THE news media are chattering about Ireland’s new blasphemy law that went into effect yesterday. The latest news, as the BBC reports, is that Irish atheists challenge blasphemy law. They say:
An atheist group in the Irish Republic has defied a new blasphemy law by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations on its website.
The new law makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros (£22,000; $35,000).
The government says it is needed because the republic’s 1937 constitution only gives Christians legal protection of their beliefs.
The new law was passed in July 2009 but came into force on 1 January.
The BBC article doesn’t link to the atheist group’s quotes, but your Curmudgeon won’t let you down. This is the atheists’ website with their 25 Blasphemous Quotations. We hear better blasphemy than that every day, but who knows? In Ireland that may be enough to cause problems.
This is definitely a retrograde step for Ireland, and it’s a big one. They’ve been known for having one of the most successful nations in Europe, with a wildly disproportionate share of the world’s pretty girls, and now look what they’ve done. Ireland has transformed itself into Dark Ages nut house.
That’s pretty much what Richard Dawkins said back in July when the law passed. See: Blasphemy law a return to middle ages – Dawkins in the Irish Times. Here’s a teaser:
The new blasphemy law will send Ireland back to the middle ages, and is wretched, backward and uncivilised, Prof Richard Dawkins has said.
So where does this leave people like your Curmudgeon? We don’t run around like a college sophomore proclaiming that there are no gods. We have no more interest in theology than we do in opera. We’ve looked into both subjects. We know that they exist. They have vast quantities of subject matter and numerous passionate enthusiasts. That’s fine with us. But when the fat lady sings, we’d rather be somewhere else.
Is that blasphemy? Maybe in some Islamic countries, and now maybe in Ireland. We’ll never know because we don’t plan to visit any of them.
What we do here is talk about science and its detractors. That’s enough for the crazies to show up and call us atheists. If we were doing this in Ireland, would it bring a visit from the cloaked and hooded blasphemy police? Does anyone know?
Forget about blogging, that’s a small issue. Is it safe to teach biology in Ireland these days? Geology? Astronomy? Can books on those subjects be sold there? How bad will things get in that country?
Anyway, although we regret what’s happening in Ireland, this is a bit of a non-issue for us. We write this blog in America, and there’s not much Ireland can do about it except shut down their citizens’ access to the internet.
Will they do that? They might, but it certainly won’t be because of us. We’re the least of their problems. But there are some stridently atheist blogs out there. In order to protect the sheep from exposure to such utterances, the shepherd has to fence in the flock.
Will Ireland start blocking their citizens’ access to foreign internet sites? They’ve already taken a giant step in that direction merely by passing their new blasphemy law. The question isn’t whether they’ll do it, but when.
Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.
From Ireland’s “DEFAMATION ACT 2009”
For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—
(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any
religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and
(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
(3) 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.
(4) In this section “religion” does not include an organisation or cult—
(a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—
(i) of its followers, or
(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.
I don’t know. This looks like a pretty much useless law. It sort of reminds me of the old pornography laws in the U.S. that are pretty much gone now except for when it involves children. Is blasphemy a big problem in Ireland? How often was this law used when it only applied to Christianity?
This reminds me of a segment I saw on Nightline a month or two ago. Seems this one preacher was upset about teenagers using “OMG” in texting and conversation. He thought it was blasphemous, that it was taking God’s name in vain. I thought it was a bit of a stretch. Considering the hundreds of other shorthand or euphemistic ways that people use to say similar things, I wondered why he chose to pick on one particular group using one particular phrase.
It’s not useless. All it takes is a complaint from an insane citizen and a zealous prosecutor. Even if the accused blasphemer wins his trial, he’s been put through a ghastly process and a great expense. The law will be very useful in harassing — and silencing — people with unpopular opinions.
According to http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7171/
“only one case was ever taken under the blasphemy prohibition since the introduction of the constitution in 1937 (a 1999 case against a newspaper, in which the Supreme Court concluded that it was not possible to say ‘of what the offence of blasphemy consists’ and that ‘the state is not placed in the position of an arbiter of religious truth’).”
I don’t think the new law has done much to answer their Supreme Court’s objections. If anything, the new law has added extra equivocal qualifications that just beg for argument. I imagine if a blasphemy case ever does get tried, it will get tossed by their Supreme Court and that will be the end of it.
I think you’re right on the effects of this law. Enforcing it will be hard, but its mere existence can give qualms to what some people say and embolden those that worry about things like blasphemy. It might be interesting, but sad, to see if Ireland goes the way of Spain, the Middle East, etc. when fundamentalists take over and plunge it from heights to lows.
In the old Catholicism, denying the holy spirit was THE worst possible sin you could commit. You can murder, rape and pillage and still be forgiven, but AFAIK once you deny the holy spirit you have forsaken forgiveness and there is no turning back. This is covered by wikipedia in the Eternal Sin article.
I’m also reminded of the blasphemy challenge.
The purpose of blasphemy in Satanism was helpful to me some years ago when I was exploring those ideas.
FYI, the U.S. still has blasphemy laws on the books in some states. You might want to put Sept. 30 on your calendar.
Albanaeon says: “Enforcing it will be hard, but its mere existence can give qualms to what some people say …”
I think the expression for it is that the law will have a “chilling effect” on certain behavior.
Wouldja believe it? There’s a Wikipedia entry on this: chilling effect.
Omphalos the Odorous says: “You can murder, rape and pillage and still be forgiven, but AFAIK once you deny the holy spirit you have forsaken forgiveness and there is no turning back.”
That still leaves plenty of wiggle room. I feel better now.
Well, Ireland is a very, very Catholic country even today, and there isn’t a tradition of separation of church and state in Europe.
Look how long it took for contraception to be legal in Ireland.
A short film detailing the history and context of the Irish Blasphemy Legislation. http://blasphemy-law-ireland.blogspot.com/2010/01/everybody-knows-what-blasphemy-is-short.html