Northern Ireland viewer asks for police probe of ‘blasphemous’ TV comedy sketch

29 January, 2021

A complaint has been filed with CrimeStoppers UK requesting they make a referral to the police over whether a comedy sketch broadcast by RTÉ breached Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has stated that it is unlikely to have jurisdiction to investigate, given the program in question was originally broadcast in Ireland. But Northern Ireland Humanists, which is leading a campaign to repeal these laws, has said the incident shows that Northern Ireland’s recently-unused blasphemy laws could be revived at any time.

The sketch, which was part of the broadcaster’s New Year’s Eve countdown show, portrayed a mock news report in which God was arrested for sexual harassment. The broadcaster received thousands of complaints and subsequently apologised. It was aired in Northern Ireland and is available to watch on RTÉ player there.

Blasphemy remains a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, despite these same laws being repealed in the Republic of Ireland, which was prompted by a similar complaint about RTÉ’s broadcast of an interview with Stephen Fry in 2017. This incident also led to the repeal of blasphemy laws in New Zealand and Canada. Blasphemy was also abolished a criminal offence in England and Wales in 2008 and is set to be in Scotland this year.

Northern Ireland Humanists believes the blasphemy laws run counter to the rights of freedom of expression and religion or belief, as well as being used around the world to justify the persecution of religious and non-religious minority groups. As a result of its campaign, Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, and People Before Profit have committed to their repeal, with the UUP still developing policy on the matter, and only the DUP opposed.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented: ‘We hope that this complaint will highlight the need to repeal our blasphemy laws, and, as with a similar incident in the Republic of Ireland, strengthen the case to remove these crimes from our statute books. Not only is it a waste of police time and resources to investigate a light-hearted comedy sketch, but more fundamentally, blasphemy laws are a violation of human rights and cause immeasurable harm and suffering to minority groups around the world. We, as a society, have a duty to ensure that we repeal these laws and stand up for those who are persecuted because of similar laws elsewhere.’


For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 02890 029946.

Read more about the complaint.

Read more about our work on blasphemy laws.

Sign our petition to repeal Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws.

Tell your MLA to support repeal.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.