Has the Humanist Association of Ireland legally denied that it promotes a political cause?

by Michael Nugent on April 6, 2013

In an email newsletter last night, the Humanist Association of Ireland has announced that the first legal Humanist marriage ceremony will take place today, Saturday 6 April, performed by a HAI celebrant, with Government Minister Joan Burton attending.

But the confusing announcement raises the significant legal question as to whether the HAI has legally denied that it promotes a political cause, despite actively promoting separation of church of state?

Atheist Ireland has consistently raised concerns about the new law under which secular bodies can nominate marriage solemnisers – see the links at the end of this article for details – as it discriminates both against nonreligious citizens, and also between nonreligious citizens.

It is unclear to us from last night’s HAI announcement on what legal basis a HAI celebrant has been added to the list of solemnisers. Under the new law, it is the responsibility of a secular body that wishes to nominate solemnisers to satisfy the requirements of the Act, including that it does not promote a political cause.

If, on the one hand, the Humanist Association of Ireland has nominated a solemniser, then the HAI should have signed an application form that includes a statement that the HAI does not promote a political cause, and accompanied that application form with documentary evidence to confirm that the HAI conforms to this requirement.

Yet, in reality, the HAI actively promotes the political cause of separation of church and state, and its website says explicitly on its ‘about us’ page that one of the things that it does is “makes appropriate submissions to Government for changes in the Constitution, Legislation and State practices.”

If, on the other hand, the solemniser for today’s ceremony has been nominated by a nominating body other than the HAI, then on what basis is he being described as “the only HAI celebrant who has been added to the list of solemnisers” and on what basis is today’s wedding described as “the first legal Humanist marriage ceremony”?

The HAI announcement says that the process of registering has not been as simple as the HAI was led to believe by Government politicians, and says that if the conditions still hindering the process cannot be met, the HAI will have to withdraw from the process.

But what does this mean? If there are conditions that the HAI cannot currently meet, then how can today’s wedding be described as “the first legal Humanist marriage ceremony”? And what conditions could allow one HAI celebrant to be added to the list of solemnisers, while preventing other HAI celebrants from also being added?

Atheist Ireland will discuss this at a committee meeting this afternoon, and will decide how best to ensure that the law is interpreted properly, and not with the nod and a wink attitude that saw its passage through parliament despite our concerns about it being raised during the Dail debate.

Whatever may happen in this case, one thing is certain. The Catholic Church will continue to promote its own political cause, built on imagined revelations from an imagined creator of the universe, and the Government will be happy to allow them to continue doing this.

It is now more important than ever before that secular bodies stand together and continue to campaign politically for separation of church and state.

See also:

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alan Murphy April 9, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Is there room for empathy in this principled crusade Michael? What of the countless couples who’d dearly cherish a dignified ceremony that is not demeaned by an absence of legal standing? Who’d rather not be married by the HSE, upon whose bureaucratic plate solemnising randomly fell?

And most of all, who’d rather not have their nuptials presided over by some charlatan who’ll claim to ferry in one’s dead relatives for a few extra bucks?

HAI have excruciatingly inched us to this point, but you’d plummet us into another decade of benighted humiliation, over what? A semantic squabble about the interpretation of what does and doesn’t constitute a political organisation?

I am an atheist. I have affinity with your pursuit. But amidst your fervour, I’d ask you to remember (and perhaps occasionally acknowledge) that there are real people in the crossfire. Decent couples who will be denied the possibility to celebrate their union with the dignity they regard as befitting.

I would posit that your legislative grievances can be pursued without training inward your cross-hairs upon good people, providing a good service for good couples.

2 Michael Nugent April 9, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Alan,

This issue is about much more than semantics, and it is also about much more than the HAI and our political cause (I say ‘our’ because I am also a member of the HAI). Please read through all of the links above to get a more complete understanding of my and Atheist Ireland’s concerns.

But the particular principle you refer to goes to the heart of humanist ethics. It is about truth and integrity and equality and nondiscrimination. It is from the honest application of such principles that the dignity you describe emerges.

If the HAI is willing to legally state something that is not true, in a formal application to the state, in order to profit from a system that discriminates against other citizens, how could that bring the dignity you describe to any ceremonies that result from doing so?

3 Alan Murphy April 10, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thanks Michael, I appreciate your response. I also appreciate and understand the principle you are defending.

I stand by my comment though. It is important for this debate to include voices, not just from the coalface of the legislative struggle, but from the betrothed (like myself) who would again find themselves disenfranchised.

4 Michael Nugent April 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Alan,

There are still many people disenfranchised under this law, and that will remain the case even if the state turns a blind eye to the statements made by the HAI.

For example, when I got married, my wife and I were disenfranchised by the law then, and we would still be disenfranchised by the law today.

Here are some examples of people who are disenfranchised by the current law.

    People who want a secular non-registry-office ceremony without any conditions or restrictions that do not apply to religious ceremonies.

    People who want a secular non-registry-office ceremony, but who do not want a humanist ceremony.

    People who want a humanist ceremony that does not depend on an application form that includes a statement that is not true.

    People who want a secular non-registry-office ceremony without being charged up to €450 by a solemniser who is acting as an individual businessperson independently of the HAI.

It is precisely because this law continues to disenfranchise people that we do not want to endorse it.

We don’t want to endorse giving some nonreligious people some of the benefits religious people have, then pulling up the ladder and leaving the other nonreligious people behind.

And to add insult to injury, the HAI, having officially withdrawn from promoting political causes, could not even lobby to change the law to include these other nonreligious people in the future.

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