Blasphemy Laws Aren't Just about Religion. They're about Free Speech
Byline: The Mary Ellen Synon COLUMN
THESE changes in the criminal blasphemy laws are far more sinister than just the puzzle of why the Justice Minister wants the changes now, and why he wants to tangle them up with changes in civil defamation laws. Some see it as a move to give the State the power to suppress criticism of Islam. Others see the Minister's push for legislation as a move to extend into law the reach of the modern orthodoxy called 'political correctness'.
I'd say there is some of all of that in this push for new law, and it is all sinister. But there is something else, too. One must look at what blasphemy has come to mean in the EU. I sense a nudge from Brussels in this. There is no other way to explain the Minister's urgent concern, as he puts it, for his 'obligation to implement the constitutional offence of blasphemy'. Certainly he feels no such urgent obligation to implement laws concerning the constitutional protection of the rights of the unborn.
So we must look to the blasphemy doctrine which first emerged from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2000.
At that time, the 'blasphemer' was a senior European Commission economist whose 'outrage' was to criticise economic and monetary union. To understand what is sinister in Mr Ahern's new law, we need to go back to that case, because it had - and has - huge implications for our freedom of speech, our right to 'blaspheme' against any orthodoxy.
In the 1990s, Bernard Connolly, a British economist, was a senior member of staff at the European Commission. Among other duties, he was head of the unit charged with monitoring the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
That made him an insider on the negotiations - and the intrigues and the ideology - that moved the EU towards a single currency.
Despite being a member of the European elite, what he saw and heard disgusted him. The result was his book published by Faber & Faber, The Rotten Heart of Europe: The Dirty War for Europe's Money. The book is a cracker.
'My central thesis,' he wrote, 'is that the ERM and EMU [economic and monetary union] are not only inefficient but also undemocratic: a danger not only to our wealth but to our freedoms and ultimately our peace. The villains of the story - some more culpable than others - are bureaucrats and self-aggrandising politicians.
'The ERM is a mechanism for subordinating the economic welfare, democratic rights and national freedom of citizens of the European countries to the will of political and bureaucratic elites whose powerlust, cynicism and delusions underlie the actions of the vast majority of those who now strive to create a European superstate.
The ERM has been their chosen instrument, and they have used it cleverly.' At that, the Commission sacked Mr Connolly.
At no time did they answer his arguments, or find anything inaccurate in his account of negotiations. They sacked him only because they alleged such criticism was 'injurious' to the good name of the Commission. The problem was that they didn't appear to have any legal power to sack him for exercising his freedom of speech. So Mr Connolly took the Commission to the lower court of the ECJ, the Court of First Instance.
The court ruled - and this is truly astounding - that the EU has an undefined, perhaps even unlimited, power to restrict political criticism 'in the general interests of the Communities.' They ruled that such power made his sacking legal.
To demonstrate how astounding this is, imagine Brian Cowen and his ministers managing to get a ruling from the High Court that they are allowed to restrict political criticism 'in the general interests of the State'. Then they used the ruling to sack George Lee from the State's broadcasting arm.
In 2000, Mr Connolly finally managed to appeal the lower court's decision to the ECJ itself. When Mr Connolly arrived at the ECJ, he found himself up against Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, then and now an advocate-general at the court. …