Reader Sigmund has contributed a piece about an investigation of hate speech—by a Catholic Bishop, of all things! The faithful, who have pushed for such laws about hate speech and blasphemy, are hoist with their own petard.
Irish authorities investigate papal encyclical as anti-secularist hate speech
The recent imposition of restrictions on the limit of religious criticism by the student union of the London School of Economics highlights the increasing use of hate speech provisions in European law. While these laws are designed to prevent incitement to violence or discrimination against particular groups in society, a curious anomaly exists regarding religious teaching. The notion that mainstream religious instructions may incite bigotry, discrimination or even violence against members of other faiths or non-believers has thus far failed to register in legal thinking, underlying, perhaps, the customary deference given to religion.
So what happens when mainstream religious organizations begin to be treated like any other group and their pronouncements are subjected to the same scrutiny?
The Irish Independent newspaper recently reported on one such case:
“A HOMILY delivered at Knock shrine by the Bishop of Raphoe, Philip Boyce, is being investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions following a formal complaint by a leading humanist who claims the sermon was an incitement to hatred.
The gardai have confirmed to former Fine Gael election candidate John Colgan that they have prepared and forwarded a file to the DPP after he made allegations that the address by Dr Boyce was in breach of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989.”
Mr Colgan complained that two passages in the Bishop’s sermon were “an incitement to hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists, within the meaning of the [Incitement to Hatred] Act, who are perfectly good citizens within the meaning of the civil law. The statements exemplify the chronic antipathy towards secularists, humanists etc, which has manifested itself in the ostracising of otherwise perfectly good Irish citizens, who do not share the aims of the Vatican’s Irish Mission Church.”
The passages themselves are pretty standard Catholic anti-secularist fare. The first referred to the Catholic Church in Ireland being “attacked from outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture”.
The second, however, is more interesting, not because it is more obviously inflammatory, but because it is a quotation from a previous Catholic encyclical “Spe Salvi”.
“Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.”
I suspect that this fact has been missed by the Irish police, resulting in something previously unthinkable in Irish society – a religious passage written by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 is being investigated by the Irish authorities as hate speech!
The passages in question are hardly the best examples of anti-atheist speech by the Catholic church. On the other hand if one reads the wording of the Irish anti hatred act – Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act – 1989, it is at least questionable whether the words of the Bishop do contravene the act – hence the referral of the matter by the police to the director of public prosecutions rather than simply dismissing it out of hand as the complaints of a crank.
It is unclear, however, whether the matter will go to trial. I suspect not, but if it does the guilty party may be liable “to a fine not exceeding £10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both”.
Will they extradite the Pope?