02 January 2010

High noon for freedom of speech in Ireland

The Irish people (a group which includes several members of my family and my wife's family) have had a rough old time of it lately. Following the implosion of their economy with an even bigger bang than the UK's a couple of years back, they have got locked into an ever-decreasing circle of emergency budget cuts, falls in investment, falls in output, another hole in the budget and hence more budget cuts. The "Celtic tiger" seems more like a lemming falling off the cliff these days.

Now they're being threatened with a €25,000 fine for blasphemy - defined 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".

This is lunacy, just plain lunacy. Why do religious people need legal protection from a verbal or written challenge to their beliefs? In fact, why does anybody with a strongly held belief need protection from verbal or written attack? If your belief is well-founded enough then you should be able to stand up to insults. And if it isn't... maybe you need to get yourself another belief.

Fortunately Atheist Ireland (who I think are the Irish equivalent of the British Humanist Association) are making a direct challenge to the law by posting 25 anti-religious quotations on their website. They are going to challenge the law through the courts (maybe at the European Court of Human Rights? I'm no expert so I'm not sure what the challenge would be).

This is a brave and important action on behalf of anyone who wants the freedom to voice an opinion without being prosecuted - whether they be religious, atheist or whatever. Best of luck to AI on this one.

One last thought on this topic (for now): the current Irish government is a coalition of Fianna Fail and the Green Party. I can well believe that FF are a bunch of reactionary religious nutters but what the hell were the Green Party thinking? Where's the environmental benefit in making criminals out of people for voicing their opinion? Utterly contemptible and a slur on the reputation of the environmentalist movement.


Steve Pugh said...

The green party are the minor members of the coalition, yes? So, with all the compromises that involves, either they may not get too much say over certain issues, or the may have decided this wasn't something to take a stand on.

On the other hand, a fair number of greens are new age types who think that all belief systems are equally valid. There's a potential "slippery slope" from "environment good" to "industry bad" to "science bad" to "anti-science good" to "any old religion good". All four of those steps are intrinsically wrong but somehow the momentum seems to lead that way for some people.

giroscoper said...

I take your point on the coalition thing, although it's still a sad comment on the Green Party's priorities if they are thinking along these lines.

The problem for the new age types is that the blasphemy law can't be interpreted as the outcome of a wish to treat all belief systems as equally valid. Atheism is a belief system as well, but doesn't get any protection under the new law. Therefore it's treating religious belief - of any kind - as inherently superior to atheism.

Van Patten said...

I'd agree with this. However, whilst this differs slightly from the UK in that it is seeking to codify into law protection for a certain type of belief (in this case religious), there if anything the censorship is even more insidious in that the state broadcaster and a media consensus make publication of any contrarian views on subjects such as Anthropogenic Global Warming, the desirability of immigration or the benefits of the European Union 'unthinkable'.

Looking at the Atheist blog in question, I agree that most of the comments could (and indeed in my experience would) be discounted by most evangelical Christians as risible anyway, so I would agree that this law seems superfluous. The environmental movement seems to be reeling from a series of blows at the moment. I doubt amongst thoughtful people its reputation could sink any lower. Still, if people think the worse of it and are brought to their senses over AGW for its support of this bill, so much the better.