Coalition partners Atheist Ireland met on Tuesday with the head of the Irish government, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in a meeting they described as a “breakthrough”.
Atheist Ireland conveyed the whole range of their outlook and policy concerns, and were cautiously optimistic about the ongoing process of dialogue. They also stated that: “One of our most important issues is that Ireland is the only European country to have introduced a contemporary blasphemy law”, and it has influenced and been cited by the proponents of such laws in other parts of the world.
Atheist Ireland gave the Taoiseach an open letter about the Irish blasphemy law signed by various members of our International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws, and both Irish and international scientists, philosophers, writers, comedians, politicians and activists.
Atheist Ireland has stressed that this being a joint letter with international organisations and high-profile signatories packed an influential punch. The Guardian newspaper covered and published the open letter, which also follows below:
Last October, your government decided that a referendum should be held on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution and that your Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald would lead consultations on a bill to be put before the Oireachtas. The clear implication of this commitment was that the referendum would be held during the lifetime of this Government.
You have also said that you were “shocked and appalled by the brutal and horrific killings” at Charlie Hebdo but you must be aware that those who support murder for blasphemy also include the governments of many nations. The continuing case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan has received global attention and tragically, many others have already been executed for blasphemy.
Ireland is the only European country to have introduced a contemporary blasphemy law. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2009, Pakistan proposed the adoption of precise wording from the Irish blasphemy law, as part of efforts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to limit Human Rights on freedom of conscience.
As Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, has advised Atheist Ireland to convey to the Constitutional Convention: “I wouldn’t expect any harsh verdicts being handed down in Ireland, but those countries that continue to have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy.”
The distinction between Ireland and those who carry out executions for blasphemy must consist of more than just the severity of the punishment applied upon conviction. Despite your recent prevarication, we the undersigned urge you to lead by example and comply with your promise of a referendum to repeal all Irish blasphemy laws.
It is your duty to take a strong position on behalf of those intimidated into silence in Ireland and more importantly, on behalf of those facing execution by nations who cite Irish blasphemy laws in justification and mitigation of their behaviour.
JOHN HAMILL, Atheist Ireland Campaign Against Blasphemy Laws
MICHAEL NUGENT, Chairperson, Atheist Ireland
RICHARD DAWKINS, Evolutionary Biologist and Author
STEVEN PINKER, Cognitive Scientist and Author
JIM AL-KHALILI, Theoretical Physicist and Broadcaster
LAWRENCE KRAUSS, Theoretical Physicist and Author
MARYAM NAMAZIE, Author and Human Rights Activist
JERRY COYNE, Evolutionary Biologist and Author
CAROLYN PORCO, Planetary Scientist
ED BYRNE, Comedian and Actor
MICHAEL SHERMER, Author and Historian of Science
SEAN CARROLL, Theoretical Physicist at Caltech
DANIEL DENNETT, Cognitive Scientist and Author
AOIFE MCLYSAGHT, Geneticist and Science Communicator
ANDREW COPSON, Chief Executive, British Humanists
TOBY YOUNG, Journalist and Broadcaster
IAIN MIDDLETON, President, Humanist Society of New Zealand
RORY O’NEILL, Gay Rights Activist
ERIC ADRIAANS, National Executive Director, CFI Canada
CHRISTINE SHELLSKA, President, Atheist Alliance International
MICHEL VIRARD, President, Quebec Humanists
SONJA EGGERICKX, President, International Humanist Union
PIERRE GALAND, President, European Humanist Federation
HELENA SHEEHAN, Author and DCU Professor Emerita
HOPE KNUTSSON, President, Icelandic Humanist Association
LONE FRANK, Neurobiologist and Science Journalist
ANNE MARIE WATERS, Sharia Watch UK
PATRICIA CHURCHLAND, Neurophilosopher and Author
NONIE DARWISH, Director, Former Muslims United
KATE SMURTHWAITE, Comedian and Activist
NINA SANKARI, Vice-President Atheist Coalition, Poland
MICHAEL DE DORA, Representative to the United Nations, CFI
TASLIMA NASRIN, Author and Poet
DAVID NASH, Author and Blasphemy Law Historian
DAVID NORRIS, Senator and Civil Rights Activist
JOSEPH RUSSEL TETTEH, President, Ghana Atheist Alliance
SÉAMUS DOOLEY, Irish Secretary, National Union of Journalists
ALICE CARR, President, Progressive Atheists
ELIDA RADIG, Broadcaster and Feminist
HEMANT MEHTA, Editor of FriendlyAtheist.com
CLARE DALY, TD for Dublin North
DEBORAH HYDE, Editor of The Skeptic
MICK WALLACE, TD for Wexford
ANN BRUSSEEL, Member of Flemish Parliament