As Islamists Seek To Silence Cartoons With Guns, Irish Government Also Says Ciúnas

Following the Constitutional Convention last year the government gave a commitment in the Dáil that it would hold a referendum on blasphemy during 2015. On 8th January this year, the government then announced that it will be highly unlikely that the blasphemy referendum will be held before the next election and that the recent events in Paris would not change their decision.

As Islamists Seek To Silence Cartoons With Guns, Irish Government Also Says Ciúnas.


Tánaiste, Joan Burton and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald

Tánaiste, Joan Burton and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald


Notwithstanding this, several members of the same government posed with “Je Suis Charlie” signs at a solidarity rally in Dublin and the Taoiseach attended the solidarity march in Paris. How can Ministers claim solidarity with the cartoonists when the same cartoons published in Ireland would see their authors prosecuted for blasphemy? The Irish courts today would prosecute the cartoonists for exactly the same reason that they were murdered by the Islamists. There should be a huge moral distance between the position of the Irish State and that of the Islamist murderers. Our country needs to differ from such terrorists on more than just the severity with which we punish blasphemy. The Irish government cannot claim solidarity with “Charlie” while their most recent decisions seek to prolong and sustain the existing Irish legal prohibition on blasphemy.

In contrast, Atheist Ireland believes that all religious ideas and powerful religious leaders should be open to criticism, in the same manner as any other idea or powerful leader. Such freedom of expression is fundamental to an effective public discourse about health, education, family law and many other areas of public policy that religions seek to influence. For this reason, Atheist Ireland supports the right to publish cartoons or other forms of satire, which are overtly blasphemous, even where some people may find such publications to be offensive or in very poor taste. Publications that wish to reproduce such cartoons (such as the Secular Sunday subscription newsletter) should be free to do so.

These issues have gained much international attention at present. In this context, it is also important to notice that death for blasphemy is not just the policy of Islamist murderers but also of several countries. For example, Pakistan plans to execute Asia Bibi shortly for the crime of blasphemy. Furthermore, in it’s attempts to expand it’s position on blasphemy to other countries, Pakistan proposed the precise wording of the Irish blasphemy legislation to the UN, as it’s suggested international best practice. As such, our unique position as the only Western country to recently introduce a new blasphemy law, is relevant beyond our own shores.

Consequently, the urgency of repealing the Irish blasphemy legislation cannot now be overstated. The same cartoons that saw their authors murdered for blasphemy recently, would see Irish authors hauled before our courts. The same nations that execute their citizens for blasphemy, wish to promote the wording of the Irish blasphemy legislation through the UN, in order to expand such provisions to more countries. Ireland is the only European country to recently introduce a new blasphemy law. Following the horrific recent events in Paris, let us be the next country to repeal our blasphemy laws.

As Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, commented to Atheist Ireland in relation to the Irish blasphemy laws:

“Of course you are right that the major damage done by this legislation is the international one. I wouldn’t expect any harsh verdicts being handed down in Ireland, but those countries that continue to have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy. So I hope things will be moving in the right direction. One can also cite General Comment no. 34 of the Human Rights Committee and the Rabat Plan of Action. Both documents call upon States to move away from criminalizing so-called blasphemy.”

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