Having just been rocked by further revelations of abuse and cover-up rampant in the Catholic Church, the Irish State decided to kick off the new year by outlawing blasphemy. Somehow they feel that being mean to religious people deserves a fine. Specifically “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.” How wonderfully Dark Ages of them. I’m so proud to see my country embracing the new decade by outlawing freedom of speech, in particular speech directed at religion. If the world’s various gods are so all-knowing and powerful are they really going to find the rambled insults of us mere rational humans that upsetting?
Needless to say people haven’t let this lie and Atheist Ireland responded to the new laws by publishing 25 apparently blasphemous quotes (media coverage here and here). These are not just aimed at the Catholic Church either, they include quotes directed at Islam, and even Björk having a go at the Buddhists. There has yet to be any legal action taken against them.
In defense of the introduction of this law, the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said back in May that due to the fact blasphemy is an offence in the Irish Constitution (again highlighting the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church in the founding of the Republic of Ireland) he was obliged to include it in an update of the defamation laws. To remove blasphemy from the constitution would require a referendum of the people of Ireland, and Mr Ahern reckoned that the “current economic environment” was not conducive to this.
The law does include a fairly broad get-out-of-jail clause, specifying that “It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates”. However one could argue that the number of “reasonable persons” in a world that outlaws blasphemy is questionable…
I personally found point 4 of this new law to be particularly interesting, where they attempt to distinguish between “religion” and mere “cults”.
“In this section “ religion ” does not include an organisation or cult—
- the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
- that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—
- of its followers, or
- for the purpose of gaining new followers.”
I assume telling people they are going to live an eternity of torment and pain for not following your god counts as oppressive psychological manipulation, no?