Stephen Fry v God

Irish police investigate comedian Stephen Fry for blasphemy. Is atheism or Ireland in the dock?


“What kind of God is he? It’s perfectly apparent that he’s monstrous, utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever.”

Wanted for blasphemy? The Irish police investigate a comedian for crimes against God.

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about the blasphemy law in Ireland which criminalises free speech on religious issues.

Two years ago, Stephen Fry, the actor-comedian, went on an Irish TV programme and was asked what he would say to God at the pearly gates.

“I’ll say: bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there’s such misery that it’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God that creates a world that is full of injustice and pain?”

Now, the Irish Independent reports a member of the public reported those comments to the police as a violation of the blasphemy law.

The Garda refuses to confirm or deny this. It says it will not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Yes, this is the 21st century; and Ireland’s Defamation Act makes blasphemy a crime, subject to a fine of up to €25,000.

Section 36 of the Act defines blasphemy as something:
“…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 law says the defendant must intend to cause outrage by his remarks. And he is not guilty if:

“A reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in…” the remarks.

Some say the way the Act is worded makes it virtually impossible for anyone to be successfully prosecuted.

However, it’s equally argued the Irish media is guilty of self censorship, desperately avoiding anything that would offend religious sentiment, in order not to fall foul of the law.

The background is this: the Ireland’s 1937 constitution specifically cites blasphemy as a crime. It states:
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

However, after a failed prosecution attempt, the Irish Supreme Court ruled the law was a mess and refused to sanction further blasphemy prosecutions.

So, unless there were a change in the constitution, which would require a referendum, Irish politicians were obliged to introduce fresh legislation. Hence the current 2009 Act.

Many Irish people believe the blasphemy law is an embarrassment, but they think it’s virtually un-enforceable.

So, Stephen… you’ll probably get away with it. But hey, given Ireland also has conservative views on sex, it’s probably not a good idea to repeat this:-

‘Bugger me with a fish fork’

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