Ireland’s vote on blasphemy further removes it from its Catholic roots

Ireland’s vote on blasphemy further removes it from its Catholic roots October 28, 2018

A ‘medieval’ crime that was ‘crowbarred’ into Ireland’s statute books will now be scrapped, thanks to a weekend referendum which saw around 70 percent voting to eliminate the criminal offence of blasphemy.

Among the many celebrating the result was chairperson of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent.

Michael Nugent, left, pictured with jubilant colleagues, after Ireland voted to scrap blasphemy.

In a post on the group’s website today, Nugent wrote:

The people of Ireland have finally removed the medieval crime of blasphemy from our constitution, after a decade of campaigning by Atheist Ireland to have this referendum held.

We will now continue to lobby for other secular changes, including ending the religious oath for President and the control that the Catholic Church still has over most of our schools

Atheist Ireland has consistently raised the blasphemy law with the Irish Government and Department of Justice, as well as at the United Nations, OSCE and the Council of Europe.

He added:

We would like to thank Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan for calling the referendum, and everyone who helped in any way in the campaign.

He pointed out that blasphemy was:

Added to our constitution in 1937, and crowbarred into our statute books a decade ago.

Nugent said that the result means that Irish laws will now be in a position to  protect people from harm – not protect ideas from criticism – and 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 can no longer cite the Irish law at the United Nations, to justify their repression of religious minorities.

Ireland was once a Catholic country. Today it is a pluralist country, which still has Catholic laws that we are gradually changing.

According to this report, the result was also welcomed by Human rights organisation Amnesty Ireland which described it as “significant” for the status of human rights and freedom in Ireland.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty Ireland, said:

While we await the final figures from the national wide count, it is clear at this stage that the Yes side have carried the day. Today’s vote is another important step towards a human rights compliant Constitution.

It follows the massive support for the constitutional referenda allowing marriage equality and ending the abortion ban. People in Ireland have shown yet again that they value human rights and freedoms.

Ireland’s blasphemy law became the focus of world attention in 2015 when British actor and comedian Stephen Fry, above,  appeared on an Irish television programme. When quizzed by the show’s host about what he would say to God in the afterlife, Fry responded:

Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world so full of injustice and pain?.

He was accused of blaspheming, and Irish police opened an inquiry.

That investigation was eventually dropped, but the high-profile nature of the case sparked a public debate about the efficacy of the law. In the aftermath of the Fry saga, an alliance of 14 Churches – including the Catholic Church – declared the constitutional clause “largely obsolete” and called for its removal.

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  • 1859

    The stranglehold that catholicism has had over Ireland for centuries is finally being thrown off and the Irish are beginning to breathe a free people again. Well done and may your example show others what can be done to rid themselves of spiritual fascism.

  • MuttsRule

    Congratulations to the Irish, although the vote was a near thing in Donegal.

    There has been no statutory definition of “blasphemy” in Irish statute since 1961, so the “crime” couldn’t really be prosecuted. However, several nuisance investigations were conducted against editorial cartoons and Stephen Fry, for example.

    Interesting history from The Irish Times:

    “All this is a far cry from 1956 when blasphemy was used as a defence for an attack – by religious and State officials – on members of a minority religion. In May of that year two Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been calling from house to house were set upon by a mob in the village of Clonlara, Co Clare. Led by the local parish priest, the mob ran the two men out of town after assaulting them and burning their pamphlets. The subsequent court case saw one Fr Patrick Ryan and 10 locals charged with assault and malicious damage. The charges were not denied and during the case the Bishop of Killaloe made a submission to the court declaring his support for the mob’s actions.

    “Counsel for the defence claimed the two men had committed blasphemy by propagating the belief that the concept of the holy trinity was a pagan belief. In his judgment, Justice Gordon Hurley found the charges against the mob had been proven but he dismissed the charges under the Probation of Offenders Act. Turning his attention to the two victims (who were not on trial) he declared that they “were guilty of blasphemy in the Catholic understanding of the word”. He then bound the victims to the peace on sureties of £300 each which, if they defaulted on, would result in three months’ imprisonment. This must be one of the few cases in Irish legal history where the victims received a stiffer judicial sentence than the offenders. It could also be argued that the last sentence for blasphemy in Ireland was handed down, not in 1703 as often stated, but in 1956!”

  • Michael Neville

    Blasphemy, a truly victimless crime.

  • barriejohn

    How can such a nonsensical “offence” as blasphemy even exist when followers of all religions – including both Islam and Christianity – cannot agree upon the fundamental tenets of their faith?