Irish Atheists Urge Repeal of Nation’s Blasphemy Law at Constitutional Convention

Over the weekend, the Convention on the Constitution held meetings in Ireland to discuss changes to the nation’s Constitution and then make recommendations to the government.

Relevant to us is the need to repeal the blasphemy law, which currently states:

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Atheist Ireland has been fighting for the law’s repeal for a while now and the group’s Chairperson Michael Nugent spoke at this weekend’s convention alongside fellow advocates for the law’s repeal, Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University and Human Rights Officer of Atheist Ireland Jane Donnelly:

Nugent: … blasphemy laws discriminate against atheists. They treat religious beliefs and sensitivities as more worthy of legal protection than atheist beliefs and sensitivities.

You today have a unique opportunity, as members of this Convention, to recommend to the Irish Government that we replace this anachronism with a positive clause about freedom of expression, modeled on Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Nash: Very few countries still have blasphemy laws, as blasphemy laws as opposed to religious hatred laws, and these are entirely the remnant of much older laws and the attitudes that go with them. But Ireland’s constitutional requirements have led to a new law – the only newly constructed modern law in the west. As such it is a significant break with past laws (and past laws in Ireland itself).

Although there have been no prosecutions in Ireland, it is clear that this law has victims beyond these shores, as other countries actively cite and view Ireland’s law as a precedent to persecute both the religious and non-religious in their own societies.

Donnelly: We in Atheist Ireland, along with other human rights campaigners, have sought the release of [blasphemy law victim] Asia Bibi, and other such victims. We are regularly told that we in Ireland have just passed our own new blasphemy law, so why are we complaining about theirs?

During all of this, the Pakistani Government was leading the Islamic States at the United Nations in calling for an extension of blasphemy laws around the world, using wording taken directly from Ireland’s new blasphemy law.

In today’s world, our actions in Ireland affect real people elsewhere. Please send a message to Asia Bibi, the face of blasphemy laws, and to her captors, by voting to remove the blasphemy clause from our Constitution.

Very powerful words from all of them. Now it’s up to the delegates of the convention to do the right thing and make a strong recommendation to the government to repeal the law for good. There’s just no reason to punish someone for the (fake) crime of criticizing religious beliefs.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Lando

    I’ve never understood why Christians would ever support punishing blasphemy – essentially, they’re the worst blasphemers out there. The first damn commandment denies the deity of any other gods, and plenty of preachers equate rival gods to false idols or evil spirits.
    Oh, wait, it’s not blasphemy when you’re speaking the ‘truth in love’ (TM)

  • ShoeUnited

    Every time I read about the special place the RCC holds in Ireland, I think of this video.

    • Rationalist1

      It’s experiences and stories like this that are causing plumeting levels of faith in Ireland (from 69% to 47% in 7 years –

      While the loss of religiosity is good in a land so torn by sectarian strife it is at a terrible cost for those abused by the Church.

    • baal

      That was hard to watch and drives home the point of the evil of the RCC.

    • Dave

      Thanks for posting this link, that was moving.
      Magdalene Sisters is a movie about an Irish nunnery which is worth a watch. The buildings were recently demolished and 170 skeletons found.

  • C Peterson

    The ideas and social systems that come out of the developed West are very powerful. While many other countries rail against the West, the reality is that much of our culture is very appealing, and we see large parts of it adopted by citizens in those same countries (to the dismay of their leaders, at times). So the point made above is very, very important: we need to set positive examples; we need to avoid placing ourselves in the position of creating laws that despots can hold up to support their own human rights violations.

    An anti-blasphemy law- even one based on constitutional law- is probably unenforceable in Ireland. But in Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan? In those places, it can result in people dying. No Irish citizen should stand for even the appearance of supporting that.

  • Bruce Martin

    Blasphemy laws are illogical, except in a theocracy. You could define what you meant if Ireland were 100% Catholic, or 100% Anglican or whatever. But they can’t logically allow all ‘major’ religions and NOT allow expressing all views on theology, including the atheist view. Judaism and Islam deny the divinity of Jesus. If that isn’t blasphemy, then what is?
    The law is intended to have an unwritten list, that permits being a Jew or a Muslim, but not an atheist, just because they feel like it. They could never accept the law as it is written.
    But they refuse to notice that any future government could equally choose to enforce it in other ways. In essence, Ireland wants it both ways. It is a government by men, not by laws. It is what they would see as primitive and non-literate, if it weren’t about them and Jesus.

  • BeardedBowtieGuy

    Slogan: No blasphemy law, goddammit!

  • JuneAbend

    Fuck blasphemy!