It is currently a criminal offence to publish or say something that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to “matters held sacred” by any religion. Anything that could cause outrage amongst a substantial number of the followers of that religion, and with the intention to cause outrage.
If the majority of the public in Ireland votes “yes” on Friday, the word will be removed from the constitution. If the majority votes “no”, the constitution will remain unchanged and blasphemy will remain a criminal offence.
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, who backs a “yes” vote, says the law is outdated and represents an Ireland of the past. “I think it’s very important that we now remove the offence of blasphemy, it’s an outdated offence, it belongs to a different era – when church and state were seen as the same,” she said.
“It’s unnecessary, and we’ve seen blasphemy offences used to encroach on free speech rights in other countries.”
But Seamus Kennedy, 72, from Kildare, says he feels the blasphemy referendum is a step too far for Ireland. “Blasphemy is solely the offence of uttering, inwardly or outwardly, words of hatred, defiance or speaking ill of God. This is the correct explanation of the word and any society who wants this removed has serious ulterior motives,” he said.
“I would say it’s part of the lowering of the moral bar in Ireland at this time. This is the final straw and I believe it will be a bridge too far.
‘A Bridge Too Far’
A number of religious institutions have said they would be encouraging a “yes” vote, including the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, which said the legislation was “obsolete”.
Reverend Trevor Gribben, the general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said: “Like other denominations who have stated their position publicly, we also acknowledge that the current reference to blasphemy in the constitution 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.”
Every major political party including Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein has publicly thrown its support behind the Yes campaign.
The referendum will take place on Friday October 26. A result is expected by Saturday evening, or by early Sunday at the latest.