Friday, January 22, 2010                                                                                       View Comments

Irish Blasphemy Law

Books for burningImage by altemark via Flickr

By Dealdoctor

You might enjoy reading about this historic American blasphemy trial before reading the article below which points out that Ireland has brought it all back again.

I understand as well that the United Nations also wants to make it unlawful to speak against religion, supposedly in the interest of community cohesion. Can you imagine cops standing behind a preacher to insure you either say "Amen" or keep your mouth shut?! No free speech and no free press where religion is in control! Remember the time of book burnings?

Welcome back to medieval times

By John Shelby Spong

The recently passed law in Ireland against blasphemy, which threatens $35,000 fines for any person who "publishes or utters 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," is a weird throwback to the medieval mentality. It also reflects a period of Irish history in which the tie-in between church and state was so intertwined as to be synonymous. To be Irish was to be Roman Catholic. To be Roman Catholic was to be Irish. If this law is not overturned Ireland can no longer claim to be a participant in the modern world.

The existence of this law also reveals the low status now enjoyed by traditional forms of religion that needs to be examined and raised to consciousness. First, do religious leaders not understand any religion that needs to be protected from criticism by an imposed legal requirement indicates that it has no ability to stand on its own? Second, surely it must be assumed that any religious system seeking the protection of such a law is admitting that it intends to force its agenda on the entire nation and that this law will be used to mute any opposition to that agenda.

I have no problem with any religion entity requiring that its beliefs and values be honored by its own members, even by the imposition of excommunication from that faith community of those who in good conscience cannot accept those beliefs and values. No one, however, should be subjected politically or legally to the values of a religious system that is not his or her own. It seems to me that the separation of church and state was designed to meet that situation quite specifically.

We have seen the harm created in the past when this line was crossed and the legal process was used to obstruct birth control and family planning, to outlaw abortion in all situations and to make illegal any end of life counseling, including the use of palliative techniques that end suffering, but may shorten life. Such practices almost inevitably will make religion a political issue and this law would require opponents of such practices to be silent.

Did the Muslims who were being killed as infidels by Christians during the Crusades not have a right loudly and publicly to denounce Christianity for initiating these killings? What would this law have done to them? Did those Christians, atheists or the non-believers who were defined by their attackers as "infidels" and killed or who had their loved ones killed by fundamentalist Muslims not have a right loudly and publicly to denounce the religion that was destroying them? Would the existence of a law like this Irish law not have commanded their silence? Do the Jews who have suffered centuries of anti-Semitism at the hands of the Christians who have controlled the governments of most Western nations in modern history, not have a right loudly and publicly to condemn their persecutors and the religion that seems to inspire their suffering? Would not a law like this have criminal their just protest?

The assumption behind such a law seems to be that it is impossible for religion to do wrong and thus religion is allowed legally to stand above criticism. History has rendered such a sentimental judgment to be non-sensical. I was raised inside an evangelical Southern Christian tradition that taught me that segregation was the will of God, that women were by nature inferior, that it was OK to hate other religions and especially the Jews, and that homosexuality was either a lifestyle choice made by morally depraved people so that ought to be suppressed, punished and even executed. Matthew Sheppard in Wyoming is a recent victim of this reality. If homosexuality is not a choice, I was taught that it was a mental disease for which a cure should be sought. That was what their religion had taught them to believe and so they passed it on as a virtuous thing to do to me.

The leaders of my Southern church quoted the scriptures that they called "the Word of God" to justify each of these evils. Had this Irish law been in effect, members of the civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, those who worked against anti-Semitism and the Gay Rights movement, to say nothing of the movement toward critical biblical scholarship in the life of Christianity itself, would all have been subject to these fines. Criticism of the abuses of religion is as essential to human freedom as criticism of the abuses of government is. This law would make such criticism illegal and punishable by significant penalties

If I lived in Ireland and had to face the imposition of this law, I would begin my attack on its credibility by seeking to discover and to expose the sources of support for such a law. Who is pressing for the creation of such a law? What is their agenda? How hidden are their real motives? Since the overwhelmingly dominant religious tradition in Ireland is the Roman Catholic Church, I would be compelled to wonder how and why its passage might serve that institution's needs. Would such a law, for example, be used to stop Irish citizens from criticizing the behavior of Roman Catholic leaders in Ireland as the atrocious record of child abuse on the part of its priests and nuns and its hierarchy's shameful record in covering up these overt crimes becomes public knowledge? Is this the source of the public pressure to pass this law? Would it be used to stop lawsuits that are based on both the abuse and the official cover-up that have now issued in multi-million dollar settlements as well as the resignation of several bishops and the documented fact that successive Irish archbishops were thoroughly involved in the cover-up?

Only when I see who and what would be protected under this law and who and what might be imperiled, can I make sense out of such an arcane and offensive new law. Religion, no less than any other human institution can become demonic. No state should assist in that process by making critical statements about religious practices that might be offensive to religious adherents illegal. I hope this law will be overturned by the good sense of the Irish people. To start that overturning process today would not be soon enough.