The very idea of blasphemy laws sounds so foreign to American ears, doesn’t it? To be honest, when I hear the mention of anti-blasphemy statutes, my mind goes straight to the Middle East and nations that practice Sharia law. But, believe it or not, comedian Stephen Fry is in hot water over blasphemy laws—and you won’t believe where the complaint originated.
The Gardaí—the Irish police—are looking into a complaint from a man in the appropriately named town of Donnybrook who has invoked the country’s Defamation Act over the comedian’s statements on a series called The Meaning of Life. The Independent (Ireland) reports that the show’s host, Gay Byrne, asked Fry what he would ask God if he met the Almighty at the pearly gates.
Mr Fry replied: “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 added: “Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.
“We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that?”
The offending clip has over seven million views on YouTube:
Ireland’s Defamation Act, a statute that went into effect in 2010, declares that anyone who publishes or utters blasphemous material should be subject to a fine of no more than €25,000.
The interesting twist in this matter is that the man who reported Fry’s offense didn’t find himself personally offended by the statement. Rather, he admitted that he believed that since Fry had committed criminal blasphemy, he felt the need to report the crime.
The broadcast aired in February 2015, and the unnamed complainant noted that he received a perfunctory acknowledgment upon his first reporting the issue. However, when he followed up with the Gardaí a year later, he “got a standard ‘we have received your letter'” from the police commissioner’s office. In fact, a source within the Gardaí told the Independent that it was “highly unlikely” that a prosecution would follow.
Naturally, Fry’s representative told the Independent that the comedian had no comment. And, just as predictably, Ireland’s atheists and Left-leaning politicians have rallied to Fry’s side.
From the Independent:
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, a qualified barrister who campaigned against the introduction of the law in 2009, said this was a “most unusual” case.
She said then Justice Minister Dermot Ahern made a grave error introducing the blasphemy law in 2009 and while criminal prosecutions haven’t been pursued in Ireland the law has been used as a model by other less democratic states.
“Pakistan and other repressive states pointed to our law as an example of a law they wished to pursue.
“It is being used as a model by these regimes and this is not what Ireland should aspire to.”
For his part, host Byrne believes that Fry meant no harm. As The Guardian reports:
The host of the The Meaning Of Life programme, Gay Byrne, said “Of course [Fry] hadn’t wished to cause offence. But that’s what the internet is for, controversy, debate and people’s opinions.”
It’s worth noting that, according to the Independent, “Ireland is the only country in the developed world to have introduced a blasphemy law this century.” In the seven years since the statute went into effect, no one has faced prosecution for blasphemy.
The concept of blasphemy laws, especially in a First World country, still staggers the imagination. This scenario makes me grateful for the First Amendment—as much as it angers me to hear Fry make such asinine statements. If he had said what he said in America, his speech would have been protected. As much as we, as Christians and Jews and conservatives, may feel like our freedoms of speech and religion are under assault, at least we have protection on paper. It’s somewhat of a relief not to have to worry about facing fines for arbitrary charges of blasphemy.