Please do this Today to help Separate Church and State in Ireland

Today you a have a unique opportunity to help reverse the historic influence of the Catholic Church on the Irish Constitution – a document that begins with the embarrassing anachronism of: “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority,” and then refers to “our obligations to our divine Lord Jesus Christ,” before making the President, judges and other public office holders swear a religious oath and allowing the Government to discriminate in various ways in favour of religious citizens over nonreligious citizens.

An official State Convention is now looking for public opinions on what changes to recommend to the Constitution. It is a forum of 100 people, made up of 66 citizens, 33 parliamentarians, and an independent Chairman. It will ask the Government to hold referendums on the issues that it thinks need changing.

The Government asked the Convention to discuss several specific topics, including the electoral system, same-sex marriage, the role of women and the crime of blasphemy. It will finish dealing with those topics this weekend, and will then move on to the final item on its agenda – any other issues on which it wants to recommend change.

How you can influence the process today

For the final item on its agenda, the members of the Convention will choose two or maybe three additional items to discuss. They are now asking the public to give them our opinions, to help them to make up their minds. You can give your opinion on their website and by attending regional public meetings.

So what two or maybe three items will they choose? So far there have been strong campaigns asking them to choose ESC rights (economic, social and cultural rights) and protection of the environment. We now need to have a similar campaign to ask them to choose Separation of Church and State.

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. You will be able to speak and to vote for the items you want them to discuss.

They are only going to choose two or maybe three, and at the first meeting in Cork, people voted for four items in this order: ESC Rights, Protecting the Environment, Local Government Reform and Separation of Church and State.

If we are to show the Convention members that we want them to include Separation of Church and State on its agenda, we need to have people attending these meetings and speaking and voting for Separation of Church and State.

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

Galway – 30th of October – National University of Ireland.
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 Galway, please attend the Galway public meeting this Wednesday evening.

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