Secular campaigners in the Republic of Ireland defied a strict new blasphemy law that came into force on Friday by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations online and promising to fight the legislation in court.
The new law, passed in July, means blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to 25,000 euros (US$36,000).
It defines blasphemy 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 defenses permitted.”
Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has said the law was necessary because while immigration had brought a growing diversity of religious faiths, the 1936 Constitution only extended the protection of belief to Christians.
But Atheist Ireland, a group that claims to represent the rights of atheists, responded to the new legislation by publishing 25 anti-religious quotations on its Web site, from figures including Richard Dawkins, Bjork and Frank Zappa.
Michael Nugent, the group’s chairperson, said it would challenge the law through the courts if it was charged with blasphemy.
Nugent said: “This new law is 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.”
“We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilized society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous,” he said.
He said that despite the published quotations being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, Atheist Ireland “unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalized and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.”
Nugent said the group would be prepared to take on the state if anyone complained about the quotes and their campaign to repeal the law was part of a wider battle to create a more secular republic.
“You would think that after all the scandals the Catholic Church endured in 2009 the introduction of a blasphemy law would be the last thing that the Irish state would be considering in terms of defending religion,” he said.
“We ask Fianna Fail [political party] and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the defamation act that is included within the act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution,” he said.
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