By Laura Fitzgerald

“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 €100,000.” An archaic, perhaps medieval hangover from the past? On the contrary – in fact, this is actually being proposed by Minister Dermot Ahern as a new crime of blasphemous libel that will form an amendment to the Defamation Bill.

Not content with dragging us backwards into depression-like unemployment and completely destroying living standards of ordinary people, now the government wants to introduce the crime of blasphemy onto the statute books in a move reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

This enormous attack on freedom of expression must be opposed by socialists. Furthermore, the immensely punitive €100,000 fine is something that could be used by the state to shackle socialists, trade unionists and activists who are seen as a threat, under the nebulous auspices that they have spoken in a blasphemous manner.

Blasphemy laws criminalise making any remarks that could be deemed to be offensive to the views or structures of a particular church or religion, up to and including ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’. All forms of racism and bigotry, including Islamophobia and anti-semitism must be actively opposed in all their guises. This includes attempts to stir up racism against Muslims by the right-wing media, as was the case during the Danish cartoon fiasco a number of years ago. The most effective way to fight discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities is a united fight for jobs and a decent life for all. The trade union movement has a duty to actively oppose all forms of discrimination including discrimination on religious grounds in order to ensure that we can build such a united movement. Blasphemy laws, which cut across the freedom to express opinions that may be contrary to a religion’s core belief yet are in no way racist or discriminatory, most certainly will not increase the rights of religious minorities. For example, perhaps a statement that women should have the right to decide when and if they have children could be considered blasphemous in the eyes of the Catholic or Muslim hierarchy.

The feeble excuse put forward for criminalising ‘blasphemy’ is that the Minister must legislate for an aspect of the Constitution. This only serves to expose Irish capitalism as a whole that has never developed into a modern and secular capitalist country. Socialists stand for the complete separation of church and state. Schools, for example, should be taken out of the hands of the Church and religion can be taught as an optional extra outside of school hours. Separation of church and state should incorporate the freedom to practice a religion, if that’s your choice and it should also incorporate freedom to be an atheist and/or to criticise religion.

A capitalist economy in freefall means that our jobs, public services and pay are being butchered. On top of this, the threatened introduction of the blasphemy law shows that no real progress is being made in terms of social rights and freedoms either, and that any rights that we do have are subject to attack. This only serves to underline the need for a concerted movement and struggle against the government and the rotten system that they represent.