Jan 5, 2010

Blasphemy Law

I'm a little nervous. Ireland’s new blasphemy law went into effect on January 1st, as an amendment to the Defamation Bill. As Blasphemy.ie explains:

Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.


Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.

One wouldn't expect that kind of ridiculousness in a constitutional democracy... in the year 2010.

To say the law is an absurd anachronism is a tad bit of an understatement. This is a law that protects and prioritizes ideas and ideologies over people. Worse, it protects only one particular type of idea/belief, furthering the unfortunately widespread and rarely questioned assumption that religious beliefs, unlike other kinds of ideas and opinions, deserve automatic respect and the “right” to immunity from criticism.

This law also sets a dangerous precedent by prioritizing a religious believer’s “right” to not feel offended over the right to free speech. Remember, in this particular case, we’re talking about hurt feelings, not physical abuse or assault.

Atheist Ireland’s site explains this well:

…it is wrong in principle for a modern democratic republic to have any type of blasphemy law. Theological thought-crimes belong in the past. Religious and nonreligious people alike should be protected from harm and incitement to harm, but religious and nonreligious ideas alike should be open to any criticism. That is how human knowledge progresses. Blasphemy laws discriminate against nonreligious citizens, by protecting the fundamental beliefs of religious citizens only.

I’d wager that few cases will actually be prosecuted under this law, and that it will function more as a political statement than as a practical legal resource. But the political statement made by the law is dangerous enough on its own and will almost certainly have a chilling effect on Irish political and public discourse.

As an act of defiance and as the first step in their campaign to have the law repealed, Atheist Ireland has published 25 blasphemous quotations on its website, a gesture that has attracted a great deal of media coverage, some of which will hopefully help to raise the public’s awareness of this issue.

Here’s Atheist Ireland’s statement regarding their campaign to repeal the law:

We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

We also ask all TDs and Senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.

Oh, if you're an Irish brother or sister reading this in Ireland, thanks for reading and not reporting us to the Nanny State.

You know, I'd expect this sort of thing in Utah... not Ireland.

No comments: