The English comedian Stephen Fry, whose dozens of acting credits include playing Dietrich in V For Vendetta and the narrator in the 2015 remake Rocky Horror Show Live, is being investigated for blasphemy by Gardai, the Irish state police force. Fry faces a fine of up to 25,000 Euros (about $27,500 in U.S. money).
Cathal McMahon of the Irish News reported on May 6 that an unnamed person complained about comments Fry made during a February 2015 episode of The Meaning of Life, an Irish television program featuring host Gay Byrne interviewing public figures about what gives their life meaning.
In the video clip above, Fry is asked “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the Pearly Gates and you are confronted by God. What would Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?”
Fry responded: “Basically … I’d say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is 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?’ That’s what I’d say.”
Byrne then asked, “You think you’re going to get in?”
“No!’ Fry responded. “But I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They’re wrong. Now, if I died and it was, it was Pluto, Hades, and it was the 12 Greek gods, then I would have more truck with it. Because the Greeks were—[the Greek gods] didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness, and in their unreasonableness. They didn’t present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac. Utter maniac… We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?….”
Fry is being investigated under Ireland’s Defamation Act of 2009. Section 36 of the act deals with the “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter,” and says this:
36.— (1) 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 €25,000.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—
(a) 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, and
(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the 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.
(4) In this section “ religion ” does not include an organisation or cult—
(a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—
(i) of its followers, or
(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.
According to the Irish News, the person who made the blasphemy complaint against Fry did not want to be identified, but said “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 offenses 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.”
When the police asked the complainant if he personally had been offended by Fry’s comments, the complainant reponded “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.”
That said, the Irish News also mentioned an anonymous “well-placed source” who said that despite the investigation, it is “highly unlikely” that Fry would actually be prosecuted.
The Irish News also mentioned Labour Party Senator Ivana Bacik, who had opposed the law in 2009 and now says “Pakistan and other repressive states pointed to our [anti-blasphemy] 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.”