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Ireland becomes eighth country to abolish blasphemy laws since 2015

On Saturday, blasphemy ceased to be a criminal offence in the Republic of Ireland. Humanists UK welcomed the new legislation repealing the law finally coming into effect and urged the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland to now do likewise and repeal their countries’ blasphemy laws.

The new law in Ireland follows 65% of the population voting in favour of removing blasphemy from the Irish constitution in a public referendum in October 2018, and subsequent legislation to put that decision into effect. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the ‘very notion of criminalising blasphemy, with the risk of a chilling effect on free expression and public debate, has no place in the Constitution or the laws of a modern Republic.’ He went on to state that continuing to criminalise blasphemy in the Republic of Ireland gave justification to countries such as Pakistan to use similar laws to persecute religious and non-religious minorities, describing it as a ‘very disturbing reality.’

In recognition of the harm that blasphemy laws cause around the world, the UK Government repealed these laws in England and Wales in 2008, and in 2015 Humanists International founded the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, of which Humanists UK is an active member. Since then, the campaign has succeeded in persuading Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, Greece, and now Ireland to all repeal their blasphemy laws, with Spain committed to doing the same. In Scotland, the SNP adopted repeal as its party policy in 2018, in response to pressure from Humanist Society Scotland, but has made no moves towards actually doing so.

In 2019, Northern Ireland Humanists launched a campaign to repeal Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws, encouraging members to contact their Members of the Legislative Assembly asking them to support the campaign. As a result, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, and the People Before Profit Alliance have all committed to repeal, with the UUP still developing policy on the matter, and only the DUP opposed.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘We are delighted that the Republic of Ireland has now abolished its harmful blasphemy laws, following the overwhelming mandate this was given by the Irish public back in 2018. This is a major step forward for human rights, especially the rights to freedom of expression and of religion or belief. We hope that this change will contribute to the growing pressure upon the newly reformed Northern Ireland Assembly to bring forward similar legislative changes in Northern Ireland. Such a reform is vital because the current laws justify countries such as Pakistan in actively using their own,’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at boyd@humanism.org.uk or phone 07918 975795.

Read our news items on the Northern Ireland blasphemy campaign and the parties’ responses.

Read our news item on the global persecution of the non-religious.

Visit our Northern Ireland blasphemy campaign here.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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