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Blasphemous libel was an offence under the common law of England and Wales. It is the publication of material which exposes the Christian religion to scurrility, vilification, ridicule and contempt, and the material must have the tendency to shock and outrage the feelings of Christians. The offence was abolished on 8 July 2008 by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, having been replaced with the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

In New Zealand it is illegal under the Crimes Act 1961 (Section 123) to publish any blasphemous libel. The maximum punishment is one year imprisonment. No one can be prosecuted without the consent of the Attorney General.

In Canada, Blasphemous Libel is an indictable offence under section 296(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada. It is punishable by up to 2 years in prison.

It is a defence in both Canada and New Zealand that the accused was expressing an opinion on a religious subject provided that it is expressed in good faith and in decent language: "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."


In the Republic of Ireland, §13 of the Defamation Act, 1961 prescribed penalties for blasphemous libel, but did not define the offence.[1] The only attempted prosecution since the 1937 Constitution was in 1999; the Supreme Court, ruled that the Constitution had extinguished the common law offence of blasphemous libel, since when "it is impossible to say of what the offence of blasphemy consists".[2] The Defamation Act 2009 defines a new offence of "Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter",[3] which was held to be required by Article 40.6.1.i. of the Constitution, which states "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law".[4]

See also


  1. ^ Defamation Act, 1961, Section 13 Irish statute book
  2. ^ [1999 4 IR 485, [2000] 1 ILRM 426, [1999] IESC 5]
  3. ^ Defamation Act 2009, Section 36 Irish statute book
  4. ^ Amending the Law on Blasphemous Libel Dermot Ahern, Dáil Committee on Justice, Equality Defence and Women's Rights, 20 May 2009

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