Ireland to vote in referendum on ‘largely obsolete’ blasphemy law

Oct 25, 2018

By Kara Fox

Irish voters head to the polls Friday where they will be asked to vote on removing the offense of blasphemy from the constitution.

The referendum on blasphemy is the most recent in a series of referendums poised to reflect the nation’s continued trajectory into a secular, diverse society.

The referendum, which takes place on the same day as Ireland’s presidential election, will ask the public whether to remove the word “blasphemous” from Article 40 of the constitution, which reads: “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

Although the nation’s blasphemy ban was enshrined in the constitution in 1937, no one has ever been prosecuted under it.

In 1995, a member of the public lodged a blasphemy case against the Sunday Independent newspaper, which had printed a cartoon of government ministers refusing the Catholic sacrament of communion. Ireland’s Supreme Court eventually threw out the case in 1999, ruling that although blasphemy was technically a crime, there was no law to enforce it.

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29 comments on “Ireland to vote in referendum on ‘largely obsolete’ blasphemy law

  • Disappointing news, thad.

    It seems at odds with European Parliament recommendation to the Council


    it should firmly oppose any attempt to criminalise freedom of speech in relation to religious issues, such as blasphemy laws;

    What if the prophet is indeed a pedophile as we understand it today? It certainly seems so. Then it is a defense of sorts to say culture was different then. Indeed several English monarchs are pedophiles in the same way, Shakespeare’s Romeo too.

    The point then becomes that historical moralities are no longer sufficient for today. That then implies the lives of prophets can never be exemplary. Not pointing out accepted truths about past behaviours is threatening to our current moral stance.

    This would be a fabulous point from which to roll back an historical moral and behavioural absolutism. This is indeed how some modern Muslims seek to begin a reformation of Islam

    An Irish stand against blasphemy is needed even more now. The battle is only just getting started.

    Pakistan needs this.

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  • Its like a country that has woken up.

    GDP per hour has gone through the roof since 2015.

    De Valera, needing a radically different culture for post colonial Ireland, chose the Catholic Church to rapidly help create the needed institutions. The RCC really got its claws in then. The depth of its roots were perhaps more apparent than actual.

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  • thad #2 / phil #3

    The ruling of the ECHR is indeed problematic, but it does not create a European blasphemy law and therefore does not render the result of the Irish blasphemy referendum moot.


    “In strict legal terms all that the Court has done is to rule that an Austrian law making it a crime – in some circumstances – to “disparage” religion, is not incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

    It has not established a Europe-wide blasphemy law. It has not ruled that criticising or insulting Muhammad is a crime. It has not ruled that it is criminal to be rude about the Muslim faith. It has not ruled that Islam is entitled to legal protection denied to other religions.

    Nor is it necessarily the last word in the case. There is still some prospect that it will be heard by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR which could reverse the decision.

    But for all that, it is a dreadful judgment, not least because it has immediately and predictably been hailed by Muslim religious fanatics as support for their demand to hang the the 47 year old Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi for supposedly insulting Muhammad. Worse still, it does so at a time when the Pakistan Supreme Court has reserved judgment and is considering whether to uphold her conviction and death sentence.”

    Worth reading the full blog piece, which goes into much more detail. The author has been a barrister for over 25 years and has written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph and Criminal Law & Justice Weekly.

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  • it has immediately and predictably been hailed by Muslim religious fanatics as support for their demand to hang the the 47 year old Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi

    Precisely so.

    But for me disparaging ideas or historical figures is not to disparage the living unless they so choose.

    I take the, perhaps, extreme stance that hate speech legislation is spurious, mostly un-testable and does as much harm as good.

    I would see it replaced by incitement to actual harm diligently and frequently policed.

    There is much incitement to violence that goes unchallenged, incitement to extra-legal retributions. We need more reliable prosecutions to tame this stuff and hate speech legislation is weasel worded and woolly.

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  • For me, this justifies my thinking that arguing the scriptures is pointless and my now thinking it can be damaging. We should be arguing what is wrong now and not the morality of the past.

    What is still happening now and must be included in the equation as far as I am concerned is the need for parents to marry off their daughters quickly to give them “respectability” before they do something “wrong”. That is the way it felt in my family with my sisters. My youngest sister did do something wrong and met up with a boy cousin. She was beaten and married off as soon as it was legal in the UK. I, on the other hand, was out with friends and girls.

    Better lead by example and call out the wrongs of a today and not fall into the trap of “blasphemy”.

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  • Can’t remember which comedian it was from but…..

    “I am not going to make jokes about Mohammad, because I don’t want to die!”

    Says more about the now?

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  • I see the Irish result is now in:-

    Ireland has voted to remove blasphemy as an offence from the country’s constitution.

    In a referendum, 64.8 per cent of voters were in favour of changing the law, with 35.1 per cent supporting the status quo.

    It states that “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” The vote removes only the word ‘blasphemous’ from that sentence.

    Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar outlined his support for the reform.

    “What we want to have in Ireland is a 21st Century constitution for a 21st Century republic,” he said. “We’ve already reformed our Constitution to allow for things like marriage equality, women’s right to choose.

    Although this referendum has been more low key than the previous votes on same sex marriage and abortion, it does add to a pattern of social change in Ireland, and highlights the growing distance between church and state, in a country over which the Catholic church once held firm control.

    A 2017 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found that 71 countries have laws which criminalise blasphemy.

    According to a 2016 study by the Freedom of Thought report, the offence is punishable by death in six countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

    England and Wales abolished blasphemy as an offence in 2008, but it is still ingrained in law in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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  • Phil #13

    I wonder how much of that two thirds, and the younger generations, can be thankful to their strong willed Irish mothers? It’s just my experience again but every Irish household I worked in, the women ruled. I have to admit I was intimidated by it but loved it just the same.

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  • Excellent news from Ireland.


    Early marriage is detrimental to all parties concerned and to their community as well. A very intractable problem! We’ve had a few cases just lately in the family, one of which has ended badly and we are working to ameliorate.

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  • Laurie #15

    I think, subconsciously, that is why I never wanted to marry into ‘my own’. I have to be careful here because I want to be accurate in how I think of it but it seems mothers just give up and say, ‘you will get used to it. Like I did’, to their daughters and even somewhat to their sons. So many married couples that I thought were happy are now popping up in conversation as women being hit regularly with no way out. My sisters have all stayed married but the next generation have all failed.

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  • Olgun

    Should we move this topic to another thread? I’m so happy to rant about it but I’ll definitely go off topic. I’m headed over to a family thing right now (totally Trumpist crowd) but will check back later. You might be in dreamland by then!

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  • Laurie #17

    For me, it’s the right place for it and my question to Phil (that I know will probably not have an answer) about the strength of women and how they can effect change, probably, quicker than men can in this instance. The Irish result didn’t happen over night. There must have been a buzz for ages?

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  • The Mammy is indeed pre-eminent in the family. Yorkshire and Lancastrian women rule the roost too. Italian, Indian and Jewish mommas are fearsome. Definitely Nigerian.

    Its interesting why cultures should be like this. I fear this old school female power is contingent upon complying with a tacit understanding of a less obvious gender agenda, one that keeps women out of the workplace and tied to the kitchen and bed.

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  • phil #19
    off topic a bit
    but had to thank you for the book(s) recommended recently
    especially democracy in chains
    buchanan’s agenda
    as chilling as dev and the rcc in ireland?

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  • de Valera genuinely wanted to do good, but he was a heartless fucker. Disliked in the UK for his indifference to fascism and surprisingly disliked by later generations of Irish folk at his insistence of Irish distinctiveness rather than a less distinct Anglo-modernity. He was an author of their then current poverty. Indeed this current rebound in Ireland is a final farewell to him.

    This encapsulates it rather well

    Nowhere near as sinister as Buchanan, nor anywhere near as dangerous given the openness of his actions and the numbers infected by each. I take Buchanan to have poisoned an entire continent with his academic cover story for egregious selfishness. He is why even the Democrats too often appear to be merely the Republican Lite Party.

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  • Phil #19

    I agree on your list but as far as Jewish families go, our friends anyway, women cede power in an instant when the male foot is stamped down. Italian mums hold a special place of respect but not power. Indian mums have an equal footing. Nigerian mums need only to give that look and all fall into place. The Christian ones anyway. I could never get my boys to do anything without a fight but then we allowed them to express themselves and argue their point. When they visited our Nigerian friend to play with their children, Abbie soon knocked them into shape but her children still have a confidence I can’t explain. It may be that when the whole family get together (we were priveledged to be invited to these family get togethers. The outsiders) the adults talk to the children as adults. Great atmosphere. You have mentioned how Nigerians have excelled in education. In my experience, in the UK, they were finally realised as a people in their own right by the masses…maybe? The Urush mums were in total control as far as my experience goes anyway. Nothing scientific in it but my observations.

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  • q

    a post on de Valera is temporarily binned for having a link. It’ll be back soon.


    I think you are right to demote Jewish mommas in general, though they have a notable status in Ashkenazi homes… where I spent much of my childhood.

    I think Nigerian families just needed time to get their act together. I don’t believe its some “racial” identity thing, simply a proud family thing. I love it. It may well be shared by other African countries, but this is the one I know most… for family reasons.

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  • In the North African tribal culture, there are two distinct pecking orders in the families. One is the male and the other is the females. All of the usual factors contribute to status or lack of it. For the female pecking order that I had to fit myself into there are some obvious factors that can raise me up. High status husband. My higher education. produced a son right away. From a family with money. Brings skills like sewing, good cooking, medical knowledge or in my case, is an interesting top of conversation for women outside the family at weddings or other events. Young women who show good leadership skills and good judgement are valued by the others. Even if a woman has no skills or money or education, the one thing that can propel her higher in status is to have good networking skills and to develop valuable alliances. A close alliance with the matriarch and her grown daughters is the smartest move she can make.

    I shouldn’t give away my social maneuvering tactics but when I walk into a wedding in that part of the world or with that crowd here, I take a minute to scope out the all female crowd, figure out who is the matriarch and make my way over to her. If in Algeria the women in the wedding party will actually take me by the arm and march me right over to her because it’s obvious that they have a foreigner in their midst. I always have a little gift, usually a beautiful little bar of homemade perfumed soap, and present it with all the usual over the top complements declared loudly for all to hear (in Arabic). This is so effective that it causes a commotion in the female side of the wedding. They are mostly segregated there. Of course, my own Algerian mother-in-law and senior members of the female pecking order use this situation to maximum effect exclaiming over where I’m from, and every other startling fact about me that they can produce. This is a huge deal for the family. To attract attention in any way makes them special and outstanding. Our women use that distinction to negotiate for brides and arrange for the best husbands for their young women. I always stand by my mother-in-law in every family matter, and I mean literally next to her because there have been times that I needed her support even when she knew I was wrong. It is devastating for any young woman to be disciplined by the top matriarch. She will work very hard to regain her status.

    All women in the status lineup know that top matriarchs can speak freely with the top patriarch and their sons. If you need help or need a favor a woman lower down on the ladder must appeal to the top matriarch and or her grown daughters. I’ve rarely seen grown sons deny their mother anything. If she asks for something impossible they break it to her gently that it’s impossible. Aside from her own husband or father or other top alpha males, the top matriarch rules her own domain. They have a lot of power in that system.

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  • You are an anthropologist of some distinction, Laurie. I would surely make the worst anthropologist ever. Navigating that lot, realtime! People are complicated! Spotting the signs of status, what constitutes a faux pas…. where am I in all this?

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  • phil #21

    He is why even the Democrats too often appear to be merely the
    Republican Lite Party.

    as your other book rec so clearly points out
    saving capitalism by reich

    to be fair to the cold long fellow dev
    he welcomed erwin schrodinger
    when even the anglos couldn’t stomach his freelove life
    made dublin the centre of physics for a while

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