Tomorrow, Ireland will hit the polling stations for the second time this year to potentially make a second change to the constitution. This time, on the issue of blasphemy.
Although blasphemy was written into the constitution during the creation of the State, it was not defined until 2009 in a bid to make it near impossible to prosecute an individual for committing blasphemous acts.
The introduction of the Blasphemy Act 2009 was seen as a very Irish solution and essentially brushed the issue under the carpet at a time when the main focus was the Lisbon Treaty.
There have been no publicised cases of blasphemy brought before Irish courts.
The most well-known blasphemy investigation was in 2017 when a member of the public reported Stephen Fry for his ‘blasphemous’ comments on RTE’s ‘The Meaning Of Life’ with Gay Byrne.
Some of the comments Fry made on the programme included: “the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.
“We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that?”
The investigation was dropped after gardaí failed to find a “substantial number of outraged people”.
Fry said was “enchanted” by the complaint and described the wording of our blasphemy legislation as a “wonderfully Irish solution”.
It seems the Stephen Fry situation embarrassed the Irish justice system and they now want to abolish the term.
If the referendum is passed, the Oireachtas will be able to change the law so that blasphemy is no longer a criminal offence.
Significance for LGBT+ Community
The protection of religious organisations in our constitution has historically given the Church power and influence in society but this no longer reflects the values of Ireland in 2018.
While ‘hate speech’ against religion is protected at the highest possible level, we are yet to see any progress on the introduction of hate crime legislation that would ensure that the use of homophobic or transphobic language would be an offence.
By voting yes, we would at least level the playing field but in terms of the significance of this for the Irish LGBT+ community, there is none.
Indirectly, it could have a deeper cultural impact in terms of the separation of church and state and how we are perceived globally.
Ivana Bacik has said that then minister Dermot Ahern made a grave error by introducing the Blasphemy Act in 2009.
Did you spot the @RefCom_ie ad during the #PKDebate ad break? It's easy to forget that there is a referendum taking place next week too! We support the removal of the outdated, unnecessary and potentially dangerous offence of Blasphemy from our Constitution. #BlasphemyRef pic.twitter.com/3B666zblLz
— The Labour Party (@labour) October 17, 2018
While criminal prosecutions haven’t been pursued in Ireland the law has been used as a model by other less democratic states.
“Pakistan and other repressive states pointed to our law as an example of a law they wished to pursue.
“It is being used as a model by these regimes and this is not what Ireland should aspire to,” said Bacik.
For more information on Friday’s referendum, visit refcom.ie
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