Irish Constitutional Convention Recommends Referendum on Changing Blasphemy Ban to “Incitement to Religious Hatred” Ban

The Irish Constitution expressly prohibits blasphemy; the Irish Constitutional Convention has just voted to recommend a referendum on replacing this provision with a ban on “incitement to religious hatred,” though delegates were split on whether there should be a statutory blasphemy ban as well:

Voting yesterday on whether the offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution, 38 per cent said yes, 61 per cent no and 1 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

In a follow-up question, 38 per cent said the offence should be removed from the Constitution, 53 per cent said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred and 9 per cent had no opinion. Asked whether there should be a legislative provision for the offence of blasphemy, 49 per cent of members said yes, 50 per cent said no and 1 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

According to the Irish Times,

Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland said the offence should be retained, arguing that freedom of expression should not be “unrestrained” and must be used responsibly. The Order of the Knights of St Columbanus argued in a written submission that the constitutional prohibition on blasphemy served to safeguard the right of believers “not to suffer unwarranted offence arising from the gratuitous impugning of sacred matter”.

On the other hand, secularist groups, civil liberties groups, and “[t]he umbrella group representing almost all Christian churches in Ireland” urged repeal of the ban. As readers of the blog might gather, I think both a ban on blasphemy and a ban on “incitement to religious hatred” are improper. Religious belief systems, like other belief systems, should be open to criticism and mockery — and, indeed to arguments that the beliefs are so evil that they merit hostility and hatred — and of course open to praise and defense as well. That’s true whether the belief systems are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Satanism, Scientology, atheism, Marxism, Rawlsianism, Objectivism, or anything else.

For some more specific criticisms of the current Irish blasphemy law — which I think relates to the problems with creating blasphemy laws and “incitement to religious hatred” laws more broadly — see this post.