Ireland is reinforcing a part of their constitution which says blasphemy is illegal by clarifying what is meant by blasphemy and imposing a hefty fine and possible house raids for anyone suspected of blaspheming.
It sounds unbelievable, but numerous sources confirm this bill was under consideration: The Guardian , Dogma Free America , UTV , MediaWatch UK . According to examiner.com and ProudAtheists [and apparently the Irish Times: see update at the end], the law has passed. The Examiner says:
One of the aspects of this bill would make it illegal to criticize religion… any religion under penalty of fines up to 25,000 Euros. That is the equivalent to nearly $35,000.
Here are some excerpts of the Guardian article, which includes Atheist Ireland’s co-founder Michael Nugent thoughts.
Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s justice minister, has proposed the legislation, which will outlaw anything seen as "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". […]
[Michael] Nugent said blasphemy was not the only anomaly in the constitution. "You cannot become president of Ireland or be appointed a judge in the republic unless you take a religious oath asking God to direct and sustain you in your work. […]
"We should be amending our constitution to remove these theistic references, not creating new crimes to enforce provisions that were written in the 1930s," he added.
Here’s a direct quote from the proposed bill, which is apparently now law in Ireland.
(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 36, the court may issue a warrant (a) authorising any member of the Garda Siochana [Irish police] to enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) at all reasonable times any premises (including a dwelling) at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that copies of the statement to which the offence related are to be found, and to search those premises and seize and remove all copies of the statement found therein, (b) directing the seizure and removal by any member of the Garda Siochana of all copies of the statement to which the offence related […]
It’s scandalous that a country, in this day and age, is not only upholding previous law protecting religion against open debate and criticism, but is actually trying to strengthen these laws with fines and threats of raids against offenders. I’ll post any updates to this that I find.
UPDATE: It appears that the bill has passed the entire Oireachtas (Legislature), according to the Irish Times (as well as this opinion piece by Atheists Ireland published in the Irish Times). I’ve seen conflicting reports on this, but I will take the Irish Times’ word since they are an Irish newpaper and presumably know how the government works. Apparently the law will become official once the Irish president signs it. According to Wikipedia :
In most circumstances, the President is in effect obliged to sign all laws approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas, although he or she has the power to refer most bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling on constitutionality.
So it would appear that unless the President challenges the law on constitutionality (which seems unlikely since blasphemy was already illegal under the constitution), the bill will become a law. Atheists Ireland plan to challenge the new law by publishing a blasphemous statement soon.
UPDATE: It was pointed out by "droth", a poster on Cynical-C Blog , that there is a provision in the new law that states "It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the 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." While this is some consolation, it still puts the onus on the person making the allegedly blasphemous statement to prove it has "value".
It’s unfair to protect religion in this way. For example it’s apparently fine to say "Atheism is evil and Richard Dawkins is morally bankrupt", but I can’t say "Catholicism is evil and the Pope is morally bankrupt" unless I can prove my comments have a "literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value." Speech about religion, whether praising or criticizing it, should be protected.