Irish PEN , Urgent Need for Constitutional Referendum on Blasphemy In Ireland

I am linking here to the Irish PEN statement on Ireland’s need for a Constitutional Referendum on Blasphemy. Readers of this blog know that there is a link to the International PEN Statement on Defamation of Religions on the Site, and some links to the 2006-2009 Defamation Bill. I am adding here two links from Irish PEN, which is affiliated closely with International PEN.

Urgent Need for Irish Constitutional Referendum on Blasphemy
March 18th, 2011.

The Executive Committee of Irish PEN, the Irish Centre for PEN International, is campaigning for a constitutional referendum to be held on blasphemy in the Republic of Ireland by the end of 2011.

Why do we need a constitutional referendum?

Article 40.6.1.i of the Irish Constitution requires that blasphemy be banned and hence abolishing the offence requires a constitutional referendum.

Why is the move towards “defamation of religions” bad?

Human rights attach to individuals, not to states, organised groups or ideas. When governments seek to limit the rights of individuals to criticise, they are not seeking, as they claim, to protect faith or belief. Rather, they are seeking increased power over their citizens. Religions are capable of good and evil. To ensure that the good dominates, it is essential to maintain freedom of expression, ensuring writers are free to criticise them

Edit : 30/03/2011 : Press-Release from American PEN.

New York City, March 30, 2011—PEN American Center today praised the U.N. Human Rights Council for ending efforts to restrict speech considered offensive to religions, calling the Council’s recent unanimous vote on a religious tolerance resolution “a vital affirmation of the inextricably-linked rights of freedom of expression and religion.

“We are delighted that the OIC has come to share our view that in the necessary work of building mutual respect between the world’s religious traditions, the criminalization of speech about a religion—however offensive to its adherents—would have been an unhelpful step,” PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah said today in New York. “This is especially so because incitement to violence on any basis, including religion, is already exempt from the wide protections for freedom of expression in international law.”

Beginning in 1997, a coalition of countries led by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has put forward a series on resolutions on “combating religious defamation” that contained language demanding that states ban blasphemy and other religious denigration. PEN and a number of other human rights organizations have lobbied against the proposals, warning that they would significantly erode crucial international and national protections for freedom of expression. In submissions to the Human Rights Council and in a presentation for U.N. delegates in Geneva this past September, PEN cited numerous cases where governments have used religious defamation laws to jail writers and suppress unpopular opinions, and it has insisted that blasphemy laws do little to achieve the stated goal of curbing religious bigotry.

Instead of reintroducing the religious defamation resolution at the current Human Rights Council session, the OIC presented a new resolution that focuses on ending religious discrimination. The resolution, which passed unanimously last Thursday, removes all references to protecting religions and shifts the emphasis to protecting individual believers, something PEN has long argued is the correct approach both in principle and in the law.

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