Atheists rally over 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Under the new law, which the group is campaigning to have repealed, blasphemy is punishable by a fine of up to €25,000.

It defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter 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, and intending by such publication to cause such outrage.

The Defamation Act states, however, that it shall be a defence to proceedings 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”.

Proposing the law last year, Mr Ahern said he was “bemused” by criticism. He said he could not “wilfully ignore the Constitution” and he had been advised by the Attorney General. Under the Constitution, the “publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.

Mr Ahern said last year he did not believe there was a public appetite to amend the Constitution to remove the blasphemy provision.

The legislation says the term “religion” does not include an organisation or cult that has as its principal object making a profit, or that employs “oppressive psychological manipulation” of its followers or for the purpose of gaining new followers.

Chair of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent said in a posting on the website 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 “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, Ian Paisley, Salman Rushdie, Pope Benedict XVI and and an exchange between Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Labour’s Pat Rabbitte in the Dáil during the passage of the Bill.