Ireland Strikes Down Blasphemy Ban in Another Social Reform Referendum

Ireland Strikes Down Blasphemy Ban in Another Social Reform Referendum

The obsolete law attracted attention in 2015 when British comedian Stephen Fry was investigated under it.

Almost 65% of the Irish voters have voted in a national referendum in favor of overturning a ban on blasphemy, after in May a majority voted down a ban on abortions.

Nobody has been prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland since 1855, in connection with an alleged case of Bible-burning, The Irish Examiner reminds.

In effect, the ban has seen no successful prosecutions since the Republic of Ireland became independent from Britain in 1922.

Nonetheless, the blasphemy ban was included in anti-defamation legislation passed by Ireland’s government in 2009, the so called Defamation Act. It was formally enshrined in the Irish Constitution in 1937.

Blasphemy was defined as saying or publishing something “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”.

Anybody found guilty of blasphemy in Ireland, once a staunchly Catholic country, could face a fine of EUR 25,000.

The obsolete blasphemy ban came to the fore in 2015 when British comedian Stephen Fry came under investigation after a viewer complaint but was never charged.

“Bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you create a world with such misery… it’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded stupid God who creates a world so full of injustice and pain?” Fry told RTE back then when asked what he would say to God.

A total of 951,650 (64.85%) people voted to strike down the blasphemy ban in a referendum on Friday, with 515,808 (35.15%) opposing the move, with a voter turnout of 64%. The referendum took place alongside Ireland’s presidential elections.

“It is very much part of an ongoing campaign in many ways to reform our constitution, to make it a 21st century constitution or a 21st century Republic,” Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said.

He saw the referendum on blasphemy as part of a series of reforms beginning in the 1960’s when the state removed the special place of the Catholic Church from the constitution.

In the past few years, Ireland has voted to repeal a series of restrictive social laws on divorce, same-sex marriage, and, earlier in 2018, abortion.

“This is the next small step in what is a very big deal, which is the reform of our constitution, so the next set of referenda are pencilled in for May,” Varadkar said.

The blasphemy referendum in Ireland saw a greater turnout that Friday’s presidential election which reelected 77-year-old Michael Higgins, with a turnout of only 44%.

(Banner image: Flickr)

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