Huge surge in submissions about Church and State to the Irish Constitutional Convention

by Michael Nugent on November 6, 2013

Please continue to make submissions about Secularism / Separation of Church and State to the Constitutional Convention.

There has been a huge surge in Church and State submissions in recent weeks. However, the Convention members seemed to show little interest in adding it to the final item on their agenda when they met last weekend.

When we started asking for submissions two weeks ago, there were about 25 Church and State submissions, Now there are about 110. Church and State is now closing in on the top two topics, Environment and ESC Rights, with about 140 each. But these were at about 130 each two weeks ago.

And the Convention secretariat told us on Saturday that it was noticeable that the Church and State submissions were individually written and expressing nuanced opinions, rather than being merely petition-style submissions to which people had simply added their names.

The Convention now seems likely to discuss only one or maybe two items under the final item on its agenda. It or they will be selected from this list:

Environment
ESC Rights
Church and State
Political and Institutional Reform
Family and Morality
Bill of Rights

Feedback from the Convention’s discussions on Sunday suggested support for ESC Rights, and possibly for Environment or Political Reform, but there was almost no feedback supporting the inclusion of Church and State.

To be honest, we have a dilemma at the moment. The Convention voted to replace the blasphemy clause on Saturday, but 38% of them wanted to keep the 1937 blasphemy reference, and 49% wanted a law against blasphemy on the statute books.

So it may be a double-edged sword in that, if we do get Church and State onto the agenda, this particular group of people might not recommend a very positive outcome after their discussions, if they do end up discussing it.

However, on principle, we should still try to demonstrate that people want to see Constitutional Separation of Church and State.

The decision as to what they discuss won’t be made simply by counting the number of submissions, but it will help to influence the decision, so it is really important that we continue to get as many submissions as we can onto their website.

If you have already made a submission, thank you. If you haven’t already made a submission, please do so today. Either way, please ask others to do so also.

Please spend a few minutes to do the following three things:

1. Today, make your own personal submission to the Convention

This is the easiest way for you to influence the process. If you do this, you can help today to bring Separation of Church and State in Ireland a little bit closer.

Just write a few paragraphs (as long or as short as you like) explaining why you personally believe that we need Separation of Church and State in Ireland, and why you want the Constitution changed to reflect that.

Then go to the Constitutional Convention website and upload your submission.

Select the category “Other” from the drop-down menu, fill in your details and a short summary of the changes you want. You can first save your comments in word text or pdf file, and then attach the file using the “attach document” box on the website.

2. Today, ask your friends to make their own personal submissions

Also, please ask other friends or colleagues who support the need for Separation of Church and State to go to the website and make their own personal submissions.

This is a rare opportunity for us to work together to help to bring about constitutional change on this issue, and we need to convince the Convention members that a lot of people want them to select this as one of the final items on their agenda.

Please pass on the link to this page to any of your friends who support the need for Separation of Church and State, and please discuss the issue with friends in real life and on any relevant online forums.

3. Attend the nearest of the Convention’s Regional Public Meetings

Please make plans today to do this. It is the next most important thing that you can do to help influence the Convention to include Separation of Church and State onto its agenda.

The Convention is holding regional public meetings to ask people what items they want to see added to the agenda. There will be members of the Convention at each public meeting.

The Cork and Galway public meetings have already taken place. Here is the schedule of the rest of the public meetings. They each start at 7pm.

Waterford – 7th of November – Waterford City Hall
Dublin – 11th of November – Dublin City University (DCU)
Dublin – 13th of November – Royal Irish Academy (RIA)
Sligo – 19th of November – Sligo Borough Council
Athlone – 20th of November – Radisson SAS
Monaghan – 25th of November – Monaghan Education Campus

Atheist Ireland’s Regional Officer, Kevin Sheehan will be attending all of these meetings.  He will be there at 6.30 pm if you would like to meet him beforehand to discuss the meeting. Also, you can email Kevin at info at atheist dot ie.

Summary of the Atheist Ireland submission

Here is the executive summary of Atheist Ireland’s submission to the Convention.

Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for atheism, reason and ethical secularism. We are the only advocacy group in Ireland that promotes the political cause of Separation of Church and State as a primary aim. We are participants in the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies. We participate in events organised by international bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. We work with other advocacy groups who are seeking to bring about an ethical society.

One of the most striking features of the Irish Constitution is its overt theistic, religious, Christian and Roman Catholic character. This is a result of the political personnel and culture of the Ireland of the 1930s, and it is entirely inappropriate for the Ireland of the 21st century. If the Convention is to make serious substantive proposals for change, it must address this issue and the problems that it has caused over the decades. We ask you to add secularisation and Separation of Church and State as one of the additional items on your agenda.

Atheist Ireland wants a secular Irish Constitution, which respects equally the right of every citizen to our religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs, with the State remaining neutral on these beliefs. Religious States promote religion, atheist States promote atheism, and secular States promote neither, but respect equally the right of each citizen to hold and manifest their personal beliefs. In a pluralist democratic society such as Ireland, a secular Constitution is the only way to protect equally the rights of religious and nonreligious people.

We recommend the following three categories of amendments:

(a) Remove specific references to God, such as all authority coming from the Holy Trinity and our obligations to our divine Lord Jesus Christ (Preamble); powers of government deriving under God from the people (6); blasphemy being an offence (40); the homage of public worship being due to Almighty God and the state holding his name in reverence (44); and the glory of God (Closing Line).

(b) Replace all religious oaths for public officeholders with a single neutral declaration that does not refer to either the religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs of the person. As well as President (12), Council of State (31) and Judges (34), please note that there is also in practice a religious oath for Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Chair of the Dail and Seanad, and Attorney General, as these officeholders are obliged to be members of the Council of State and are thus obliged to swear the oath for that office.

(c) Amend the Articles on Fundamental Rights to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers, particularly where the Articles are unduly influenced by Roman Catholic teachings. This includes the Articles on equality (40), the family (41), education (42) and religion (44). Frame Articles generally so that they are based on human rights and duties and not on religious beliefs.

Remember the three ways you can influence the process:

1. Today, make your own personal submission to the Convention

2. Today, ask your friends to make their own personal submissions

3. Attend the nearest of the Convention’s regional public meetings

Please take a few minutes today to help to make this happen. In particular, if you live near Waterford, please attend the Waterford public meeting this Thursday evening.

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