Not long after the laws of England & Wales were finally cleansed of the archaic offense of blasphemy, there are forces in Ireland that want to actually introduce such a law there.
While most of us have made it into the 21st Century, there are people who would prefer to drag us back into the Middle Ages.
Dermot Ahern, Minister for Justice, is one of the main agitators for a clause in the Defamation Bill, currently before the Irish Parliament, that would make blasphemy illegal.
With fines of up to €100,000, the law would punish “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter” which is defined as “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; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage”.
One might assume that the clause is intended primarily to protect the Roman Catholic faith, and that the “any religion” definition is there to make it appear more reasonable.
But let’s say I invent a new religion (and why not? All religions are invented) – perhaps a faith that sanctifies the abuse of little children (no, wait, the Catholics have done that one), or maybe a religion that claims the moon is made of cheese and that the Queen is a shape-shifting alien. Presumably I could use that law in Ireland to prevent anyone taking the piss. After all, as the only follower of the faith, I would easily represent “a substantial number of the adherents”.
I present this reductio ad absurdum scenario to make a point. Even a casual examination of most faiths reveals them to be full of bizarre, outlandish, indefensible and often dangerous claims. Religions are used all too frequently to repress and oppress, to close minds and hold back progress. Far from being protected, they must be open to criticism.
I find many of religion’s ideas and precepts outrageous and offensive: there are, for example, people who genuinely believe they regularly eat the flesh and drink the blood of a man who’s been dead for 2,000 years, and that those of us who fail to engage in this necrophiliac cannibalism must suffer eternal torture. Any law that restricts my ability to say that such beliefs are idiotic piffle is an unwarranted attack on free speech.
Ireland has made great strides in the past few years in loosening the manacles of the Catholic church. It would be a shame to see the country slide back into superstitious intolerance.