Ireland Will (Finally) Hold a Referendum on Its Absurd Blasphemy Law Next Year

You may have heard that Ireland will put it’s ban on abortion up to a vote next year as part of a larger referendum. It’s about damn time, considering all the ways Irish women have had to work around the ban. (Last year, two women live-tweeted their arduous journey to another country just so they could get the procedure done.) It’s wonderful news… even though it’s still obscene to think that a bunch of men will be able to vote on what a woman can and cannot do with her body.

What hasn’t been in the headlines, but also has huge implications, is that Ireland’s blasphemy laws will also be on the ballot next year.

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The Government has also agreed an indicative timetable for a number of other referendums.

Further referendums on Blasphemy (Article 40.6.1) and “Woman’s life within the home” (Article 41.2.1) are planned for October 2018 along with a vote to have directly-elected mayors.

This is a long time coming.

As it stands, Article 40.6.1 of the Irish Constitution includes this passage:

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

While that’s extremely vague, the mere suggestion that anything offensive ought to be punished is too extreme. It threatens freedom of speech and puts religious sentiments on a pedestal. In the past several months alone, comedians have been accused of violating the law for calling a Catholic communion wafer “haunted bread” and questioning why a benevolent God would ever create something as awful as bone cancer in children.

Because of an update to the nation’s Defamation Act in 2009, those comedians could have been levied a fine of up to €25,000 for their statements, but both cases were dropped after tons of bad publicity and little public eagerness to actually prosecute them.

Atheist Ireland has been campaigning for a repeal to the blasphemy law for years now. In 2015, they even sent an open letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny (which I signed) 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.

Yesterday’s announcement, then, is the culmination of years of work on the atheist activists’ part. Atheist Ireland also noted that they would “continue to lobby on this issue in advance of the wording for the referendum being proposed.”

Atheist Ireland welcomes the announcement today by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that our campaign for a referendum on blasphemy has been successful. There will be a referendum on the blasphemy provision within the Irish Constitution during October of 2018 and Atheist Ireland will be campaigning strongly to reform, update and modernise Article 40.6.1(i). This is one part of the continued lobbying by Atheist Ireland to secularise the Irish Constitution.

There’s another huge benefit to a potential repeal, too. Other nations, who actually take blasphemy seriously, have been looking to Ireland for guidance on how to frame their own speech suppression laws. If Ireland gets rid of its blasphemy law, it would send a signal that no civilized society should be okay with such rules. As Atheist Ireland noted,

… we also lobbied at the UN on blasphemy issues when the Pakistani delegation was being examinedSpecifically, Pakistan has copied the precise wording from the Irish blasphemy law verbatim, as part of the [Organisation 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.

So next year’s referendum isn’t merely a chance to remove an archaic law from the books. It could help set the course for how barbaric nations handle dissenting voices.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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