The Irish government said it will not hold a national referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the country’s constitution.
Currently, the crime of blasphemy is punishable by a fine of up to $28,900 for publishing or uttering material “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.”
In the wake of the attacks on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Irish government has been under increasing pressure to propose a vote to repeal the blasphemy law. However, Prime Minister Enda Kenny told parliament on January 20 that his government has no plan to hold such a vote before a general election in the spring of 2016.
The offence of blasphemy was first introduced in Ireland in 1937. However, no one has ever been prosecuted, and in 1999 the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional provision was incompatible with another article guaranteeing religious equality.
Legislation in 2009 addressed the constitutional conflict and restored the offense of blasphemy, specifying that for a crime to be committed it was necessary that the intent and result are “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.”
A defence is permitted for work of “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value.”
The Irish Council of Churches, which represents all mainline Christian traditions in Ireland, including the Catholic Church, has expressed the view that the “current reference to blasphemy in the Constitution of Ireland is largely obsolete and may give rise to concern because of the way such measures have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world.”
The Council of Churches said it is “vital to ensure that the rights of individuals and communities to practice and live out their faith openly are protected by law.”
However, it said “these guarantees may be better achieved through established or new constitutional and legislative provisions for the protection for freedom of religion, belief and expression, as well as legislation against discrimination and hate crimes.”
The Constitutional Convention, a 100-member body — one-third elected legislators and two-thirds citizens — has recommended that blasphemy be replaced by a new general ban on incitement to religious hatred.