The Irish Constitutional Convention has responded insultingly to the many citizens who asked it to discuss Separation of Church and State. Only 2% of Convention members have voted to discuss the topic, despite it receiving more support than any other topic in the Convention’s public feedback process, and it will therefore not be on the Convention’s agenda.
Before the vote, the Convention had asked for public opinion on what to discuss, through written submissions published on its website and at public meetings held around the country. In both of these areas of feedback, Separation of Church and State received more public support than any other single topic.
Yet when voting after receiving this feedback, it finished a distant last with just 2% of the vote. To make things worse, that was not even a vote on whether to separate Church and State – it was just a vote on whether to discuss it. Not discussing the topic is harmful enough in itself, but a 2% vote is shocking.
Atheist Ireland accepts that different people have different priorities, and we did not expect to automatically have our priorities on the agenda. We understand why people would see Political and Institutional Reform to be central to the Constitution, and we are part of the network that supports ESC Rights.
But the derisory 2% vote for Church and State remains an insult to the many Irish citizens who responded to the Convention’s request for feedback, who told the Convention of the direct religious discrimination that breaches our human rights, and which the Convention has so overwhelmingly chosen not to discuss.
If the Constitution had discriminated in the same way on the ground of race rather than religion, would only 2% of the Convention members have voted to discuss it? Probably not. But even overt religious discrimination seems to be either invisible or acceptable in Ireland, in a way that other forms of discrimination are not.
How the 2% vote insults secular citizens
It insults the many Irish citizens who want to live in a pluralist democratic Republic, but who are denied the human rights of freedom of conscience, freedom from discrimination, equality before the law, the right to private and family life, and the rights of the child.
It insults the many Irish citizens who are excluded from identifying with the Constitution from the very first line, which is unambiguously sectarian and is not appropriate for a pluralist democratic Republic. (Preamble)
It insults the the many Irish citizens who do not believe that all authority comes from “the Most Holy Trinity”, and who do not believe that we must “humbly acknowledge all our obligations to our Divine Lord Jesus Christ.” (Preamble)
It insults the many Irish citizens who do not believe that “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people.” (Article 6)
It insults the the many Irish citizens who do not believe that a Republic should “acknowledge that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God,” or “hold His Name in reverence, and respect and honour religion.” (Article 44)
It insults the many Irish citizens who might aspire to be President, a Judge, Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Chair of the Dail or Seanad, Attorney general, or a member of the Council of State, but who cannot conscientiously swear the religious oath imposed on them. (Articles 12, 31, 34)
It insults the many Irish citizens who believe that public officeholders representing the State should not be obliged to reveal either their religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs in order to take up public office, as has already been decided by the European Court of Human Rights. (Articles 12, 31, 34)
It insults the many Irish citizens who want our Constitution to protect equality before the law in a way that is consistent with the principle of nondiscrimination, as repeatedly recommended to the Irish Government by the United Nations and the Irish Human Rights Committee. (Article 40.1)
It insults the many Irish citizens who believe that a pregnant women should have the same right to physical and mental health as any other citizen, and who want to enable the Oireachtas to pass laws that base healthcare decisions on compassion, human rights, personal autonomy, and the medical needs of patients. (Article 40.3.3)
It insults the many Irish citizens who believe that the State should provide education for all children based on human rights, and not provide indirectly for education through sectarian religious patron bodies that openly discriminate on the ground of religion, as recommended repeatedly by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. (Article 42.2.4)
It insults the many Irish citizens who want the State to be forbidden not only from discriminating between different religions, but also from discriminating between religious and nonreligious bodies. (Article 44.2.3)
It insults the many Irish citizens who agree with the European Court of Human Rights that secularism is a philosophical conviction worthy of respect in a democratic society, and who want to live in a Republic that promotes neither religion nor atheism.
How the Convention voted
The Government established the Convention to recommend changes to the Constitution. It consists of 100 people; 33 public representatives, 66 citizens and an independent chairperson. It has already dealt with specific issues set out by the Government, and has now decided on the issues that it wants to add to its own agenda.
The way that they have voted on different issues shows how deeply ingrained religious discrimination has become in Ireland, when even people who support sexual and gender equality do not want to address the direct religious discrimination that breaches the human rights of their fellow citizens.
They voted by 79% to support same-sex marriage, and by 62% to support an explicit provision on gender equality. Yet 38% of the same people want to keep unchanged the blasphemy ban from the 1937 Constitution, and 49% of them want there to be a law against blasphemy in a modern Republic.
This is how the Convention members have now voted on what two topics to discuss as the final item on their agenda:
49% – Political and Institutional Reform
18% – Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
14% – Environment
11% – Family and Issues of Morality
6% – Bill of Rights
2% – Separation of Church and State
Removing the religious discrimination from the Constitution would not harm anybody’s rights. The discrimination has no real value to the Constitution as a legal document. Without it we could have a fair and inclusive Republic based on freedom of conscience, freedom from discrimination, and equality before the law.
Atheist Ireland will continue to lobby the Convention to consider the religious elements of the two topics they have voted to discuss – Political and Institutional Reform and Economic, and Social and Cultural Rights. We have religious oaths for political offices, and existing ESC rights in employment, health and education are tainted by religious discrimination.
We will also continue to promote an ethical, secular Republic which does not promote either religion or atheism, and that treats all citizens equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs. Specifically, we need a secular Constitution, parliament, government, education system and healthcare system, and a society based on pluralism, compassion, ethics and human rights.