Ireland Challenges Anti-Blasphemy Laws


The movement in Ireland to challenge Irish anti-blasphemy laws via referendum is gaining momentum after last week’s Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but had already been underway for some time.

The most recent Irish anti-blasphemy law dates to only 2009, and has been under attack from atheists and secular activists who say the law is archaic and incompatible with modern Ireland.

Last September, Michael Nugent, one of the founders of Atheist Ireland, said a national vote to remove blasphemy from the Irish constitution was “urgent and overdue.”

The 2009 law defines 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.” The law was considered a genuine advance when enacted, because the 1936 Irish constitution only protected beliefs of Christians and the new law extended it to all religions.

After the Paris attacks, however, there has been renewed enthusiasm for repealing the law. An online survey conducted in response to the Paris attacks found 64% in favor of scrapping the laws as quickly as possible.

Junior Minister Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin announced last October that a referendum to remove the offence from the Constitution would go ahead, and last week he said it was his expectation that the vote would be held later this year.

Ireland is one of a handful of European nations that still has a blasphemy law on the books, though in reality the last known case of blasphemy prosecuted in Ireland was in 1855.

Ireland is not the only country under fire for its blasphemy laws. Israeli cartoonist Ido Amin wrote in an opinion article for Haaretz: “In Israel, Charlie Hebdo would not have even have had the right to exist.”

“In France, freedom of speech is considered a universal right,” he said, “while in Israel such a weekly would not be able to exist because of the Israeli law which bans offending religious sensibilities.”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.