Ireland’s Blasphemy Law: Back to the Dark Ages

Anyone who loves liberty and free-thinking should be very concerned that Ireland actually criminalizes blasphemy.

Police in the Republic of Ireland have launched an investigation after a viewer claimed comments made by Stephen Fry on a TV show were blasphemous.

Yeah, there was a time in the Western world when blasphemy was considered a serious crime. We call that period The Dark Ages.

Officers are understood to be examining whether the British comedian committed a criminal offence under the Defamation Act when he appeared on RTE in 2015.

Fry had asked why he should “respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world…. full of injustice”.

He later said he was not “offensive towards any particular religion”.

And what if he had been offensive towards a particular religion? That still shouldn’t be illegal.

According to a report in the Irish Independent newspaper, no publicised cases of blasphemy have been brought before the courts since the law was introduced in 2009 and a source said it was “highly unlikely” that a prosecution against Fry would take place.

Highly unlikely or not, no free-born citizen should ever have to worry about such a prosecution. And the fact is that Fry was approached by a police detective and told he was under investigation. The police actually devoted detective resources to policing speech. Good to know that Ireland is apparently free of real crime.

Is it unfair to refer to Ireland’s Defamation Act as a ‘blasphemy law’?

The law prohibits people from publishing or uttering “matter that is 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”.

Yup, that’s a blasphemy law.

This particular law has only been on the books since 2009. I gotta say, when I was young I always expected the 21st century would be better than this. Instead of jet packs and space colonies, we got pre-Enlightenment speech codes.

Even more disconcerting that such a law exists and is taken seriously by police is the apparent fact that hardly anybody seems to care. Ireland’s blasphemy law does not seem to be a burning political issue. Will it become a prominent issue in Ireland’s next general election? Do any Irish politicians ever get asked “Why do we have this medieval law on our books?” Rhetorical questions, of course.

The ongoing war on speech is a war on thought. It won’t end well.

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