International Blasphemy Day

International Blasphemy Day twitter avatarYesterday was International Blasphemy Day (Facebook | twitter). According to a post I came across late yesterday evening on Media Law Prof Blog, the day

… was instituted after the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, came under fire in 2005 for publishing twelve cartoons that mocked the Prophet Mohammed. More here from the Campaign for Free Expression, here from the Telegraph, here from the Huffington Post.

In honour of the day (with apologies that it’s a day late), here’s an extract from a post on the Irish Philosophy blog about Ireland’s first recorded blasphemy trial:

Thomas Emlyn spent fourteen of his seventy-eight years in Dublin (1691-1705), but they were easily the most eventful of his life. He wrote his An Humble Inquiry into the Scripture Account of Jesus Christ as a result of events there. The result was his appearance as the … [defendant] in what “appears to have been the first reported blasphemy prosecution in Irish law” (UK Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales First Report). …

blasphemy … was defined in the statute as … “a scornful and spiteful reproach uttered in designed contempt of God;” … The jury was pressured and despite his book not reaching the standard for blasphemy, and his authorship remaining unproven (the printer swore that he didn’t know the writing), Emlyn was found guilty.

In the leading modern Irish case of Corway v Independent Newspapers [1999] 4 IR 485, [2000] 1 ILRM 426, [1999] IESC 5 (30 July 1999), Barrington J said:

17. It appears that the earliest reported case of a prosecution for blasphemy in the Irish Common Law Courts was the trial in 1703 of Thomas Emlyn. Emlyn was a Unitarian Minister who had written a book arguing, apparently in moderate terms, that Jesus Christ was not the equal of God the Father. He was convicted of blasphemy, sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, fined £1,000 and ordered to find security for good behaviour for life.

18. Speaking of this case, over a century later, Sir. Edward Sugden said:-

“… I am not called upon to give any opinion whether that prosecution was right or wrong; but it proves this, which is of great importance that as the law was then administered, it was blasphemy to deny the Divinity of Christ;” (AG v Drummond (1842) 1 Or and War 353, 384).

The case of John Syngean Bridgman … arose out of disputes between Roman Catholic clergy and Protestant Ministers in the middle of the 19th Century. … Another case involving bible burning occurred later in 1855. … There is no record of any prosecution for blasphemy between then and the enactment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State in 1922. …