Voters in Ireland will soon decide whether a blasphemy ban will remain in the Irish Constitution, an issue that has created massive controversy in the country.
The Constitution currently refers to the “offence of blasphemy,” and it was defined by statute in Ireland’s Defamation Act of 2009. According to the recent law, blasphemy consists of publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion.” It is punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros (about $34,000).
Dermot Ahern, the Irish minister for justice, equality and law reform, said on March 17 that he will propose a referendum to remove the blasphemy ban from the Constitution. A vote is likely to come at the same time as a referendum on children’s rights.
Civil rights activists have hailed the decision, but some religious activists have denounced the referendum.
“The crime of blasphemy is a cornerstone in the Christian legal system, which is precisely why some wish for its removal,” said Johanna Higgins, a barrister and member of the Association of Catholic Lawyers of Ireland.