Blasphemy and the Constitution
Sir, – I’m voting Yes in next Friday’s referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from our Constitution even though, as a Christian, I am appalled at the casual blasphemy I see and hear every day as the name of my God and Saviour is used as an expletive. So why am I voting Yes?
Blasphemy laws are detrimental to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We should remember that Jesus was executed after being accused of blasphemy, as was Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
In my work as director of Church in Chains (an Irish charity that advocates for persecuted Christians worldwide), I am acutely aware that the existence of Ireland’s blasphemy law is used by other countries that have draconian blasphemy laws as justification for their laws. The best-known example of this is Pakistan where Asia Bibi, a Christian farm worker accused of blasphemy, has languished in prison for over nine years and is currently awaiting the decision of Pakistan’s supreme court on her appeal against the death sentence.
Ireland’s blasphemy law is irrelevant. No one has been convicted of blasphemy for over 300 years and the wording of the current law (from 2009) was deliberately designed to make a prosecution almost impossible. Why keep it in the constitution? The God who made heaven and earth doesn’t need a blasphemy law to protect Him. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We are now firmly in the era of distraction politics. A referendum on blasphemy? Why now? – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Rev Patrick G Burke (October 19th) looks to downplay Ivana Bacik’s claim that the blasphemy law is “dangerous” (“Blasphemy referendum offers chance to remove dangerous law”, Opinion & Analysis, October 16th). He mentions that only one case has come before the courts, “which was essentially laughed out of court”.
Rev Burke’s example exposes that the law can indeed be used against people. Who knows what the future holds? With the rise of extremist parties across Europe, who knows what future government may attempt to take advantage of this archaic and ridiculous law should they see fit. A prohibition on blasphemy has no place in a modern constitution. I will be voting to remove it.
Sir, – There are good reasons to remove the blasphemy clause from the Constitution, but the fact of the matter is that the Convention on the Constitution recommended back in 2013 that any such removal should be replaced with a clause which makes it an offence to incite religious hatred.
Due to the absence of any such replacement clause on next week’s ballot paper, if a Yes vote carries, the possibility will exist for a future legislature to remove the protections offered by the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. This Act guards against individuals being subjected to hate on the grounds of their religion or ethnicity. This is an especially pressing concern when we consider the rise of the far-right in other EU countries, and our own increasingly diverse population.
Voting to remove blasphemy might seem like a step towards making Ireland a more respectful and tolerant society, but the absence of a replacement clause to make it an offence to incite religious hatred means that there is a contradiction at the heart of this assumption.
We should tread carefully. I’ll be voting No. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Blasphemy occurs day in and day out and nothing happens. But what happens if we vote Yes to scrap all prohibition? Secularists and atheists will start to have a field day. They will immediately move on to scrap the preamble to the Constitution, which sets the whole context in which it was framed and through which alone it can be properly understood. So the apparently innocuous scrapping of the one word “blasphemous” will probably lead to the scrapping of the whole Constitution, at least as we know it. From there on in our rights will be worked and reworked for us solely by the democratic process. For example, no longer would – or could – our Constitution recognise “the inalienable and imprescriptible rights (of the family), antecedent and superior to all positive law”.
Democracy is a fragile plant and no match for modern methods of propaganda backed by big money. Please vote No. – Yours, etc,