An atheist group in the Irish Republic has defied a new blasphemy law by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations on its website.
Atheist Ireland says it will fight any action taken against it in court.
The quotations include the words of writers such as Mark Twain and Salman Rushdie, but also Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad and Pope Benedict XVI.
The new law makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros (£22,000; $35,000).
The government says it is needed because the republic’s 1937 constitution only gives Christians legal protection of their beliefs.
The new law was passed in July 2009 but came into force on 1 January.
Atheist Ireland responded by publishing 25 quotes it considers anti-religious on its website.
The group said its aim is to have the law repealed and to attain a secular Irish constitution.
Chairman Michael Nugent said it would challenge the blasphemy law through the courts if it were charged, the London-based Guardian newspaper reported.
“This new law is both silly and dangerous,” he said. “It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas.”
Atheist Ireland says it will hold a series of public meetings around the country to launch its campaign.
Not everyone was happy with President Barack Obama’s nod to nonbelievers and non-Christians in his inaugural address. And some of the stiff criticism about Obamaâ€™s religious inclusiveness is coming from African-American Christians who maintain that no, all faiths were actually not created equal.
“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” the new president said. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth,” he also said. Nothing too controversial, proclaiming that America’s strength lies in its diversity.
But between those two statements, the new president got specific: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama celebrated America as a “nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.” Some Christians are taking issue with the approach to inclusiveness, saying the president misrepresented America’s culture and heritage.
By mentioning, for the first time in an inaugural address, the 16.1 percent of Americans who check “no”â€™ when asked about religion, Obama turned it into the most controversial line in his speech — praised by The New York Times editorial board and cited by some Christians as evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.
With that one line, the president “seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian,” saidâ€™ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. “The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.â€™”
Earlier this week, Jackson was a guest on the popular conservative Christian radio show ‘Janet Parshall’s America,’ where a succession of callers, many of whom identified themselves as African-American, said they shared the concern, and were perplexed and put off by the presidentâ€™s shout-out to nonbelievers.
Parshall noted that atheists were celebrating the unexpected mention, and indeed they were: “In his inaugural address â€¦ President Barack Obama did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of America as part of the nation’s great strength, and including ‘nonbelievers’â€™ in that mix,â€™” said Ed Buckner of American Atheists.
“His mother would have been proud,”â€™ Buckner said, referring to the fact that Obamaâ€™s mother was not a church-goer. “And so are we.”
Jackson said he and others have no problem acknowledging that “this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.â€™” Yet Obama crossed the line, in his view, in suggesting that all faiths (and none) were different roads to the same destination: “He made similar remarks in the campaign, and said, ‘We are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were. We are a Jewish, Hindu and non-believing nation.'”
Not so, Jackson says: “Obviously, Jewish heritage is very much a part of Christianity; the Jewish Bible is part of our Bible. But Hindu, Muslim, and nonbelievers? I don’t think so. We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation.”â€™
With all the focus on Obama as the first African-American president, the succession of black callers to Janet Parshall’s show was a reminder that the “community”â€™ is not a monolith, and that many socially conservative black Americans are at odds with Obama’s views, particularly on abortion and gay rights. Nor do they all define civil rights in the same way.
The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president’s reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. “It’s important to understand the heritage of our country, and it’s a Judeo-Christian tradition,”â€™ period.
But his even bigger beef with the president, he said, is that a disproportionate number of “black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that’s a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue.”
When Labour cabinet members were asked about their religious allegiances last December, following Tony Blair’s official conversion to Roman Catholicism, it turned out that more than half of them are not believers. The least equivocal about their atheism were the health secretary, Alan Johnson, and foreign secretary David Miliband.
The fact that Miliband is an atheist is a matter of special interest given the likelihood that he may one day, and perhaps soon, occupy No 10. In our present uncomfortable climate of quarrels between pushy religionists and resisting secularists – or attack-dog secularists and defensive religionists: which side you are on determines how you see it – there are many reasons why it would be a great advantage to everyone to have an atheist prime minister.
Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.
Atheist leaders will be sceptical about the claims of religious groups to be more important than other civil society organisations in doing good, getting public funds, meriting special privileges and exemptions from laws, and having seats in the legislature and legal protection from criticism, satire and challenge.
Atheist leaders are going to be more sceptical about inculcating sectarian beliefs into small children ghettoised into publicly funded faith-based schools, risking social divisiveness and possible future conflict. They will be readier to learn Northern Ireland’s bleak lesson in this regard.
Atheist leaders will, by definition, be neutral between the different religious pressure groups in society, and will have no temptation not to be even-handed because of an allegiance to the outlook of just one of those groups.