Ireland will hold a referendum to abolish its blasphemy laws. The vote is expected to take place some time early in 2015, Junior Minister Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin announced last week.
“Blasphemous matter” was deemed a punishable offense under Ireland’s 1937 constitution. The 2009 Defamation Act defined blasphemy as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defenses permitted.”
Currently, the offense is punishable by a fine of up to €25,000 ($31,600).
"In practice, there have been no prosecutions under the 2009 Act and the last public prosecution for blasphemy in Ireland appears to have been brought in 1855," Aodhan O Riordain told parliament on Thursday.
Ó’Ríordáin said it hadn’t been decided yet whether the amendment would simply remove the crime of blasphemy, or replace it with a ban on incitement to religious hatred.
It is also unclear whether the ban on blasphemy found in the Defamation Act would remain law, or be replaced by an offense of incitement to religious hatred.
In his speech, the Labour TD said that Ireland already has a ban on incitement to hatred, including on religious grounds.
Atheist and secular campaigners are welcoming government’s decision, the Guardian reports.
Michael Nugent, one of the founders of Atheist Ireland, said the move was “urgent and overdue.”
“Islamic states at the UN have been citing Ireland’s blasphemy law as evidence that modern European states have no problem with outlawing blasphemy just as Islamic states do. You know you are doing something wrong when Pakistan is citing you as best practice for blasphemy laws,” said Nugent, a comedy writer.
He says the law should not be replaced with new clauses outlawing insult to religions.
“We already have laws against incitement to hatred on a number of grounds, including gender, religion, sexuality and race. Why single out religion again and give it extra protection in the constitution?”
Former justice minister Dermot Ahern says the blasphemy law is need as the 1937 constitution extends the protection of belief only to Christians.