Labour is calling for a Yes vote on October 26th to remove the criminal offence of Blasphemy from the Constitution.
If you are still making up your mind, or are working to convey to friends and family why their Yes vote matters, here are six reasons to vote Yes on the 26th.
It is outdated
The continued presence of the blasphemy offence in our Constitution is not tenable in a modern, democratic state. There is no place in modern law for this sort of offence, in either our Constitution or in statute. Its retention sends out an unfortunate and outdated signal about the kind of society we are.
The Constitution is no place for a crime
As a criminal lawyer, I know that the Constitution is NOT an appropriate place for us to define criminal offences. The Constitution is not a criminal code, nor should it be. Instead, like any constitution, it represents a broad statement about the fundamental aspirations and principles of governance for our State.
It undermines freedom of speech
Blasphemy offences represent an undue encroachment on the right of free speech; a key reason why they no longer exist in most European countries. In 1991, the Law Reform Commission recommended removal of the offence, stating ‘there is no place for the offence of blasphemous libel in a society which respects freedom of speech’.
Removal is widely recommended
Removal of the blasphemy offence has been recommended for a long time and by a range of experts and groups. The Law Reform Commission recommended removal in 1991. The expert Constitution Review Group made the same recommendation in 1996. In 2013, the Constitutional Convention again considered in great detail, with expert opinion and advice, the existence of the offence, and recommended by a strong majority that it be removed from the Constitution.
Because we introduced a new statutory version of blasphemy into our law relatively recently (in section 36 of the 2009 Defamation Act), it has had an international impact and has been referred to by states outside Europe in justifying retention of blasphemy laws there. It has also been used as a stick with which to beat us when we have been critical of regimes that have, for example, discriminated against religious minorities, including Christian minorities that are repressed in some countries.
We know from the history of blasphemy offences that they have typically been used by individual religions or members of one religion against those of other faiths, often those of minority religions in particular countries. Blasphemy offences tend to be used not against non-religious people but rather to pursue ideological battles between different religious belief systems.