On October 26, Irish citizens will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum and overturn their nation’s blasphemy laws once and for all.
It’s a long time coming. Article 40.6.1 of the Irish Constitution prohibits “publication or utterance” of blasphemous content, which is obviously in the eye of the beholder. It’s not just a remnant of older law, either. It’s been evoked in recent years to punish comedians who called a Catholic communion wafer “haunted bread” and questioned why a benevolent God would ever create something as awful as bone cancer in children. While they could have been fined up to €25,000 for their statements, both cases were dropped after international bad press.
But the looming threat remains a problem and that’s why, yesterday, Atheist Ireland launched their campaign to overturn the blasphemy law.
They’re pushing five main reasons citizens should vote “Yes” on the ballot:
1. Vote Yes to support the right to freedom of religion or belief, the right to freedom of speech, and the separation of church and State. The Irish blasphemy law infringes all of these principles.
2. Vote Yes to allow Irish media outlets to deal objectively with religious issues, without having to self-censor themselves to avoid the possibility of a blasphemy case and a €25,000 fine.
3. Vote Yes to support Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, atheists and other minorities who face persecution in Islamist States. These States have cited the Irish law at the UN to justify theirs.
4. Vote Yes to remind ourselves, and show the world, how much Ireland has changed since 1937. We are now a modern pluralist State that respects freedom of religion, belief, and speech.
5. Vote Yes to agree with the many bodies that have called for removal of the Irish blasphemy law, including the 1991 Law Reform Commission, the 1996 Constitution Review Group, the 2008 All-Party Committee on the Constitution, the 2013 Constitutional Convention, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
The group also released an open letter signed by 24 victims of blasphemy laws around the world who are now urging Irish citizens to vote “Yes.” Since other nations often cite Ireland’s constitution as justification for their own blasphemy laws, Ireland’s repeal could have dramatic ripple effects.
It makes all our work that bit more difficult when western democratic countries maintain laws that criminalize debate, satire and criticism concerning religious beliefs. The existence of blasphemy laws in European democracies like yours gives cover and support to the laws under which we are persecuted around the world. At the same time it lends false legitimacy to the extremists who claim that “blasphemy” is a sin which warrants intimidation and murder.
“Blasphemy” laws are not hate speech laws and can never work that way. That’s because “blasphemy” laws always potentially criminalize legitimate free expression about religious beliefs, practices, institutions or representatives; expression which is often morally necessary.
You have the opportunity to send a clear signal to the global family of nations that “blasphemy” laws contravene the human rights to freedom of thought and freedom of expression and should be repealed.
Alexander Aan, Indonesia
Bonya Ahmed, Bangladesh (now United States)
Choity Ahmed, Bangladesh (now Germany)
Rana Ahmed, Saudi Arabia (now Germany)
Waleed Al-Housseini, Palestine (now France)
Mubarak Bala, Nigeria
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, Bangladesh (now Norway)
Kacem El Ghazzali, Morocco (now Switzerland)
Ensaf Haidar, Saudi Arabia (now Canada)
Fauzia Ilyas, Pakistan (now Netherlands)
Gulalai Ismail, Pakistan
Siti Kasim, Malaysia
Azam Khan, Bangladesh
Filippos Loizos, Greece
Asif Mohiuddin, Bangladesh (now Germany)
Taslima Nasrin, Bangladesh (now India)
Alber Saber, Egypt (now abroad)
Mohamed Salih, Sudan (now Uganda)
Prithu Sanyal, Bangladesh (now Germany)
R A Sattar, Pakistan (now New Zealand)
Amed Sherwan, Iraq (now Germany)
Thessalonika Pride, organizing committee, Greece
Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists, Malaysia
The Ex-Muslims of North America also released a video condemning blasphemy (though it wasn’t tied specifically to the Ireland referendum):
A poll taken last year suggested overturning the blasphemy law would win if it got on the ballot, but anyone who’s followed politics over the past few years knows you can’t take anything for granted. That’s why Irish people shouldn’t assume that the recent abortion rights referendum means they’ll be victorious in this case too. After years of campaigning for this opportunity, you can bet atheists in Ireland will do everything they can to take this campaign over the finish line.