Blasphemy

With the secularisation of Europe, the offense of blasphemy tends to disappear from criminal law in most countries. In others, it remains in the law but is hardly applied, as in Austria, Denmark, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands. Ireland passed a controversial law on blasphemy in 2009 which makes it a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. Blasphemy is defined in this law as “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”.

The ECtHR case-law is not yet settled on this issue. In a much criticised decision in 1994 about the interdiction of a film in Austria, the Court upheld the interdiction invoking a “right of citizens not to be insulted in their religious feelings by the public expression of views of other persons”. In another case in 2007, Austria was convicted by the Court for the ban of a painting entitled “Apocalypse”, which showed a collage of various public figures, including Mother Teresa, in sexual positions.