Ireland abolishes the crime of blasphemy

Ireland voted 65% in favor of repealing the blasphemy offense of the Constitution, according to the final results of Friday’s referendum released Saturday night.

After the Yes to the legalization of abortion in May and that of same-sex marriage in 2015, this referendum marks once again the distancing of the country from its strong Catholic tradition even if this crime, considered obsolete, does not has never been applied in recent history.

On Saturday evening, only a handful of people went to the announcement of the results of the referendum for which the participation stood at 44%. This is in stark contrast to the celebrations in May that celebrated the Yes victory in the abortion referendum, where the turnout was 64%.

“I always thought there was no room for such a provision in our Constitution,” said Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. “Ireland is justifiably proud of its reputation as a modern and liberal society.”

Blasphemy was defined in the 2009 Irish Law of Defamation as any statement or action “rude or offensive to the sacred elements of a religion”, thus causing “indignation of the faithful”.

Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution stipulated its prohibition and made it liable to a fine of 25,000 euros. The last blasphemy lawsuits date back to 1855, before the country’s independence, against a priest who claimed to have accidentally burned a Bible and finally acquitted himself.

Blasphemy was back in the news in 2015 when British actor and director Stephen Fry called God “stupid” for creating a world full of “injustices” on Irish television. An investigation had been opened but it had not resulted in any prosecution.

The referendum on blasphemy was held on the same day as the election of the new Irish president, whose seven-year term is essentially honorary. Current President Michael D. Higgins, 77, in place since 2011, was reelected without difficulty with 56% of the vote, according to the final results.

“I will be a president for all – for those who voted for me and for those who did not,” said Higgins. Among the five other candidates in the running, the businessman Peter Casey, who had drawn comparisons with US President Donald Trump in the media with controversial comments, won 23% of the vote.

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