First, fix the foundation: separate Church and State

by Michael Nugent on November 19, 2013

Atheist Ireland has already made the following submission to the Constitutional Convention: A Secular Constitution for a Pluralist People

Today we have sent this supplementary submission:

We have already made a submission to you on the need for a Secular Constitution with Separation of Church and State, including specific changes needed to make this happen.

In this two-page supplementary submission, we give reasons why you should select Church and State as a final item on your agenda, ahead of the other five topics that you are considering.

We assume that you will recommend that either your mandate should be extended, or else a new Constitutional Convention should be established, to fully consider a more comprehensive revision of the Constitution.

If that is to happen, we suggest that you should use your final agenda item to set the tone for that more complete revision, rather than just add another standalone topic to the list of standalone topics that the Government put on your agenda.

First, Fix the Foundation: Separate Church and State

The Irish Constitution excludes many conscientious Irish citizens from identifying with the Constitution, and from holding the offices of President, Judge, Council of State member, Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Chair of Dail, Chair of Seanad, or Attorney General.

From the very first line, it is permeated with religious, Christian and Catholic references and requirements from the Ireland of the 1930s. These are embedded in the foundation of the Constitution, and everything else is built upon them and influenced by them.

Only when we fix that foundation can we build future amendments on a solid basis of equality for all Irish citizens regardless of our religious or atheistic beliefs.

Any proposed amendments related to ESC Rights, Political and Institutional Reform, Family and Morality or a Bill of Rights will all be compromised by the religious influence of existing clauses on matters related to those issues.

Our recent history books and many of our lived experiences have shown the central influence of religion on our Constitution and laws, and the many problems that this has caused for individual human rights and society generally.

This is your opportunity to make a historic change for true equality in Irish society. Please take this logical first step to systematically revise our Constitution based on freedom of conscience, freedom from discrimination and equality of all citizens before the law.

Ten Reasons to First, Fix the Foundation: Separate Church and State

1. The 1922 Irish Constitution was “a totally secular Constitution.”
– Supreme Court, Corway v Independent Newspapers, 1999, 4IR 484, 499

2. The 1922 Constitution was “a typical liberal-democratic document which would have been suited to a country of any religious complexion.”
– J Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland, Gill and McMillan 1980, p51

3. The 1937 Constitution “makes an open profession of Christianity.”
– Justice Barrington, The Irish Constitution: Article 44 II Church and State, 1953 81 The Irish Monthly 1, p3

4. The 1937 Constitution “indicated that the State considered it a duty to impose specifically Catholic doctrine on all citizens, irrespective of their personal convictions.”
– JJ Lee, Ireland 1912-85: Politics and Society, Cambridge University Press 1989, p203

5. In enacting the Constitution, the People “were proclaiming a deep religious conviction and faith and an intention to adopt a Constitution consistent with that conviction and faith and with Christian beliefs.”
– Justice O’Higgins, Norris v Attorney General, 1984 IR 36, 64-5

6. The 1937 Constitution “defines its ultimate notion of the good in explicitly religious terms.”
– R McCrea, Religion and the Public Order of the European Union, Oxford University Press 2010, p56

7. The Preamble is “a determined attempt to ground the authority of the State in the blessing and sanction of the Christian doctrine of God.”
– R Barrett, Church and State in Light of the Report of the Irish Constitution Review Group, 1998 5(1) Dublin University Law Journal 51, p52

8. Article 6(1) is “a clear, unequivocal statement that authority comes from God.”
– Eamon de Valera, Dail debate on Constitution

9. “The Trinitarian invocation goes much further than the phrase ‘under God’ in Article 6(1), since it aligns the subsequent text with a specific theological tradition that is not shared even by all monotheists. By doing so, it invited interpretations of our Bunreacht as a Christian Law for a Christian State.”
– D Clarke, Ireland: A Republican Democracy, a Theocracy or a Judicial Oligarchy? 2011 29 Irish Law Times 81, P83

10. “By allowing themselves to appeal to such amorphous concepts as the Christian and democratic nature of the State in order to recognise and potentially enforce rights as against the wishes of the Oireachtas, have the Courts given to themselves a carte blanche to write their own moral preferences into the fundamental law of the State?”
– O Doyle, Constitutional Law: Texts, Cases and materials, Clarus 2008, p87

See also

  • Eoin Daly, Religion, Law and the Irish State, Clarus 2012
  • Desmond Clarke, Church and State, Cork University Press 1985
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