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Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009:
“We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”
Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.
DERMOT AHERN: Tommy Tiernan, son of Deuteronomy of Gath.
TOMMY TIERNAN: Do I say ‘yes’?
DERMOT: You have been found guilty by the elders of the town of uttering the name of our Lord, and so, as a blasphemer,…
DERMOT: …you are to be stoned to death.
TOMMY: Look. I– I’d had a lovely gig, and all I said to my audience was, ‘That piece of legislation would make Jehovah piss himself laughing.’
DERMOT: Blasphemy! He’s said it again!
CROWD: Yes! Yes, he did! He did!…
DERMOT: Did you hear him?!
CROWD: Yes! Yes, we did! We did!…
WOMAN #1: Really!
DERMOT: Are there any women here today?
CROWD: No. No. No. No…
DERMOT: Very well. By virtue of the authority vested in me under the 2009 Defamation Act —
[NUN stones TOMMY]
TOMMY: Oww! Lay off! We haven’t started yet!
DERMOT: Come on! Who threw that? Who threw that stone? Was it you Senator Norris? Come on.
CROWD: She did! She did! He did! He! He. He. Him. Him. Him. Him. He did.
NUN: Sorry. I thought we’d started.
DERMOT: Go to the back.
NUN: Oh, dear.
DERMOT: Always one, isn’t there? Now, where were we?
TOMMY: Look. I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying ‘Jehovah’.
CROWD: Oooh! He said it again! Oooh!…
DERMOT: You’re only making it worse for yourself!
TOMMMY: Making it worse?! How could it be worse?! Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!
DERMOT: I’m warning you. If you say ‘Jehovah’ once more– [MR. A MATTHEWS stones DERMOT]
DERMOT: Right. Who threw that?
DERMOT: Come on. Who threw that?
CROWD: She did! It was her! He! He. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him.
DERMOT: Was it you?
MR A. MATTHEWS (wearing a false beard): Yes.
MR. A. MATTHEWS: Well, you did say ‘Jehovah’.
CROWD: Ah! Ooooh!…
[CROWD stones MR. A. MATTHEWS]
DERMOT: Stop! Stop, will you?! Stop that! Stop it! Now, look! No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle! Do you understand?! Even, and I want to make this absolutely clear, even if they do say ‘Jehovah’.
[CROWD stones DERMOT]
WOMAN #1: Good shot!
[clap clap clap]
(via Monty Python’s Life of Brian)
As if the situation in Ireland wasn’t bad enough, we are also now a global laughing stock. Thanks a lot, Dermot Ahern.
The idea of a blasphemy law is mindboggling in this day and age. Who decides what is “grossly abusive or insulting”? A simple drawing of a man’s face is enough to cause major offence in some sections of society, particularly if the two words “Prophet Mohammed” are written underneath it, so if this is the case, ANYTHING is fair game for a law outlawing blasphemy.
What might be art or fair comment to one person might be grossly insulting to another. If the offendee gets to decide, then all free expression is in danger. Let’s remember that some people find a woman’s bare legs an offense against their religious morality.
Because the law makes it an offence to disparage any religion we could be back to book banning in this country again very soon. Up to the 1960’s, the government of Ireland zealously prohibited a wide range of publications in order to protect Catholic Ireland from mortal sin. This new bill is potentially more wide-ranging as it applies to every religion, and it impinges on all forms of expression: film, podcast, music, canvas, you name it.
Any group, including the Raelians and the Church of Scientology will be entitled to call in the lawyers if this bill is passed. Think about it: we are at risk of being sued if we were to scoff at the idea that humans are descended from inhabitants of the planet Venus..
Most religious beliefs come from a time when we knew much less about the world than we do now. Religious beliefs are often highly discriminatory, they are sometimes dangerous and they present a distorted view of reality that often contradicts the available scientific evidence. To my mind, the most serious claim against religions is that they block critical thinking, which is the main purpose of a good education. Our government seriously wants to protect this state of affairs?
So, in the spirit of Mr Ahern’s bill, I would like to propose 3 things to be outlawed forthwith.
1) Father Ted. Did Fr. Dougal not say some awful things about God? In fact, wasn’t the whole series not a piss-take on Catholic Ireland?
2) The Life of Brian. Worshipping sandals, singing while crucified, saying “Jehovah”. We’ve been there before, I seem to remember. It wasn’t very bright then, and it isn’t very bright now either.
3) Tommy Tiernan has been saying awful things about religion for years. Actually, while you are at it, lock all of those bloody comedians up. They are always making jokes about religion…
Ahern and his cabal would do well to realise that this is 2009, not 1979. If this is the standard of thinking in operation by the government, they need to leave office forthwith, lest they embarrass themselves even more.