Ireland is drawing international criticism for a new anti-blasphemy law set to take effect in October.
The legislation would provide for fines up to 25,000 Euros – about $35,750 – for publishing or speaking anything intended to be “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.”
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern says it was written to clarify a blasphemy provision in the Irish Constitution. But in an age when countries are repealing such regulations, critics say it is a step backwards.
“One of the world’s most beautiful and best-loved countries, Ireland has recently become one of the most respected as well: dynamic, go-ahead, modern, civilised – a green and pleasant silicon valley. This preposterous blasphemy law puts all that respect at risk,” the British atheist Richard Dawkins said in a statement read last month at the first meeting of Atheist Ireland. “It is a wretched, backward, uncivilised regression to the middle ages. Who was the bright spark who thought to besmirch the revered name of Ireland by proposing anything so stupid?”
According to Padraig Reidy, the answer is: No one.“Nobody wanted this law: no one can think of a single thundering priest, austere vicar, irate rabbi or miffed mullah ever calling for tougher penalties for blasphemy,” Reidy wrote last month in the Guardian. “Certainly there were the frequent, and frequently ignored missives from Armagh [seat of the Church of Ireland], warning the Irish not to abandon God for 4x4s and Nintendo Wiis. And there was widespread dismay when popular comic Tommy Tiernan pushed the Bible-baiting a bit too far on the Late Late Show. But never did anyone suggest we needed tough blasphemy laws. Until the justice minister, Dermot Ahern, decided we needed to fill the ‘void’ left by our lack of one.”
A member of the Swedish parliament, meanwhile, has filed a complaint with the European Commission over Ireland's new blasphemy law. Karl Sigfrid told Irish broadcaster RTÉ that he is concerned Swedish citizens travelling in Ireland “could be punished for merely expressing a view on a religion or religious symbol.”
The law has also drawn criticism at home.
You're not introducing new blasphemy laws in the 21st century," Michael Nugent, chairman of the group Atheist Ireland, told the Canadian news service Canwest. "These are hangovers from earlier times and certainly in most western countries are anachronisms."
If Ahern tries to enforce the law, Nugent told Canwest, his group will come up with a suitably outrageous blasphemy to challenge it.