Repeal of Blasphemy clause another ‘significant step in Ireland becoming a modern, secular and more compassionate society’

Many more hurdles to overcome before the rights of people of no faith are fully realized in Ireland

“Today’s referendum results represent another significant milestone for Ireland in becoming a modern, secular and more compassionate society.” said Noeleen Hartigan, CEO of the HUmanist Association of Ireland.

“However, there are still several significant hurdles to be overcome before people of no faith can fully participate in Irish society without discrimination.

On Monday morning thousands of children from non-religious families will attend Roman Catholic schools because their parents, as taxpayers, have no other option. While the lifting of the baptismal barrier is welcome, real reform in terms of delivering non-denominal education, as opposed to simply not excluding children based on faith, needs to follow.

On Tuesday our elected parliamentarians will say Christian prayers in the Dail and Seanad before they begin their working day on our behalf. Yet 10% of the adult population identify themselves as being of no faith.

On November 11th, our President, who is elected by all people, not just those of faith, will swear a constitutionally prescribed declaration  to  God during the inauguration (Article 12.8). His Council of State must make the same declaration, (Article 31.4) as do every single judge appointed in the country (Article 34.6).

Everyday our laws are defined, and our lawmakers informed by a Constitution that pledges the country, above all else, not to it’s people, but to ‘Almighty God’.

Ireland has a unique, rich and increasingly diverse culture, some of this culture is informed by the dominant faiths of the past. But our past should not prescribe our future, and the laws and practices which give one faith system dominance over people’s lives must be dismantled.’


For further information contact:

Noeleen Hartigan, CEO HAI 087 61 67 689

Steve Rawson, Chairperson HAI 087 235 7551



The Humanist Association of Ireland  is a community of people who believe in humanist principles and aspire to a fair,balanced, ethical and responsible secular society. The HAI campaigns for the equal treatment of people of no religion by the State and provides a forum for people to meet, share experiences and develop their humanist ideals in an informal, friendly, and inclusive environment.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union welcome the repeal of Blasphemy in Irish Constitution (hyperlink to IHEU statement)

The European Humanist Federation welcome the repeal of Blasphemy in Irish Constitution (hyperlink to IHEU statement)

Article 12.8 Bunreacht na hEireann

The President shall enter upon his office by taking and subscribing publicly, in the presence of members of both houses of the Oireachtas, of Judges of the Supreme Court, of the Court of Appeal and of the High Curt, and other public personages, the following declaration:

In the presence of Almighty God I , do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of ireland. May God direct and sustain me.”

The Power of Speech


Blasphemy is prohibited in Ireland by Article 40 of the 1937 Constitution. Originally intended to apply only to Christianity, in 1999 this was deemed incompatible with the Constitution’s guarantee of religious equality. Sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009 were therefore introduced to redefine the offence of blasphemy as punishable against any religion. The crime of blasphemy was last prosecuted in 1855, and today it is punishable by a fine of up to €25,000. Ireland is the only Western country to introduce a blasphemy law in the 21st Century.

How does this affect me?

The law takes away each and every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression by taking away the right to express beliefs for fear of uttering what can be perceived as an offence, therefore breaking the law. This law clearly discriminates against citizens of no religion who, as we know from the most recent census, represent a substantial section of the population.

What’s happening now?

On 26 October 2018, on the same day as the Presidential Election, a referendum will be held on removing the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution. Currently, the Constitution states that:

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with the law”. If passed, the word ‘blasphemous’ will be removed under the 37th Amendment of the Constitution Bill, which will then allow for a repeal of Sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009.


A recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms on countries with blasphemy laws found that out of 71 countries, Ireland has the least restrictive laws. On the other end of the list were Iran and Pakistan, countries that impose the death penalty for blasphemy. Surely it is time to take ourselves out of reports that place our laws on a scale with such violations of human rights? An author of the report recommended: “Ireland should repeal its blasphemy law to reaffirm that debating ideas, or even criticising religions, is not equivalent to inciting to hatred”, and to show solidarity with those who continue to be “persecuted in the name of blasphemy”.


What is the Humanist Association of Ireland doing?

Blasphemy Image


The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) is part of the World Humanist Congress, which, in 2014, reiterated its position on freedom of thought and expression, “The Oxford Declaration”. This declaration largely conforms to the United Nations Principles of Human Rights by stating that “All laws that criminalise language on grounds of ‘blasphemy’ or of offence to beliefs and values impede human freedom and should be abolished”.

The HAI are a national partner of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws which represents organisations campaigning in countries that have laws against blasphemy or similar restrictions.

The HAI is committed to keeping its members and the public up to date, engaged and educated on the progress surrounding the blasphemy law in Ireland.