Why Ireland must get rid of its disgraceful blasphemy law


Source: The Guardian


Ireland is the only country in the developed western world to have introduced a blasphemy law in the 21st century.

The disgraceful law, passed in 2009 and introduced in January 2010, carries a maximum fine of €25,000. It prohibits the “publishing or uttering [of] 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”.

A government promise of a referendum about the law was broken despite the then prime minister, Enda Kenny, previously agreeing that one was necessary.

The failure to do so outraged Irish atheists and secularists. Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, believes blasphemy laws are inimical to free speech, and regarded the failure to hold a plebiscite as “a betrayal”.

In an interview with Ryan McChrystal, Index on Censorship’s online assistant editor, Nugent argued that the law was so “ridiculous and silly” that his organisation’s attempt to get prosecuted by publishing statements blaspheming all the major religions had been ignored.

In other words, the authorities do not want to look foolish by enforcing the law. So, you might well ask, why worry?

McChrystal points out that the law’s existence in a European country, a member of the European Union “ is setting an example for others abroad.” It makes it harder to argue against blasphemy laws elsewhere.

For instance, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – which has 57 member states – cites Ireland’s law as best practice and has even proposed the adoption of its precise wording to limit human rights on freedom of conscience.

As McChrystal notes, that organisation “is led by Pakistan, a country where Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is awaiting execution for having drunk the same water as her Muslim neighbours” and thereby insulted the Prophet.

He concludes: “If anything should shake the the people of Ireland out of their complacency on this issue, it is examples of such abuse, whether at home or abroad.

“Just ignoring the law because no one is using it right now means you are forgetting that, one day, someone might.”

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