Blasphemy in Ireland

The New Year brought more than hangovers and a debate over what we should call it. In Ireland, the new year brought into effect a new law banning blasphemy, which includes a fine as high as 25,000 Euros.

Irish atheists are challenging the law, daring the government to prosecute them by posting anti-religious quotations on several websites, including http://blasphemy.ie and http://michaelnugent.com, both of which are experiencing very heavy traffic at present. And that's a good tactic, I think, but there's another way to show just how ludicrous this law is.

The law describes blasphemy as "publishing or uttering 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, with some defences permitted". Emphasis mine. That, it seems to me, is a loophole big enough to drive a Messiah through.

In recent years, atheist groups have already put together "churches" of their own, mostly as jokes--Pastafarianism, aka The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is probably the most famous, but it's not alone. The First Church of Atheism has even offered to make anyone a legally ordained minister. So it seems to me that these groups, even if they're little more than loose affiliations, are in the best position to attack the blasphemy law, simply because they can make complaints.

It shouldn't be terribly hard for an atheist group to lodge a complaint against every church in Ireland for violating the blasphemy law, if they argue that claiming the existence of a personal god is "grossly abusive...to matters sacred" to their beliefs and intentionally causes "outrage among a substantial number of adherents." The biggest challenge, it seems to me, would be to get the atheists to go from being snarky to outraged, but if that can be managed, then it seems to me they'd have a case.

Not that I would expect anyone in the Irish government to take the complaint seriously. Laws like this don't pass when there's an actual separation of church and state. But it would illustrate, in a very public way, the problem with blasphemy laws, and even the notion of blasphemy as a concept, in a multi-cultural society.

Crossposted to The Rumpus

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