Irish government approves referendum to remove blasphemy law from constitution

Nuns prepare to cast their ballots as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalizing its law on abortion, in Dublin, Ireland. | Reuters/Alex Fraser

The government of Ireland has approved plans to hold a referendum to remove the ban on blasphemy from the nation's constitution.

Irish voters will be given the chance to decide whether to keep or drop the nation's blasphemy ban in a referendum that will take place in October.

The constitution, which was written in 1937 after Ireland's independence from the U.K., forbids the "publishing or uttering matters that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion."

Under Irish law, those who are caught blaspheming against Christianity can be fined $30,000.

In a statement on Tuesday, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan noted that blasphemy is punishable by death in some countries in the world today.

"In these countries, such laws are not an anachronism but a very real threat to the lives of those who do not share the views of those enforcing the laws," Flanagan said, according to Euro News.

The minister said that removing the blasphemy ban is an "important step" in upholding Ireland's international reputation.

Flanagan said that he intends to initiate the bill repealing the nation's blasphemy law in the upcoming weeks to make sure that a Referendum Commission will be established.

"By removing this provision from our constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist," said Flanagan, as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press.

According to Euro News, the Irish government introduced a law in 2009 banning the "publishing or uttering [of] matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion."

There have been no blasphemy convictions in Ireland in recent years, but in 2015, an anonymous citizen filed a complaint against British comedian Stephen Fry for his remarks about God on an Irish TV program.

During the interview on RTE's "The Meaning of Life," Fry said that God was an "utter maniac" for creating a world that is "full of injustice and pain."

The investigation on the case was dropped by the police last year, saying they could not find a significant number of people who were offended by the comedian's remarks.

The announcement of the blasphemy referendum came less than a month after Irish citizens voted to repeal the ban on abortion. The government is expecting to implement changes to its abortion laws by the end of the year, according to ABC News.

World Religion News reported that the blasphemy referendum could take place on the same day as the Irish presidential election.