The people of Ireland voted Friday on whether to remove a clause from their constitution which states: “blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.
Exit polls suggest an overwhelming victory for “Yes”, with around 70% of votes cast in favour of removing the ‘blasphemy’ provision.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which runs the global End Blasphemy Laws campaign, supported the campaign by Atheist Ireland to repeal this clause.
In August 2018, the Chief Executive of IHEU, Gary McLelland, speaking at a humanist conference in Carlingford, Ireland, urged the Irish people to repeal their blasphemy law as a sign of moral leadership to the rest of the world.
In September 2018, IHEU helped to coordinate an open letter signed by over 20 humanist activists around the world who had suffered in various ways from ‘blasphemy’ accusations made against them.
The referendum took place jointly with the Irish presidential elections on Friday 26 October. The final results are due to be announced Sunday 28 October.
Commenting on the news, IHEU Chief Executive Gary McLelland, said:
“This is fantastic news. Ireland is on a journey, becoming a modern, progressive and liberal country. I want to congratulate my colleagues in Ireland for all their hard work.
“This is not just good news for Ireland, nor is it just good news for Europe. This news will echo around the world.
“It will bring hope and encouragement to fellow humanists who face violence and intimidation on a daily basis. The only people who have anything to fear from freedom of expression after ‘blasphemy’ laws, are those who know that their religious authoritarianism will be open to public scrutiny and debate.”
Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland said:
“Atheist Ireland has consistently raised this issue with the Irish Government and Department of Justice, as well as at the United Nations, OSCE and the Council of Europe.
“We have had three tours of public meetings around Ireland about the need to repeal the blasphemy law, in 2009, in 2012, and during this year’s campaign.
“We would like to thank Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University, who added historical and academic expertise to our campaign, and our colleagues in the IHEU.
“We would like to thank the media outlets who have kept this story to the forefront, both in Ireland and internationally where Henry McDonald of the Guardian was particularly vigilant.”
The CEO of the Humanist Association of Ireland, Noeleen Hartigan, commented:
“Today’s referendum results represent another significant milestone for Ireland in becoming a modern, secular and more compassionate society.
“However, there are still several significant hurdles to be overcome before people of no faith can fully participate in Irish society without discrimination.
“On Monday morning thousands of children from non-religious families will attend Roman Catholic schools because their parents, as taxpayers, have no other option. While the lifting of the baptismal barrier is welcome, real reform in terms of delivering non-denominational education, as opposed to simply not excluding children based on faith, needs to follow.
“On Tuesday our elected parliamentarians will say Christian prayers in the Dail and Seanad before they begin their working day on our behalf. Yet 10% of the electorate identify themselves as being of no faith.
“On November 11th, our President, who is elected by all people, not just those of faith, will swear a constitutionally prescribed declaration to God during the inauguration (Article 12.8). His Council of State must make the same declaration, (Article 31.4) as do every single judge appointed in the country (Article 34.6).
“Everyday our laws are defined, and our lawmakers informed by a Constitution that pledges the country, above all else, not to its people, but to ‘Almighty God’.
“Ireland has a unique, rich and increasingly diverse culture, some of this culture is informed by the dominant faiths of the past. But our past should not prescribe our future, and the laws and practices which give one faith system dominance over people’s lives must be dismantled.”