Ireland Votes to Get Rid of Blasphemy Law

Photo Credit:  Patheos

Ireland - Irish voters previously overturned a constitutional ban on abortion; now exit polls suggest they have also voted to get rid of the blasphemy law. Actually, almost 65% of voters supported the move – a total of 951,650 people – with just over 35% (515,808) in favor of retaining it on a turnout of just over 43%.

According to Patheos, Atheist Ireland had been campaigning for repeal to the law for years. In 2015, they even sent an open letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny asking for the matter to be put to a vote. He responded months later that, while empathizing with their concerns, it would be up to the next government to place the issue on the ballot because his government had too many other issues on their plate. And the new government did just that. “It means that we’ve got rid of a medieval crime from our constitution that should never have been there,” said Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland.

Voters in Ireland were asked whether they want to remove the word blasphemy from a clause in the 1937 constitution that says: “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” Four in five voters under 35 backed the change, according to the Irish Times, while over-65s only approved it by a narrow margin, with 52% in favor and 48% against. That means that the strongest support for ending the ban came from younger voters.

Atheist Ireland welcomes positive exit poll figures on blasphemy referendum:

  • If the exit polls are accurate, this will be a great result for freedom of religion, belief, speech and for Irish politics based on integrity instead of nods and winks.
  • We will have removed a medieval crime, that was added to our constitution in 1937, and crowbarred into our statute books a decade ago.
  • Our laws will be able to protect people from harm, not protect ideas from criticism, and our media outlets will no longer have to self-censor themselves.
  • We will no longer be breaching our international human rights obligations, as we have been told by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
  • States that execute people for blasphemy will no longer be able to cite the Irish law at the United Nations, to justify their repression of religious minorities.
  • We will have finally acted on the advice of every group set up to examine the Irish constitution, all of which have concluded that the blasphemy law is obsolete.

Regardless of the fact that it has been more than 150 years since anyone was prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland, such a result in a referendum is relevant to the rest of the world and freedom of speech.

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