Irish Atheists Challenge New Blasphemy Laws

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 7, 2010

NOTE: This article is from the far-left British newspaper The Guardian.

(by Henry McDonald, Guardian.co.uk) — Secular campaigners in the Irish Republic defied a strict new blasphemy law which came into force today by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations online and promising to fight the legislation in court.

The new law, which was passed in July, means that blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,000) [approximately $35,000].

It defines blasphemy as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted”.

The justice minister, Dermot Ahern, said that the law was necessary because while immigration had brought a growing diversity of religious faiths, the 1936 constitution extended the protection of belief only to Christians.

But Atheist Ireland, a group that claims to represent the rights of atheists, responded to the new law by publishing 25 anti-religious quotations on its website, from figures including Richard Dawkins, Björk, Frank Zappa and the former Observer editor and Irish ex-minister Conor Cruise O’Brien.

Michael Nugent, the group’s chair, said that it would challenge the law through the courts if it were charged with blasphemy.

Nugent said: “This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic states led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

“We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.”

He said that despite the published quotations being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, Atheist Ireland “unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement”.

Nugent said that the group would be prepared to take on the state if anyone complained about the quotes and that the campaign to repeal the law was part of a wider battle to create a more secular republic.

“You would think that after all the scandals the Catholic church endured in 2009 the introduction of a blasphemy law would be the last thing that the Irish state would be considering in terms of defending religion and its place in society.

“We ask Fianna Fáil 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.”

First published at the Guardian on Jan. 1, 2010.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Guardian. Visit the website at Guardian.co.uk. 


Questions

1. a) Define blasphemy.
b) When was Ireland's new blasphemy law passed?

2. a) Define defy.
b) How is the secular/atheist group Atheist Ireland reacting to Ireland's new blasphemy law?

3. How does Ireland's new law define blasphemy?

4. How will people who are convicted of breaking the blasphemy law be punished?

5. Why was the law passed?

6. Do you support a blasphemy law? Explain your answer.


Background

ON BLASPHEMY AND THE LAW IN IRELAND: