Ireland has been criticised – even condemned – once again because the performer and writer Stephen Fry has been accused of blasphemy, under the country’s 2009 Blasphemy Act.
When Mr Fry appeared on RTÉ Television, in 2015, the interviewer Gay Byrne asked him what he would say if, after death, he encountered God. Fry then described the Judaeo-Christian God as “utterly evil”, and “a capricious, mean-spirited and stupid God … a maniac, an utter maniac” – because of all the suffering in the world. (He added that he wouldn’t object to a meeting with the ancient Greek gods, because they were more “human”.)
An anonymous complainant has now asked the Gardaí to investigate whether Stephen Fry can be charged under the Blasphemy Act.
The background of this legislation is complicated. Ireland’s constitution (dating from 1937) “acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence and shall respect and honour religion.”
This is now regarded by many politicians as outdated, but can only be removed from the constitution by referendum. Trying to avoid a referendum in 2009, the then justice minister Dermot Ahern updated the blasphemy law, saying that he hoped to frame it in such a way that no one would ever invoke it. But then, a citizen did.
Many Irish Catholics, as far as I can gauge, would not want to prosecute Stephen Fry – if that is his view, he’s entitled to hold it, even if it seems bad-tempered, and a little childish. But respect freedom of speech.
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