New legislation signed into law today makes it a $35,000 offense to use curse words against religion.

No one can think of a single priest, rabbi, mullah or vicar in the country who lobbied for this.

No one suggested we needed a blasphemy law until justice minister, Dermot Ahern, said Ireland had to fill the "void."

Who made him the moral compass of the country? Doesn’t the man have more pressing things to be keeping him busy?

Shouldn’t he be fighting the existing crime in Ireland instead of creating new ones to prosecute?

Most Irish people are absolutely mystified at this new law. Isn’t Ireland a modern and progressive country? A new church called Dermotology (named after Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and not the much lamented Fr Ted star Dermot Morgan) has been set up in Ireland.

The new church plans to blaspheme as many people as possible in its bid to test the new legislation.

Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland blasted the new laws because it does nothing to protect religious beliefs.

On the contrary, he said, the law "incentivizes outrage and it criminalizes free speech. Under this proposed law, if a person expresses one belief about gods, and other people think that this insults a different belief about gods, then these people can become outraged, and this outrage can make it illegal for the first person to express his or her beliefs."

It seems that taking offence is more important than free expression. Most Western countries have removed or rewritten blasphemy laws so they focus on hate-related crimes.  

For instance, blasphemy has never been considered a crime in the U.S., while Britain voted to abolish blasphemy laws last year. Blasphemy is considered a serious offense in countries where Islam is the state religion and the penalty in Pakistan and Afghanistan can be execution.

It has been a crime in Ireland since 1961 to publish blasphemous material but nobody has ever been convicted.

A judge famously dropped a prosecution of a newspaper in 1999 which ran a cartoon mocking the church because there was no legal definition of blasphemy.

They can try that case again.

A Canadian law professor said: "I don't see this as a new thing as much as an old thing that hasn't quite disappeared in Ireland," she says.

The bill puts the onus on a defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

"I think we're talking about central issues — for example, a depiction of Christ as a homosexual … many religious people find this outrageous and their reaction is intense," says Weinrib.

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