Less than a month after Ireland held a remarkable referendum vote that legalized abortion, government officials announced plans this week to hold a referendum on removing the offense of blasphemy from its constitution.
Ireland’s constitution, which was written in 1937 following its independence from the United Kingdom, states that: “The publication of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offense which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”
The Defamation Act of 2009 outlines a fine of just under $30,000 liable for anyone convicted of the offense, defining the act as “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.”
The last known conviction for blasphemy in Ireland was in 1855, according to the Irish news outlet The Journal.
In 2015, police in Ireland investigated a complaint of blasphemy with regard to comments made by the author and broadcaster Stephen Fry on the Irish state broadcaster RTE.
Fry was asked for his thoughts on the existence of God, to which he replied that “the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”
The complaint was made by a member of the public who asked not to be identified.
The investigation was dropped in 2017 after police failed to find a significant number of people offended by his comments.
The announcement of the referendum follows a landmark vote last month to legalize abortion.
Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe where abortion remained illegal.
The government hopes for changes in the law on abortion to be effective by the end of the year.