Atheist Ireland thanks the TDs who spoke in favour of separation of Church and State in the Dail last night, and in support of the equal right of every citizen to freedom of religion or nonreligious belief. While still a minority in the Dail, they reflect the changing mood of the Irish people.
The Dail will now vote on Thursday afternoon on whether to force TDs to stand every day for a Christian prayer. Atheist Ireland asks people to contact your local TD today, and ask them to vote against enforced religious prayer and in favour of equal rights.
Aengus O Snodaigh of Sinn Fein, Ruth Coppinger of Solidarity, Brid Smith of People Before Profit, Joan Collins of Independents4Change, and Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats, all opposed forcing TDs to stand for prayers.
Minister of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy of Fine Gael supported the new measures, as did Mary Butler and Anne Rabbitte of Fianna Fail and Independent TD Mattie McGrath. Mary Butler added insult to injury by saying that she has faith in whatever the Committee decides.
Eamon Ryan of the Green party spoke without making any commitment, and the Labour Party simply didn’t turn up. Neither did any Fine Gael backbench TDs.
The new regulations will force TDs to stand every day for a prayer, asking the Christian God to direct their work. This breaches the human right of freedom of conscience of every TD.
More fundamentally, they will force the Ceann Comhairle to read the prayer aloud. This creates an unconstitutional religious test for the position of Ceann Comhairle, who will have to be either a Christian or a hypocritical non-Christian.
Seven reasons why the new regulations breach human rights
The proposal to add a moment of reflection before the Christian prayer may seem to be a step forward, but actually it makes the situation worse. Here are seven reasons:
- It retains the particularly inappropriate wording of the current prayer, which asks ‘Christ Our Lord’ to direct every action, word and work of our elected parliamentarians.
- It gives Christians the privilege of having their prayer said aloud and publicly, while everyone else must either pray or reflect silently and secretly.
- It introduces a new requirement forcing TDs to stand, during a ritual that may be contrary to their right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief.
- That infringement is even more serious in the case of the Ceann Comhairle, who is obliged to actually read out the prayer.
- This infringes on the human rights of those who have to either participate or else reveal their religious or nonreligious beliefs, as ruled on by the ECHR.
- Unelected staff members, who have to be in the chamber, must sit through these daily prayers, which may be contrary to their personal belief.
- It undermines the ongoing task of having the prayer removed, to reflect a truly Republican Parliament that respects equally the rights to belief of all citizens.
Extracts from the Dail Debate
Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh said the prayer should be replaced with a moment’s reflection. Ireland, he said, was supposed to be a republic. A moment’s silence would allow members to reflect on whatever a religion or none they stood for individually.
Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger sad that the requirement for all TDs present to stand takes away any voluntary nature. She said the move was of dubious legality in terms of freedom of conscience, and since the Ceann Comhairle recited the prayer, can we ever have a Ceann Comhairle who is not a Christian?
People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said she was not standing, no matter what she is told to do, because her religion is her business and is not up for public scrutiny. She said the debate would be silly were it not for the Tuam babies, the National Maternity Hospital, the Sisters of Charity, and the Eighth Amendment.
Independents4Change TD Joan Collins said religious beliefs were a personal matter and it was not the business of the State or parliament to endorse any particular religion. She said she was not elected to the Dáil to have her words directed by Jesus Christ.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy questioned if it reflects the non-denominational nature of our Constitution. She said religious faith is hugely important to perhaps the majority of people in this country. Other people like herself are not believers but it does not mean there is an absence of morality.