Saturday, January 2, 2010

Challenging Ireland's new but disturbingly archaic blasphemy laws

In the midst of the biggest economic challenge this State has ever faced last year, the Fianna Fáil/Green government and more specifically Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern passed legislation making blasphemy a crime punishable by law with potential fines of €25,000 for individuals found to be "blaspheming."

What exactly is blasphemy? The new Irish law defines it 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". It's not hard to imagine the work of many noted musicians, philosophers or comedians falling foul of such a vague description.

This is a frightening development in a supposed modern secular democracy. Given the economic troubles we all faced last year, perhaps the new laws caused less outrage amongst the general public than might have been expected.

Now that the law has come into force, it's good to see that some people are taking action. The Guaridan reports that a group called Atheist Ireland are challenging the new laws with the publication of 25 anti-religious quotes on their website. It will be interesting to see whether this results in an attempted prosecution over the coming weeks.