Blasphemy (Cox, 2000)

1.605. Neville Cox, Blasphemy and the Law in Ireland, Irish Studies Vol. I (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: Edwin Mellor, 2000), pp. 14-15. BL YC.2003.a.13159

An extract on the legal definition of blasphemy in 1883.

The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869, but the common law offence of blasphemy survived, not least because the rationale for judicial acceptance of it had found increasing support in England since the 1840s. Between 1880 and 1922, there were a stream of convictions for scurrilous blasphemy in England and Ireland. The following is Mr. Justice Coleridge’s son Coleridge Lord Chief Justice’s view of the offence in R. v. Bradlaugh and R. v. Ramsay and Foote (1883):

I have no doubt . . . that the mere denial of the truth of Christianity is not enough to constitute the offence of blasphemy. . . . A wilful intention to pervert insult and mislead others by means of licentious and contumelious abuse applied to sacred subjects or by wilful misrepresentation or wilful sophistry, calculated to mislead the ignorant and the unwary is the criterion and the test of guilt. A malicious and mischievous intention or what is equivalent to such an intention in law as well as morals — a state of apathy or indifference to the interests of society — is the broad boundary between right and wrong.