How a Comedian Pushed Ireland Into a Referendum on Blasphemy

Actor Stephen Fry attends a Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Peter Hall at Westminster Abbey in London

Actor Stephen Fry attends a Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Peter Hall at Westminster Abbey in London, Britain, September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay – RC1B1FDAF990

Source: The Atlantic

BY 

On Friday, Irish voters will participate in their second referendum of the year—this time, to decide whether to remove a prohibition against blasphemy from Ireland’s constitution. Like the decision in May to overturn a ban on abortion and the 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage, this vote stands to shift the country away from its traditionally Catholic heritage.

The referendum, which coincides with Ireland’s presidential election, will ask voters whether they support removing the word blasphemous from Article 40 of their constitution, which states that “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” A recent poll projects that slightly more than half of the public will support scrapping the offense, with a quarter still undecided.

No one has ever actually been prosecuted for blasphemy under the Irish constitution. But the one time an investigation was even attempted in recent years was enough to catapult the issue onto the national stage.

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