Atheists condemn blasphemy law


Atheists have begun a campaign against the Government’s new blasphemy law, which came into force on January 1st as part of the Defamation Act.

The group Atheist Ireland has published 25 quotes it says are blasphemous, attributed to people from Jesus Christ to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

Under the new blasphemy law, which Atheist Ireland is campaigning to have repealed blasphemy is now punishable by a €25,000 fine.

It 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.

Chair of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent said in a posting on the website that the new law was “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.”

He said blasphemy laws were “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.”

The 25 allegedly blasphemous quotes include utterances attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.

They include a quote from Dawkins’ book The God Delusion , referring to the God of the Old Testament as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”.

The organisation also quotes an exchange between Mr Ahern and Labour Party TD Pat Rabbitte when the Minister discussed the blasphemy law at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting in 2009.

“Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure.”

Atheist Ireland said this was a case of "an Irish justice minister joking about himself being blasphemed, at a parliamentary justice committee discussing his own blasphemy law, [which] could make his own jokes illegal".