Atheist Ireland has launched a campaign to repeal the new blasphemy law, which came into operation on Friday. The campaign claims that justice minister Dermot Ahern and several world figures have made blasphemous statements. The organisation has published 25 quotes from various personalities which they said would be in breach of the new law.
The Defamation Act 2009 updates the law on defamation and provides for recognition of an independent press council. But it was the section providing for the offence of blasphemous libel which generated the most debate as the legislation went through the Oireachtas. The law makes the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The law provides for the defence that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.
"This new law is both silly and dangerous", said Michael Nugent, chairman of Atheist Ireland. "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 incentivises 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 outrageous."
Atheist Ireland has published a list of 25 blasphemous quotations from well-known figures including Ian Paisley, Mark Twain, Salman Rushdie and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the justice minister. The group is calling on the government to repeal the blasphemy law and hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution.
Among the published blasphemous statements include what Ian Paisley, then an MEP, said to the pope in the European Parliament in 1988: "I denounce you as the antichrist". Paisley's website describes the antichrist as "a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning... he will imitate Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world".
The group also maintains that a comment published by politician and writer Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1989 is also blasphemous: "In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: 'Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Koran'. Unfortunately the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken," he wrote.