Tradition holds that kissing the Blarney Stone—that world-famous limestone block built into the battlements of Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland—loosens the tongue and brings the gift of eloquence. If so, the Irish may soon be forced to kiss their beloved Blarney Stone goodbye, for the island nation is rushing to enact a bill described by Elon Musk (in an April 30 tweet that surely would have been removed had he not bought the company) as a “massive attack on freedom of speech.” Free Speech Ireland calls it “thought crime legislation,” and issues this warning to Ireland and the rest of the world: “Don’t let cancel culture become law.”
Having passed the lower house of the Irish Parliament by a vote of 110-14 on April 26, the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 goes on to the Senate for debate. The legislation targets content deemed hateful to any individual or group with certain “protected characteristics,” among which is religion—a nod to Ireland’s tragic history of violence between Catholics and Protestants.
But two of the protected characteristics stand out as a blatantly woke attempt to muzzle free speech and suppress legitimate debate: “sexual orientation” and “gender,” the latter defined as “the gender of a person or the gender which a person expresses as the person’s preferred gender or with which the person identifies and includes transgender and a gender other than those of male and female.”
To achieve its end, the bill tramples on fundamental fairness. Not only do “you have a dangerous reversal of the burden of proof,” protested Irish representative Paul Murphy, but also “the possibility of someone being criminalized purely for having material which is hateful, without that material being communicated to the public.” It amounts to nothing less, he insisted, than “the creation of a ‘thought crime.’”
Proponents of the bill have demonstrated they will brook no dilution of its draconian provisions. A proposed amendment would have exempted the mere possession of prohibited material as an offense, and another would have incorporated free-speech safeguards from the UN Convention on Human Rights. Both amendments were defeated. Conviction under the bill would be punishable by fines or up to a year in prison, or both.
No wonder, reports the Daily Mail, “critics fear it could lead to the… censoring [of] politically incorrect views including legitimate discussion over trans rights and the more socially-conservative teachings of the Catholic Church.” Dubhaltach Reachtnin of the Catholic Herald has similarly cautioned that the proposed law could be used to prosecute priests and laity who dare to declare Catholic precepts. And Peadar Toibin, head of Ireland’s leading conservative political party, has characterized it as “the censorship culture… on steroids.”
But perhaps the best commentary on the bill is what Thomas Paine wrote nearly a decade after the American Revolutionary War.
Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
Freedom is still being hunted around the globe, now by a cancel culture seeking to suppress civil dialogue that would allow truth to appear. The threat is as critical now as it was for the American Founders, for whom freedom of speech and religion was no peripheral matter. “The establishment of civil and religious liberty,” declared General George Washington at the close of the War, “was the motive which induced me to the field.” He later presided over the convention that created the Constitution, whose First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and religion.
The cancel culture’s attack on these foundational freedoms is something we all must resist, wherever we live, lest we revert to what Paine described as that “slavery of fear [that] made men afraid to think.”