2) … ?

  7. Gezza

     /  May 9, 2017

    Aljaz tv: The Christian governor of Jakarta has been sentenced by the Court of Indonesia to 2 years in prison for blasphemy.

  1. Blasphemous libel – NZ Conservative Coalition