Ireland (MNN) — Thanks to Ireland, there is one less country in the world with a blasphemy law on the books. In a referendum on October 26, the Irish people voted overwhelmingly to remove the outdated blasphemy legislation from their constitution.
Ireland’s article on blasphemy formerly stated, “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” The referendum vote removes “blasphemous” from that sentence.
Dr. David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA, says, “These are laws that were put in place ages ago in Ireland to protect the religious sensibilities of the folks there. Unfortunately, what has happened with blasphemy laws is that in many countries around the world, it is misused as a vigilante form of justice. Anybody can bring an attack [or] an accusation on somebody based on blasphemy laws.”
Nobody has been prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland in over 150 years. However, Irish police investigated comedian Stephen Fry’s comments last year calling God “capricious, mean-minded and stupid.” The investigation was dropped after police concluded not enough people had been outraged.
“I think what Ireland has done is they have noticed this law that has been on their books [and] they wanted to step forward and set an example,” reflects Curry. “They haven’t been imposing any blasphemy in Ireland for some time, but they wanted to set an example for Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, and others to drop their blasphemy laws. It’s an injustice. It’s a very serious issue around the world and they’re setting a good example.”
According to the United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), there are 68 other countries that still have blasphemy legislation. In some countries like Pakistan and Iran, the penalty for blasphemy may include a death sentence.
There are other European countries as well that have blasphemy laws in place or are considering it. Spain recently charged a man with blasphemy for insulting God and the Virgin Mary, and some Muslim leaders have demanded that European newspapers be prosecuted for insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.
Once a country has a blasphemy law on the books, how hard is it to get rid of?
Curry says, “Depending on how active and virulent the opposition to repealing these laws are, it can be very difficult. In Pakistan, in Sudan, [or] in Iran where you have extremist elements within Islam who are using this as a way of lashing out against anybody who might offend their sensibilities about their faith, it’s very difficult because of the mob violence that can break out.”
We have seen mob violence related to blasphemy laws in Asia Bibi’s recent case in Pakistan. The Christian woman was on death row for eight years on blasphemy charges until they were recently thrown out.
The mass riots and protests since Bibi’s acquittal have gridlocked major Pakistani cities and held the nation hostage to extremist demands.
With more refugees coming to Europe from a Muslim context and the pressure to establish Sharia courts, blasphemy accusations are an issue several Western countries are finding themselves having to take a stand on.
“It’s one of the key issues around the world that people use to persecute Christians and other religious minorities, and I think it’s one that we have to continually let our voice be heard because it’s such a fundamental right.… You see blasphemy laws, anti-conversion laws, but it’s actually mind-control or behavior modification on the other side of it. I think it’s probably the most serious political issue we have in front of us; certainly, when we talk about religious liberty for Christians.”
While we celebrate Ireland’s decision to remove their blasphemy law, minority Christians are still vulnerable to blasphemy accusations in several other nations.
For now, Curry advises, “We need to pray for Asia Bibi who has just been released, for her safety. She is definitely not safe. We have called on the Pakistan government to have military support in the streets, to protect Christian churches in areas they have been threatened. Her life is in danger. We would like to see her get out to a safe haven somewhere in the international community.”
“[Pray for] others in Pakistan and elsewhere who are living under this blasphemy law and the threat of it.”
Header photo depicting the gates of the government building in Dublin, Ireland, courtesy of Gian Luca Ponti via Flickr under Creative Commons: https://goo.gl/cUCBcK