Ireland investigates Stephen Fry for blasphemy

Blasphemy is a crime in Ireland; the Constitution of 1937 (see here) says the following:

ARTICLE 40

6. 1° The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality:  i. The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Wikipedia has a good article on the blasphemy law, its history, and its implementation in Ireland. The upshot is that it’s been contested, especially by the organization Atheist Ireland, and a referendum on the issue of blasphemy was proposed in 2014 but has yet to take place. No offenses have been prosecuted since 2009, but the law remains on the books.

In the meantime, according to both the BBC and the Independent in Ireland, Stephen Fry is being investigated by the Gardaí, the Irish police, for blasphemy in a part of a television interview with Gay Byrne that I’ve put up previously (here and here)/ Here’s the offending segment:

This is reasonable doubt and in no way should be subject to prosecution. But the investigation proceeds:

From the BBC:

Appearing on The Meaning of Life, hosted by Gay Byrne, in February 2015, Fry had been asked what he might say to God at the gates of heaven.

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”.

The Irish Independent reported a member of the public made a complaint to police in Ennis in the same month the programme was broadcast. He was recently contacted by a detective to say they were looking into his complaint.

The viewer was not said to be offended himself but believed Fry’s comments qualified as blasphemy under the law, which was passed in 2009 and carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 25,000 euros (£22,000).

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 Independent adds this:

A garda source said the matter is being investigated.

“A complaint has been received and it is currently being investigated. Detectives will speak to those involved if they are available and a file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).”

A well-placed source said it was “highly unlikely” that a prosecution would take place.

Ireland is the only country in the developed world to have introduced a blasphemy law this century.

It is not seemly for a non-theocratic nation to have a blasphemy law. Ireland should dump it.

 

Addendum by Grania Spingies

Nothing will happen to Stephen Fry. Ireland’s idiotic and ill-conceived blasphemy law was deliberately written to be unenforceable.

This isn’t the first time an interfering busybody has tried to cause trouble for an actor or comedian by using this law. Irish comedians Dara Ó Briain and Tommy Tiernan have fallen foul of thin-skinned offense-takers. However the law clearly states:

“A defence is permitted for work of “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value”.

That doesn’t mean that this is much ado about nothing.

The true danger of this modern version of an archaic law in Ireland is that it is frequently promoted by Muslim majority countries at United Nations level (Organization of Islamic Conference) as an endorsement of their own blasphemy laws and for the creation of more of these laws all over the globe. The CFI points out here:

Pakistan’s submission urges that UN member states prohibit by law “the uttering of matters that are grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage to a substantial number of adherents to that religion.”  Clearly, the Irish blasphemy legislation is being used to legitimize the “defamation of religions” movement, a dangerous threat to international freedom of expression. (Emphasis my own.)

Blasphemy laws in countries where they are taken seriously are in fact highly dangerous things. Ken White over at Popehat has for some years written multiple posts detailing the passing of such laws and their effect around the world. If anyone is in doubt as to why all blasphemy crimes should be abolished immediately and have no place in a fair and just society, you should take a look at his collection of articles on the subject.

He sums it up succinctly here:

“anti-blasphemy laws are a tool for religious majorities to suppress religious minorities, and a mechanism for the more powerful to oppress the relatively powerless, and tend to be used in a lawless manner resembling modern witch hunts. That is the norm we are asked to embrace.”

h/t: Charleen

52 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Oh, FFS. What an utter waste of time and money.

    And thanks for posting this. I thoroughly enjoy Fry’s comments on religion.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      I agree completely. It’s disgusting that public money is being wasted in Ireland investigating this.

      Besides, everything Stephen Fry says is quite true, and I’m glad he said it so publicly. Perhaps this investigation will have a positive side in that more people will get to hear what he said and it will make them think.

  2. Posted May 6, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see why the religious think there is a need for blasphemy laws. Couldn’t their all-powerful god just strike blasphemers dead if he were offended?

    • Posted May 6, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      + 1. They seem to consider their all-powerful deities impotent.

  3. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    The viewer was not said to be offended himself but believed Fry’s comments qualified as blasphemy under the law

    Does this viewer also regularly call the cops on people he observes jaywalking or dropping cigarette butts in the street?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      Either (a) He’s a monstrous hypocrite – “I’m broadminded but some delicate Little People might have their feelings hurt”
      OR (b) he’s acting as an agent provocateur in order to highlight the silliness of the law in order to, eventually, get it repealed.

      I’d guess (b)

      cr

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 6, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        I think he’s probably just a self-important, self-righteous, sanctimonious prat.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 6, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

          Well, since there’s no information about him, your guess is as good as mine.

          (Well, actually, I think my guess is better than yours, because it’s my guess and I’m me. But then I would think that, wouldn’t I? 😉

          Either way, I seriously doubt the Gardai are wasting much public money ‘investigating’ the matter.

          cr

  4. Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    An own goal for the theocrats: http://www.michaelnugent.com/2017/05/06/25-blasphemous-quotes-in-solidarity-with-stephen-fry/

    “Atheist Ireland welcomes the Irish police investigation into Stephen Fry for blasphemy. It highlights a law that is silly, silencing, and dangerous.

    On 1 January 2010, the day the new Irish blasphemy law became operational, Atheist Ireland published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes in order to challenge the law. Today, in solidarity with Stephen Fry, we are republishing those 25 blasphemous quotes, and adding in the quotation that has caused the Irish police to investigate Stephen Fry.”

    I hope this goes to trial. Stephen Fry will have the time of his life, and the rapid secuarisation of Ireland will gather further momentum

    • GBJames
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Good point. If it went to court maybe people would wise up and get rid of it.

    • Wunold
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      “Atheist Ireland welcomes the Irish police investigation into Stephen Fry for blasphemy. It highlights a law that is silly, silencing, and dangerous.”

      I had a similar thought right after reading about the investigation.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      If the purpose of blasphemy laws is to prevent “undermin[ing] public order or morality”, then surely clergy behaving badly are guilty of blasphemy.

      I mean why not arrest Pope Benedict XVI for blasphemy??

      The ancient Greek βλασφημέω (blasphēméō) means “to slander” and slander is only so if what you are saying is not true.

    • zoolady
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      What fun, Paul! Let’s get seats in the back of the courtroom, so we can snigger in glee! Seriously, the idea of ”blasphemy” really demeans their god, doesn’t it? How can the maker of heaven and earth (!) possibly be offended when I say “GOD DAMN?”

  5. Jeannine Lanigan aka pghwelshgirl
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read that Fry is a bit of a tool.

    No matter, regarding this PATHETIC blasphemy law.

    You’re a nation, republic, whatever, Ireland. “Blasphemy” doesn’t enter into who you are, what you are, what you have a right to legislate.

    I hope Fry is cleared, and the blaphemy laws are struck down.

    Dammit, trying hard to NOT hate people. Getting harder all the time..

    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Don’t hate them aka, I prefer the first name Jeannine. My wife’s name only her’s is spelled Janine.

    • loren russell
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Jeannine — good to hear that you heard Fry’s a tool. Hearsay’s so reliable.

      In this instance though Fry seems to take on the role of shovel to take his lick at the Augean stables of western religion.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Whoever told you Fry was a tool was no master mechanic him-or-herself …

    • Wunold
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      For me, it gets harder and harder to hate people with everything new I learn about the human brsin (I just about finished Julia Shaw’s book “The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory”. I can highly recommend it as informative as well as entertaining.)

      We all are a product of our genes and life experiences. I don’t think we have a free will, so I don’t think a prick chose freely to be one. Thus, I can’t hate him or her for being one. Instead, I think about how to change people for the better.

      In the present case, better than hating the proponents of blasphemy laws is to take measures to abolish the laws, e.g. by informing people about them and their impact, writing letters to the legislators and/or our direct representatives etc.

  6. Ann German
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Okay okay, I don’t want to violate any of PCCE’s “roolz,” prohibiting personal criticism, but opening a comment by referring to someone as a “bit of a tool” may not be a good start on “trying hard to NOT hate people.” In any case, this threatened suit dovetails nicely with the FCC investigating Stephen Colbert’s remark about pussygrabber and Putin. . . another “own goal” for the Republican snowflakes.

  7. Wunold
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Alas, many countries that see themselves as modern and enlightened still have those laws:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law#By_country

    • cnocspeireag
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      It’s truly ridiculous that so many countries still have these laws on the books. I suppose lawmakers don’t see any rush to remove them if they are not used.
      The article specifically singles out Ireland as being the only modern country to have enacted a blasphemy law this century. I assume all the others were enacted before then.

      • loren russell
        Posted May 6, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Are “modern country” and “enacting blasphemy laws” not oxymoronic?

        • somer
          Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

          true … its an embarrassment even if it is highly unlikely to be brought to any trial it is designed to create an obstruction and damp down free speech.

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        “Last century” wasn’t that long ago…

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          Speaking of long ago, where ya been?

          As Taj Mahal’s little red hen said to the little red roostah, you don’t come around this chicken shack like ya usetah … 🙂

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 7, 2017 at 3:17 am | Permalink

            …several Taj vids later…

            Knowing you noticed just made my day. 🙂

            Just in one of my grand funks, but as always I wend my way back at WEIT. Y’all are like family. 😉

            (Srsly, is there a better salon online?)

      • veroxitatis
        Posted May 6, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        In some jurisdictions there may not have been any need for an enactment. In England blasphemy formed part of Canon Law. However post Reformation the Criminal Courts simply recognised blasphemy as being a crime at Common Law. Some statutory provisions were enacted at later dates to deal with specific situations but these appear to have been little used, if at all. Prosecutions proceeded at Common Law.

  8. Steve Pollard
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I rather hope this goes all the way to a trial…even a conviction. What better way of demonstrating the utter absurdity of a “blasphemy” law in a supposedly civilised country?

    Oh, and Jeannine (“I’ve read that Fry is a bit of a tool”), why not learn something about who he is and what he does, maybe even watch some of it yourself, and then make your own mind up?

    • Jeannine Lanigan aka pghwelshgirl
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      I did exactly that. You are the one making assumptions about what I have or haven’t done re Stephen Fry.

  9. Larry Smith
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Fry’s comments strike me as utterly blasphemous… one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of his!

    Mr. Byrne’s expressions are priceless. They reminded me of the priest’s (Henry Gibson) reactions to Vince Vaughn’s raunchy comments in “The Wedding Crashers.”

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    What is the Garda doing when they “investigate”? Watching the tape over and over again?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      They’ve stuck the complaint in a file which they’ve given to the lowest plod in the pecking order and he’s stuck it in his pile under the complaints about barking dogs and drunk and disorderly in the hope that if he leaves it long enough it will go away.

      cr

  11. Tom
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Curse the apostate he knows too much.
    How has he learned the deepest truths about god?
    Perhaps he is secretly a priest?

  12. Patrick Q
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    What a strange law considering that every religion has elements that are blasphemous in other religions. Every Catholic Mass proclaiming that Jesus is God is blasphemous under Judaism, Islam, or various Unitarian Christian sects. Have the Garda been levying fines against the Catholic Church for this?

    • Wunold
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 12:57 am | Permalink

      Good point. Maybe a barrage of reports is due to make that apparent to the public. 🙂

  13. Randy schenck
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Funny how no one ever thinks to blame this maniac for all the bad. This is not blasphemy, it’s just fair play.

  14. Sastra
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    “anti-blasphemy laws are a tool for religious majorities to suppress religious minorities, and a mechanism for the more powerful to oppress the relatively powerless …”

    White puts his finger here on the controversy imported into the issue whenever “faith” is introduced. The faithful are presumed to be the relatively powerless, the meek, the obedient. Blasphemy bullies and oppresses the simple folk who struggle to keep their simplicity and folk-hood. It hurts them where they’re weak, when they’re weak. It’s a form of punching down.

    The understanding that no, it’s the other way around — faith, not blasphemy, is the position of power and privilege — is absolutely critical.

  15. Pete Finlayson
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Stephen Fry said not one wrong word. He sums up exactly how a so called God, a supposedly benevolent God, who creates abject misery and the expects submission from followers that must prostrate themselves before his might and mercy should be regarded. I think that the prosecution should go ahead only if they can prove the existence of this unproven deity and when they do prove such existence, they can then obtain a statement from him/her/it. This statement should be spoken, written, signed and delivered in person in court by The God, not one of his self appointed representatives. Whilst they have this God in court, it would be my suggestion that a counter suit is brought against The God and an eternal sentence of community service should be imposed, in which The God should be made to undo all the revolting and disgusting diseases that The God has forced upon the planet. Further more The God should then be served with a court injunction preventing him/her/it from further misdoings and in aid of all insurance policy losers be banned from committing acts of God that leave families bereft and without recompense for atrocious acts carried out by an immensely powerful and immortal being. If all this can be put in place, then I think The Garda may have a good case. Otherwise it should be regarded with the same sincerity as Winnie The Pooh running for Arch Bishop of Canterbury.

  16. Eric Grobler
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    This is a bit of a non-event because the perceived victim is the Christian God and the average Irish person just don’t care.

    It would have been much more interesting if Fry insulted Allah or Warlord Muhammad explicitly and an enraged muslim community appealed to the Blasphemy law.

  17. Jeannine Lanigan aka pghwelshgirl
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Tried TWICE to respond to the comments regarding “Fry as tool.”

    First time, long complex post. Clicked out accidentally, lost post.

    Second time, shorter, but that was lost when posting.

    So trying for a third time before I just give up and hang myself.

    I have valid reasons for admiring Fry as performer, and denigrating him as person. Google his comments regarding sexual abuse from 2016.

    And that’s all the energy I can scrounge up in response. Except to say if people are curious of my innate character, search this site for RIP Thomasina from 2 years ago.

    • Wunold
      Posted May 7, 2017 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      I have accustomed myself to save my posts in the clipboard with a quick Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C before sending them or even while typing. Longer posts I do save or write in a text editor in case the web browser crashes.

      I still forget to do any of that and lose data sometimes, but less often than before.

      • Jeannine Lanigan aka pghwelshgirl
        Posted May 7, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Thank you for this reminder. I often do this, but of course it’s always the times that I don’t, that I lose posts or documents. You’d think I’d know better by now. 🙄

  18. somer
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Just occasionally the Irish government behaves like a theocracy

  19. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    ‘He was recently contacted by a detective to say they were looking into his complaint.’

    In other words, it’s sitting there like a doggy-do on a footpath with nobody feeling particularly motivated to do anything about it.

    😉

    cr

  20. somer
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    The Saudi led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have been bullying the UN regarding human rights since the late 90s with particular focus on the Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Its members are numerous Islamic states. It started with the Declaration of Islamic Human Rights in Cairo which basically states that Human Rights are the Shariah. Using Pakistan as its main attack dog in the UN, the Organisation keeps introducing into the Assembly motions that equate criticism of religion with racism, implying that the non-western religions are historically a target of such “racism”. The Special Rapporteurs have tried to bat this away but with year after year of large blocks of countries voting for it the Islamic countries are chipping away. They want to introduce into the CCPR a clause that basically gives a free pass to blasphemy laws or removes obligation of states to punish mob action against unbelievers, heretics or followers of other faiths. Islamic countries have a shocking record of discriminating against or even attacking members of other faiths and Muslim minority sects. Heretics and atheists are being downright attacked. Even in Indonesia during the end of the Suharto era Confucianism was not a protected religion and thousands of Chinese were raped and some killed by Muslims – all encouraged by the regime as a way to deflect mounting economic tension. Of course since then there was a period of serious religious violence in the outer islands of Indonesia.
    For example http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/spiritofthings/human-rights-and-religion/3085204#transcript
    or articles by Robert Blitt on Defamation of Religion/Blasphemy laws and Islam

  21. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 6, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I note the offending segment was broadcast on RTE, “Raidió Teilifís Éireann is a semi-state company and the national public service broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland.” (Wikipedia)

    So, no censorship there, even though that broadcast is clearly and expressly in contravention of the law. “the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, …”

    It would appear that RTE is precisely as ‘guilty’ as Stephen Fry in the matter.

    I would imagine this would make the Gardai even more unenthusiastic.

    cr

  22. Sigmund
    Posted May 7, 2017 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    As Grania said, the law is written in a way that makes it practically unenforceable.

    In order for someone to be found guilty they would need to be proven to have intended to cause outrage and that the offending statement has no genuine “literary, artistic, scientific or academic value”.
    Not only that, but the final clause of the law, no doubt inserted to prevent Scientologists using it, can just as easily be applied to other cults “that employs oppressive psychological manipulation”, like Christianity and Islam!

    “36.—(1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter
    shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on
    indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.

    (2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters
    blasphemous matter if—
    (a) he or she 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, and
    (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the
    matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

    (3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this
    section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would
    find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value
    in the matter to which the offence relates.

    (4) In this section “religion” does not include an organisation or
    cult—
    (a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
    (b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—
    (i) of its followers, or
    (ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.”

    • Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Interesting clauses in (4). I wonder what that was about? (It sounds like a hamfisted attempt to target Scientology, actually.)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 8, 2017 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        It may be hamfisted but, given the propensity of Scientology to ‘go after’ its critics in court, probably justified.

  23. Nell Whiteside
    Posted May 7, 2017 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Is the concept of blasphemy not itself blasphemous?

  24. BJ
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I’m sure Fry’s real response was something akin to “fuck off, you repressed gits!” How I love that man…

    Hopefully, this case will bring the problems with such laws to light for the public. Stephen Fry is HUGE (and I don’t just mean in stature) round those parts).

  25. Posted May 8, 2017 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    I don’t suppose it will come to anything. There’s little to no chance they will fry Fry.


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