Blasphemy and the Constitution

 

Sir, – I don’t recall ever having been outraged, as required by the law, by any remarks about God or religion, not even by those of Stephen Fry, who was just asking a question that has been asked by many people down the ages. I have, however, been extremely annoyed by the flippant remarks of some of our comedians that seem to be specially intended to gratuitously shock religious sensibilities.

As regards the arguments for retaining the article, the test I have applied is to carry out a little thought experiment. I have asked myself if any of them would persuade me to introduce an article into the Constitution to prohibit blasphemy if it were not already there. So far no argument that I have heard has passed this test. – Yours, etc,

PN CORISH,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Blasphemy is defined in the Defamation Act 2009 which says that a person publishes or utters something blasphemous if they publish or say something that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion and intend to cause that outrage.

If one votes Yes to the removal of this protection, then one is in effect saying that it is now perfectly acceptable to cause grave offence to religious believers.

God knows there is enough hatred in the world.

I will be voting No and would encourage others to do so. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL O’DWYER,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – Blasphemy should be a matter only for the gods and for zealots; preventing incitement to hatred by means of effective prevention of incitement to hatred legislation is the proper concern of the rest of us.

Ireland is not a theocracy. The constitutional prohibition of blasphemy serves no practical and beneficial purpose in a modern democracy. Symbolically speaking, the constitutional prohibition of blasphemy speaks to a different and less tolerant time. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY LAYNG,

Dublin 4.

A chara, – Prof Ronan McCrea in “Vote Yes: Law must reflect fact Ireland does not prosecute for blasphemy” accepts that the blasphemy provision in our Constitution, and the law that flows from it, is a largely toothless affair (Opinion & Analysis, October 24th). He then goes on to argue that it is important that we remove it so that as our society becomes more diverse “newcomers” who may “come from places where criticism of religion is not acceptable” won’t be led astray and think that they may have recourse to some kind of legal remedy should their faith be subject to the same kind of “criticism and even mockery” that the Christian religion is routinely subjected to in this country.

The thinking seems to be that a diverse society is one where all faiths should be disrespected equally.

I am afraid that that doesn’t sound like much of an argument for removing the provision; indeed, it sounds like a very good one for retaining it. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – There are two important reasons we should vote No to the removal of blasphemy from the Constitution this Friday. The first is that Ireland’s blasphemy law promotes respectful discourse when it comes to God and religion. The definition of blasphemy according to the Defamation Act 2009 is the utterance or publication of “grossly abusive or insulting matter in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”.

The repeal of this law, therefore, would give a licence to everyone to say anything, however abusive, insulting, outrageous or vicious, against religious beliefs. Is that not a major step backward as a society? We say the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name.” Voting No is an acknowledgment that God’s name should be hallowed and that religion should be respected. It is a statement that respect is important to us as a society.

In addition, a No vote would send a clear message to the Government to stop tinkering with our Constitution. Plans are currently being made to hold another seven referendums in the next two years for which there is little or no enthusiasm among the public.

The holding of referendums is an important democratic process but in recent times the Government has developed an unhealthy appetite for them.

This week’s vote is an opportunity to halt our politician’s mad dash towards constitutional change and send them back to work on the real issues.

For these reasons, I’ll be voting No. – Yours, etc,

SIMEON BURKE,

Castlebar,

Co Mayo.

Sir, – The problem with the blasphemy referendum is that it really ought to be called “half a referendum”. Why so? Because while it was prompted by the constitutional convention’s recommendation, it deals with only half of it. The convention’s recommendation reads as follows: “The offence of blasphemy should be removed from the Constitution and replaced with an offence of incitement to religious hatred.”

There has been minimal media coverage of the discrepancy and the referendum commission’s information booklet makes no reference whatsoever to the constitutional convention. That makes it hard not to suspect that we are having the wool pulled over our eyes in the hope that we will vote Yes and move on.

We do have the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act. In these strange times, that is a very valuable piece of legislation but it does not rest on any specific clause in the Constitution so it could be amended or repealed if we do not make the insertion recommended by the convention. Our only option is to vote No and send this referendum proposal back for a redraft. – Yours, etc,

KATHLEEN FINGLETON,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.