Stephen Fry is being investigated by Irish police for allegedly making blasphemous remarks during a television interview on RTÉ in 2015.
On RTÉ’s television program 'The Meaning of Life', the actor and comedian was asked what he would say to God if he had the chance.
“I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault,” replied the self-described atheist. “It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”
He added that he would be better able to accept the more human-like gods of the ancient Greek pantheon because, “they didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent.”
“Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish,” he explained, adding “we have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that?”
Under Ireland’s Defamation Act 2009, anyone who publishes or utters blasphemous material “shall be guilty of an offense.”
The law prohibits the “publishing or uttering [of] 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."
The complaint was filed against Fry by a member of the public at the Ennis garda station in County Clare two years ago, but the police reportedly didn’t act on it for 18 months. The plaintiff, who has asked not to be identified, then pursued the matter by writing to the head of the Irish police, Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, The Guardian reports.
Says the plaintiff: “I told the garda I wanted to report Fry for uttering blasphemy and RTÉ for publishing/broadcasting it and that I believed these were criminal offenses under the Defamation Act 2009.
“The garda then took a formal written statement from me in which I quoted Fry’s comments in detail. This written statement mentioned both Fry and RTÉ specifically.”
He was asked by police if he had been personally offended and if he wanted to include this in the statement.
“I told the garda that I did not want to include this as I had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments – I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.”
After not hearing anything on the matter for 18 months, he wrote to Commissioner O’Sullivan, “asking if the crime I reported was being followed up. A few weeks later I got a standard ‘we have received your letter’ from her secretary.”
Recently, he was contacted by police from Donnybrook garda station in Dublin (which is the same suburb where RTÉ is headquartered) and told they were investigating the claim.
“He said he might have to meet me to take a new more detailed statement.”
At the time of the broadcast, Fry spoke about the matter on BBC Radio 4’s Today Show. “I was astonished that it caused so viral an explosion on Twitter and elsewhere. I’m most pleased that it’s got people talking,” he said.
“I was merely saying things that many finer heads than mine have said for hundreds of years, as far back as the Greeks ... I never wished to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious, and indeed many Christians have been in touch with me to say that they are very glad that things should be talked about.”
Gay Byrne, the host of the The Meaning Of Life program, said “Of course [Fry] hadn’t wished to cause offense. But that’s what the internet is for, controversy, debate and people’s opinions.”
Atheist Ireland said the investigation into Fry for blasphemy "highlights a law that is silly, silencing, and dangerous.”
Fry could potentially face a fine of up to €25,000, but the Irish Independent cites a source as saying that prosecution is "highly unlikely" in this case.
A spokesman for the actor has said: "[There is] nothing for us to say while this is under investigation."