Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.”Now, it’s not that I’m especially irreligious or anything – mainly because I don’t believe in God (above right), or gods, and it’s hard to get worked up either way about something you don’t believe in – but I am a fan of free speech and fair comment. If people want to believe that there’s a nebulous creator-type out there who takes a personal interest in their lives, then that’s okay with me, just so long as they don’t try stuffing it down my throat.
“Blasphemous matter” is defined as 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; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.” […]
Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.
The problem is, the throat-stuffing is on the rise world-wide, and Ireland – in the person of Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern – is joining ranks with other (koff) less progressive regimes. Mr Ahern claims that what he’s doing is actually making it impossible for anyone to be convicted of blasphemy in Ireland, which no one has in living memory, if ever, which kind of raises the question as to why he’d try to fix something that isn’t broken. Is it too cynical to wonder at the timing of the new legislation, given that Mr Ahern’s party, Fianna Fail, are about to get seven bells kicked out of them at the polls in the forthcoming local and European elections?
Anyway, the good news is that the penalty for blasphemy – if you somehow manage to convince a jury of your peers in a modern democracy in the 21st century that you’ve managed to offend the sensibilities of a god so heedless of human affairs, and all the suffering wrought in its name, that it can’t be arsed to turn up for five minutes one day and say, ‘Whoa! The Hindus are the only ones getting it right,’ – anyway, the penalty is a hefty fine ‘not exceeding €100,000’. Which beats the hell out of a the rack, a stint in the Iron Maiden and being fried alive. Which, I guess, is progress, and at least we’re not living in Afghanistan or the Sudan. Three steps forward and two back, and all that.
Incidentally, I saw Angels and Demons last week, and one of the characters, a cardinal, had a nice line. “God answers all prayers, my son – but sometimes he answers no.”
Finally, if you hear on the grapevine in the next few days that I’ve been struck down by lightning / boils / a plague of frogs, then pick a god, any god. Better safe than sorry, eh? Even if you pick the wrong one, you’ll probably get a B+ for trying.