Ireland's Blasphemy Law on Referendum This October

Ireland is finally going to hold a referendum about its blasphemy law, and it will take place this October. The Irish government has approved the preparation of a bill to remove blasphemy as part of a commitment to constitutional reforms. This referendum will take place just months after citizens successfully overturned the nation's ban on abortion, and it is another step in Ireland's path to change from one of the Europe's most conservative country. Ireland's government announced a referendum on this subject last September, and it is possible that this referendum will coincide with a presidential election, if one takes place.

Article 40.6.1. of the Irish Constitution includes the passage which says: "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law."

This passage threatens freedom of speech, and in last couple of years some comedians have been accused of violating the law with their statements related to Catholic Church and God. Luckily, those cases were dropped after tons of bad publicity, but they faced a fine of up to €25,000 for their statements. In order to prevent something like this, Atheist Ireland has been campaigning for a repeal to the blasphemy law for years, and it looks like their effort is going to be rewarded.

If this referendum succeed in repealing the punishment for blasphemy, there will be benefits not only in Ireland but also in other countries that have been looking to Ireland for guidance on how to frame their own laws. According to the Patheos, Pakistan has copied the precise wording from the Irish blasphemy law verbatim, as part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation efforts to have such provisions accepted by the United Nations. The repeal of the Irish blasphemy laws will certainly help to undermine these OIC efforts, which would be a very welcome outcome, not least for those who are victims of draconian blasphemy laws within OIC jurisdictions.

Together with this referendum, another one is probably going to take place at the same time. It is a referendum on changing a constitutional clause that prioritizes a woman’s domestic role over work, a clause which specifically mentions a “woman’s life within the home" in the constitution. If those two referendums take place at the same time they will probably help each other, because changing a clause that is anti-feminist will probably get liberals to the polls, and that’s good for the anti-blasphemy side.

As The Guardian reports, Ireland's Minister of Justice, Charlie Flanagan said, referring to a future referendum: “In terms of Ireland’s international reputation, this is an important step. By removing this provision from our constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist.”

Photo Credits: Jon Parsons

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