Irish Republic: Atheists challenge new blasphemy laws
Secular campaigners in the Irish Republic defied a strict new blasphemy law which came into force today by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations online and promising to fight the legislation in court. The new law, which was passed in July, means that blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,000). 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 defences permitted".
Justice minister Dermot Ahern has said that 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 website, from figures including Richard Dawkins, Bjork, Frank Zappa and the former Observer editor and ex-Irish minister Conor Cruise O'Brien.
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 civilised 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 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 criminalised, 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 and its place in society.
"We ask Fianna Fáil 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.""We also ask all TDs and senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as president of Ireland or as a judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work."
Richard Dawkins: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
Björk: "The Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren't lesser beings, they're just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists."
Frank Zappa: "To hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you've been bad or good – and cares about any of it – is the chimpanzee part of the brain working."