(Originally Published on Corkstudentnews.com in February 2010)
On the 1st of January Ireland took a remarkable step backwards when the so called Blasphemy Law came into effect. As a result many people now feel that their freedom of speech could be curtailed by potential legal action and a substantial fine if something they express is deemed as blasphemous towards a particular religion. To say that this is opening a can worms is an understatement and it once again shows the complete lack of common sense that the current government seems to pride itself on. In a recently released statement, the UCC Atheists Society have rightly referred to the new law as “regressive and an attack on the freedom to question religious dogma.”
According to the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, the Law was introduced in order to close a legal loophole within the Irish Constitution, which he was constitutionally obliged to, on the advice of the Attorney General. However this is at odds with a number of statements issued by the Government and Government Ministers over the last 2 years. In 2008 after a review of the issue by a Joint Oireachtas Committee, they stated “that in a modern Constitution, blasphemy is not a phenomenon against which there should be an express constitutional prohibition”. Adding to this are comments made by Michael Martin, in relation to Islamic Countries trying to get a Blasphemy Law passed at the international level at the U.N., in which he said that he believed that the “concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights”. Despite the Minister Ahern’s comments that the law is only there to close a legal loophole, it carries a rather substantial fine of €25,000 for anyone convicted of blasphemy but even this is at odds with statements from the Government in which they said that it is unlikely that anyone could be prosecuted under the new legislation.
While the new law has some support of in the form of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland and the Jewish Orthodox community, it has mainly resulted in a backlash against the law and against the Minister himself. In response to the enacting of the law, Atheist Ireland issued a statement containing 25 blasphemous quotes from various figures, ranging from Mark Twain to the Minister himself, and the setting up of the Church of Dermatology. In addition to this, the website Blasphemy.ie was set up in order to highlight the ludicrousness of the new law and to campaign for its removal from the Constitution. The only comment from Minister Ahern’s office regarding this was that he did not “have the luxury of time to deal with some crackpot sitting in an attic somewhere sending around quotes that are intended to be blasphemous”. The spokesperson for the Minister also commented that he would be “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.”
While it is unlikely that any referendum to remove the new Law will be held any time soon, one can be assured that the various groups opposing the new Law will be stepping up their protests over the coming months. Here in UCC the Atheists Society have began their own campaign, which started with the distributing of leaflets containing blasphemous statements which also instructed those who were offended, to report the matter to the police. Also, Senator Ivana Bacik, who is an expert on Constitutional Law, will be delivering a talk on the issue within the next few weeks on the invitation of the Society.
While Minister Ahern has stated that it is unlikely anyone will be prosecuted under the new law, sooner or later, a person or an organisation is going to put the new Law to the test. Someone or something may be put on trial but in reality, it will be the free speech of the average person that will be put on trial, under this archaic and completely outdated law. We are supposed to be living in a free, Democratic society where we are free to express ourselves as we see fit. It is not supposed to a place in which people have to think before they question the outdated and morally corrupt religious institutions in this country.