In 2009, the Center for Inquiry decided to mark September 30th as International Blasphemy Rights Day. This day was chosen because it was the day in 2005 when the satirical cartoons about prophet Mohammed appeared in a
Dutch Danish newspaper setting off a firestorm of protests among Muslims.
In the US, we can blaspheme just for the fun of it but in some countries, especially Islamic ones, merely criticizing religion, let along making fun of it or blaspheming can have deadly consequences.
But there are many countries that you may be surprised to find that there are some form of blasphemy laws on the books including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Iceland, San Marino, Spain and the UK. Six US states Massachusetts, Michigan, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming) also have some form of these laws. (See this Wikipedia article for links.) It is possible that some these are old laws that are not enforced but have not been repealed either.
But Ireland was one of those countries that actually introduced a new blasphemy law as recently as 2009.
The blasphemy law was introduced in July 2009 by the then Fianna Fáil-led government. Breach of the law is punishable with a fine of up to €25,000.
The law defines blasphemy 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”.
The former justice minister Dermot Ahern has defended the law, claiming it is necessary because the 1936 Irish constitution extends the protection of belief only to Christians.
But the government is about to announce a referendum to abolish it to be held some time next year.
The right to blaspheme is part of the right to free speech and should be defended. Unfortunately, some countries still want to carve out an exemption from free speech rights for blasphemy so that they can condemn, prosecute, convict, and even execute people just for offending religious sensibilities.