Ireland’s Blasphemy Law came into effect on 1st January. Atheist Ireland’s blasphemy.ie website published 25 “blasphemous quotes” in an effort to highlight to the world how silly the law is – and they are quite right – it is a silly law but their method of highlighting the issue was a waste of time.
On their “Why campaign?” page they say that
“Atheist Ireland, as an advocacy group for a rational, ethical, secular Ireland, is campaigning against this proposed law. Whatever your religious beliefs, please join this campaign for a modern, tolerant democracy.”
As far as I know, I live in a modern, tolerant democracy. That’s why our Minster for Justice introduced the law. There was a case taken in 1999 under an article of the Irish constitution which deals with freedom of expression. Part of Article 40 says that:
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”
The Supreme Court couldn’t determine what constituted blasphemy so in a case like that it’s up to the government to sort it out. That’s the democracy bit (well, democracy of a sort) in action there in case you didn’t get it.
Like it or not, instead of changing the constitution, we’ve got this law instead which now says that a person can be fined up to €25,000 if they publish or utter blasphemous matter.
36.— (1) 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.
(2) 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.
Only once in the history of the state has a case relating to blasphemy reached the courts. I’ve no idea how many court cases have taken place since the constitution was enacted, but it’s got to be A LOT.
So, the reality is that most people living in Ireland just get about their lives as best they can – blasphemy just doesn’t impact upon their lives. More than likely, the majority really don’t care whether there is a blasphemy law or not. That same majority probably don’t care that there are references to God or the Holy Spirit in the constitution. They should do, but they don’t.
I’m no fan of the current administration but I can see that rather than propose a constitutional referendum, the easier option has been taken. There is zero appetite for a referendum at this particular time with all the problems in the country, but a spokesperson for the Dept of Justice said
“The minister is quite happy to have a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the constitution, but doesn’t believe that should be done this year, given the other serious challenges facing the country.”
The blasphemy.ie campaign appears, to me, to be more more about promoting their own organisation than anything else. Nobody listens or cares about your organisation or agenda? Latch onto something that is bound to get coverage and on the first day of the new year publish a list of quotes which do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to challenge the law.
Why? Firstly, because nobody cares enough to get “outraged”. Under the law the blasphemous material must cause “outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”. Even if there was outrage, there is academic value in the quotes they published so… where’s the point in all of this?
If Atheist Ireland really want to challenge the law – here’s what they should do:
Take a megaphone to the streets of any city or town in Ireland and blaspheme away. At least that would show some real courage behind their convictions. Publishing a bunch of quotes on a website on New Year’s Day that are as likely to get you in court as reciting ‘Mary had a little lamb’, is lame.
Atheist Ireland say that
“We should be working towards an ethical and secular society, where we address our differences of belief in rational terms”.
Bravo to the ethical and secular society bit. Thumbs down on the addressing differences of belief in rational terms. I don’t see a lot of rational debate on the (presumably unmoderated) comments section on the 25 blasphemous quotes post. If that’s the level of debate we can expect during a referendum, it’s no wonder the government has chosen the legislation route.
Seems that not many people there are following the Atheist Ireland advice that
“we should be educating people to respond in a more healthy manner than outrage when somebody expresses a belief that they find insulting”.
With a large number of foreign media picking up on the story I just wonder if rational, reasonable people reading the comments will think all Irish people are bonkers.
Going back again to the whole reason behind this campaign. The agenda is quite clear from Reason Two of the Why Campaign page. The “smarter than thou” tone is quite grating. Gone is the whole idea of “we should be working towards an ethical and secular society”. Now it’s all about the Atheist agenda which seeks to “convert” people to their way of thinking.
“I believe that these false beliefs harm the ongoing human quest for knowledge”
What a breathtakingly arrogant statement to make.
Reason Three on the Why Campaign page makes much of the fact that oaths of public office have reference to God.
A quick look on Wikipedia shows that Ireland isn’t unique in this regard. Doesn’t make it right, but painting Ireland out to be back in the dark ages under the belt of the crozier is a fallacy.
The big question for Atheist Ireland is what happens if a referendum is held and the people choose to keep the constitution just as it is? People will just leave the academic debate to the hardcare atheist and religious zealots. It’s an unwinnable debate, but I guess if you’re passionate about your belief system and respectful of others, there’s no harm in talking things through like sensible adults.