English actor, writer, and comedian Stephen Fry, who is perhaps as well-known for his leftist politics and atheism as he is for Blackadder or A Bit of Fry and Laurie, has run afoul of Ireland’s 2009 blasphemy law.

Gardaí, the Irish Republic’s police, are investigating Fry for allegedly mocking Christianity on Irish television.  The investigation is a response to a viewer complaint.

The Independent reports:

GARDAI have launched an investigation after a TV viewer claimed comments made by Stephen Fry on an RTE show were blasphemous.

Independent.ie can reveal that a member of the public reported the allegation to Ennis garda Station following a broadcast of ‘The Meaning of Life’, hosted by Gay Byrne, in February 2015.

Gardaí in Donnybrook have recently contacted the man who made the report and a senior source revealed a full investigation is now due to be carried out.

. . . . The specific complaint relates to an interview conducted on ‘The Meaning of Life’ with Mr Fry. During the show the comedian and writer was questioned about what he might say to God 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?”

Watch:

The controversial blasphemy law in Ireland, the only one passed in the Western world this century, was passed in 2009.

CBC News reported at the time:

In Ireland, it has been a crime to publish blasphemous material since 1961, although nobody has ever been convicted. The Seanad, the Irish senate and upper level of parliament, passed the Defamation Bill in July that makes uttering blasphemy a crime as well.

The bill was originally proposed in 2006. It worked its way through parliament and received final approval on July 10 this year, when it passed by a slim margin  of 23-22.

. . . . The bill states that a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if:

  • He or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.
  • He or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

The bill puts the onus on a defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

“I think we’re talking about central issues — for example, a depiction of Christ as a homosexual … many religious people find this outrageous and their reaction is intense,” says Weinrib. “The intent of the outrage still needs to be proven in this case.”

The complainant who reported Fry’s alleged blasphemy noted in his statement to the Gardaí that he did not personally find Fry’s comments offensive.

The Independent continues:

A member of the public, who asked not to be identified, told Independent.ie he travelled to Ennis Garda station, Co Clare that month to reports the alleged blasphemy.

“I told the Garda I wanted to report Fry for uttering blasphemy and RTE for publishing/broadcasting it and that I believed these were criminal offences under the Defamation Act 2009.

“The garda then took a formal written statement from me in which I quoted Fry’s comments in detail. This written statement mentioned both Fry and RTÉ specifically.”

He said he was asked by the garda if he had been personally offended by the programme and If he wished to include this in the written statement.

“I told the Garda that I did not want to include this as I had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments – I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that  I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.”

It seems unlikely that Fry will be prosecuted, much less convicted.

The Independent continues:

A well-placed source said it was “highly unlikely” that a prosecution would take place.

A spokesman for Mr Fry said: “[There is] nothing for us to say while this is under investigation.”

At the time of the broadcast, Fry did respond to the social media storm his comments initially provoked.

The Guardian reports:

At the time of the initial broadcast, Fry spoke about the matter on BBC Radio 4’s Today Show. “I was astonished that it caused so viral an explosion on Twitter and elsewhere. I’m most pleased that it’s got people talking,” he said.

“I was merely saying things that many finer heads than mine have said for hundreds of years, as far back as the Greeks … I never wished to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious, and indeed many Christians have been in touch with me to say that they are very glad that things should be talked about.”

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.”

The influential Archbishop of Canterbury has come to Fry’s defense.

The Telegraph reports:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has come to the defence of Stephen Fry who infuriated Christians by denouncing God as “utterly evil”, “capricious, mean-minded, stupid” and “monstrous”.

The Most Rev Justin Welby insisted that the atheist comedian and writer had a God-given right to express his beliefs and should not be abused by Christians for doing so.

He added that the Church must speak out in defence of religious freedom – but with the humility of a reformed alcoholic who recognises that they once practised the very things they now urge people not to do.

. . . . “Well, if we believe in freedom of choice, if we believe in freedom of religion what is good for one is good for all.

“We must speak out for others persecuted for their beliefs whether it be religious or atheistic.

“Taking responsibility for someone else’s freedom is as important as my own.

“It is as much the right of Stephen Fry to say what he said and not to be abused improperly by Christians who are affronted as it is the right of Christians to proclaim Jesus Christ.

“That is his freedom to choose that is given to us in creation.”

This blasphemy investigation is noteworthy because we typically hear about blasphemy laws and punishments in non-Western countries.

The Washington Post reports:

In 13 countries, atheism effectively comes with the risk of a state-imposed death penalty, though in some of those countries, the penalty is rarely enforced.

According to the report [linked here], Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen allow for capital punishment for apostasy, or the renunciation of a particular religion (in each of these countries, that religion is Islam).

In Pakistan, blasphemy carries the death penalty.