Stephen Fry investigated under Ireland’s blasphemy law


When we think of people being targeted for blasphemy, Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia immediately come to mind. But it turns out that atheist Stephen Fry is being investigated for this offense in Ireland for comments he made on a television show when he was asked what he would say to god if it so happened that after he died he was confronted by god.

Fry said: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

He went on to say that Greek gods “didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent”, adding “the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish”.

This seems pretty innocuous to me but there was a complaint that he violated the Defamation Act of 2009.

The law prohibits people from publishing or uttering “matter that is 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”.

The government said at the time it was needed because the republic’s 1937 constitution only gives Christians legal protection of their beliefs.

Oddly, Fry is not making a free speech defense, that such laws are silly and should not be part of any civilized society. He instead argues that since he was not singling out any one religion, the law should not apply to his comments, saying “I don’t think I mentioned once any particular religion and I certainly didn’t intend, and in fact I know I didn’t say anything offensive towards any particular religion.”

If you criticize god, aren’t you criticizing all god-based religions?

Interestingly the law excludes from its definition of religion (and thus its blasphemy protections) any organization or cult whose “principal object of which is the making of profit” or “employs oppressive psychological manipulation” of its followers or to gain new followers.

Clearly the government wants to exclude groups like Scientologists from its protections but I would have thought that all religions fit that description. After all, apart from the fact that religions are principally money-making enterprises, what is inculcating ideas of hell and heaven other than “oppressive psychological manipulation”?

Comments

  1. says

    I would have preferred a defense along the lines of, “I was responding within the context of christian theology; if the consequences of thinking about christian theology raise those questions, how can I be being ‘insulting’? You are charging me with taking christianity seriously and, if you drop the charges, I’d be happy to stop.”

  2. OverlappingMagisteria says

    Here’s the interview where he made the comments. It made its rounds back when it came out.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … he violated the Defamation Act of 2009.

    The law prohibits people from publishing or uttering “matter that is 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”.

    How many advertisers of beef has Ireland prosecuted for outraging Hindus? Has anyone who publicly praised a dog, or the set of dogs, faced charges for denigrating Muslim values? And what about those – I have no doubt someone must have – preaching a certain Commandment about the worship of graven images, a direct slur against a certain Church somehow still popular among some circles in the Emerald Isle?

  4. Mano Singham says

    Cartwheels,

    I don’t think I can take listening to both Harris and Murray talk about race and intelligence. The only thing worse would be if Andrew Sullivan had joined them. So i will leave criticisms of it in the hands of others like PZ

    I published an article on race and intelligence back in 1995 in response to Murray’s awful book.

  5. Owlmirror says

    If you criticize god, aren’t you criticizing all god-based religions?

    I dunno, it could be argued that the language of the law, “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting”, means that the criticism has to be abusive or insulting to some specific group.

    Fry could argue that if no group agrees with how he characterizes God, then his criticism cannot be seen as abusive or insulting to any group.

    As a rough analogy, suppose Fry had said something like “How dare God make the universe out of his snot!” [ref: Great Green Arkleseizure] Well, does any religious group actually believe that? If the Jatravartid weren’t fictional, they might take offense, but otherwise, who can claim to be insulted?

  6. Owlmirror says

    Comments elsewhere suggest that the complaint against Fry was specifically made to highlight the existence of the terrible law, and hopefully prompt its repeal.

  7. hotshoe_ says

    According to article in the Guardian
    the person who reported the “crime” initially says “… I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.”

    Doesn’t sound like they wanted to prompt a repeal or have any discussion about whether the law is bad for Ireland.

  8. usagichan says

    I gather the police dropped the case when (unsurprisingly) they couldn’t find enough Irish people that were offended.

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