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'If there was a creator of the universe, it wouldn't need its feelings protected by Dermot Ahern'

Until the X Case happened, most people believed that the State would never seek an injunction to prevent a raped teenager from leaving the country, writes Michael Nugent.

Michael Nugent Chairperson, Atheist Ireland

YESTERDAY THE GARDAÍ confirmed that they are investigating the English comedian Stephen Fry for blasphemy. Why? A member of the public has complained about Fry’s interview with Gay Byrne on RTÉ’s The Meaning of Life in 2015.

When Byrne asked Fry what he would say if confronted by God, Fry had replied: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

The complaint is that this breaches the blasphemy clause in the 2009 Defamation Act, which creates a €25,000 fine for uttering or publishing anything that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, if certain other conditions are also fulfilled.

The blasphemy law is silly and silencing

The idea of having a blasphemy law in the twenty-first century is silly. Even if there was a creator of the universe, it would not need to have its feelings protected by Eamon De Valera’s Constitution or Dermot Ahern’s laws.

Also, both the main clause of the blasphemy law, and the various conditions, are so ambiguous as to make it impossible to know whether an offence has been committed until there is a prosecution.

That ambiguity has led media outlets to self-censor themselves rather than test the law. Several media bodies have told Atheist Ireland that they will not publish or broadcast certain material in case it might be blasphemous.

So the law is both silly and silencing. Most people believe that it won’t be implemented. However, until the X Case happened, most people believed that the State would never seek an injunction to prevent a raped teenager from leaving the country.

That is the difficulty with embedding theological laws into our Constitution. Nobody knows when somebody in authority will decide that their conscience, or the creator of the universe, is telling them that they must enforce it.

The blasphemy law is also dangerous

The Irish blasphemy law is also dangerous at an international level.

Islamic States love to highlight the hypocrisy of Western Governments who oppose Islamic laws against blasphemy and apostasy, while still having such laws on their own books.

In most cases, Western blasphemy laws are anachronistic laws that States have never got around to repealing. But Ireland is different. In 2009, we passed a new blasphemy law.

The Islamic States at the United Nations were delighted. Led by Pakistan, they cited wording from the new Irish blasphemy law as what they want enforced internationally.

And in Islamic States, the punishment for blasphemy or apostasy can be persecution, beatings, murders and executions.

For example, Asia Bibi is a Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy in Pakistan. Two politicians who spoke out on her behalf have been murdered, one by his own bodyguard.

Ahmad Al-Shamri is a video blogger facing execution for apostasy in Saudi Arabia, which considers atheists to be terrorists. Several secular bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh.

When Atheist Ireland campaigns internationally, human rights bodies from these countries ask us when Ireland will be removing this propaganda tool from their repressive regimes.

The campaign to repeal the blasphemy law

Atheist Ireland has succeeded in getting the Irish government to commit to holding a referendum to end our blasphemy law, but successive governments have reneged on that commitment.

We are continuing to press for this referendum, as part of our overall campaign for an ethical secular Ireland, where the State does not give privilege to any religious or nonreligious beliefs.

Until then, the blasphemy law remains part of the background noise of religious interference in Irish public life, along with the daily Angelus on RTÉ, and this weeks Dáil vote to force TDs to stand for Christian prayer every day, asking “Christ Our Lord” to direct their work.

It is no wonder that such an ethically compromised parliament has given the Catholic Church control of most of our State-funded schools and hospitals, is reluctant to give the people an opportunity to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and now has plans to give the Catholic Church a new €300 million National Maternity Hospital.

But the developed world is becoming more secular, and Ireland is no exception. The Catholic Church no longer controls the people. We have moved on. Our politicians, our laws and our Constitution have to catch up with the people, and I am confident that they will.

Atheist Ireland is now training Constituency Coordinators to bring this message to every TD, Senator and candidate before the next election. If you would like to help bring about a more secular Ireland and world, please check atheist.ie or email info@atheist.ie.

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About the author:

Michael Nugent  / Chairperson, Atheist Ireland

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