As the new decade dawned yesterday, blasphemy became a crime punishable by a fine of up to $36,000 in Ireland. An organization called Atheist Ireland has immediately challenged the law by publishing 25 blasphemous statements made by famous figures on its website.
Speaking to Irishcentral, the chairperson of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent said he didn't know how the government would react. "If they don't prosecute, it shows the law is irrelevant and should be repealed," he said. "If they do, we'll test the law."
Nugent said he is "baffled" by the government's decision to introduce the legislation at a time when there are so many other pressing issues to deal with regarding the relationship between church and state in Ireland.
The quotations on the Atheist Ireland website are from the likes of Reverend Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Mark Twain and Jesus Christ himself.
The site quotes Paisley telling the Pope in 1988: “I denounce you as the Antichrist.”
According to the new law, Pope Benedict would also be guilty of blasphemy for a remark he made about Islam in 2004 quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor:
“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Jesus Christ, in John 8:44, told the Jews: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”
Perhaps most surprisingly, the very member of the Irish parliament who brought in the bill, Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Justice, appears on the list of blasphemers.
When he introduced the legislation in 2009 he joked about the critics who had made comments about him, saying, “They are blasphemous.” In response, another TD Deputy Pat Rabbitte jested: “Given the Minister’s self-image, it could very well be that we are blasphemin,” to which Minister Ahern replied: “Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure.”
The minister has argued that he wanted to reform the law to make it agree with the Constitution, according to which blasphemy must be punishable by law.
Defending the legislation in the Irish Times last May, Ahern wrote, “blasphemy requires at least three elements to be present: that the material be grossly abusive or insulting in matters held sacred by a religion; that it must actually cause outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion; and, crucially, that there be an intent to cause such outrage.”
Ironically the introduction of the anti-blasphemy law has brought Irish non-believers together and out in the open. The group Atheist Ireland formed in July 2009, in direct response to the government’s announcement of the blasphemy law.
In a statement sent to Atheist Ireland, according to the Times, renowned scientist and author Richard Dawkins supported their cause and said the new law was “a wretched, backward, uncivilised regression to the middle ages.”