Ask Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore not to swear the religious oath next Monday

Eamon GilmoreAtheist Ireland has today written to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, to remind him that next Monday, as a member of the Council of State, he will become the first Irish person to be asked to swear a Constitutional oath in the presence of a god that he is publicly on record as not believing in. It is an oath that a conscientious agnostic cannot honestly make.

Whatever he does will create a precedent. Either he will be seen as a politician of principle who will literally go down in the history books of Irish Constitutional law on the issue of freedom of belief and conscience in Irish politics, or else he will perpetuate the idea that swearing an oath means nothing in Ireland as you can do it with a metaphorical wink, and nobody really cares.

If you agree that Eamon Gilmore should not swear this religious oath next Monday, please contact him today and let him know.

eamon.gilmore@tanaiste.gov.ie
minister@dfa.ie
eamon.gilmore@oireachtas.ie

Dept of Foreign Affairs 01 4780822
Labour Party Leader’s Office 01 618 3566

An Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore TD
Iveagh House,
 80 St. Stephen’s Green,
Dublin 2

The following is the text of the letter that Atheist Ireland sent today to the Tanaiste:

Dear Eamon,

Next Monday, as a member of the Council of State, you will be the first Irish person to be asked to swear a Constitutional oath in the presence of a god that you are publicly on record as not believing in. It is an oath that a conscientious agnostic cannot honestly make.

In 1995 when Hot Press asked you do you believe in God, you said “No. But then it’s a bit like hedging your bets in that I probably hope there’s a God. Yet I’m not religious, no.” When asked would you describe yourself as an atheist, an agnostic or what, you said “An agnostic.” In 2007 when Hot Press asked do you believe in God, you said “I’m agnostic. I doubt rather than I believe, let me put it that way.”

All reasonable people will acknowledge that it defeats the very purpose of an oath, and casts doubt on the entirety of the oath, to require somebody to swear it “in the presence of” something that they do not believe to be true. An analogy would be if a religious person was asked to swear an oath that began “In the absence of Almighty God…”. No reasonable person would support such a requirement, and no reasonable person should support the same thing being required in reverse of an agnostic who does not believe in this God.

Ironically, you will be asked to swear this religious oath, in order to be allowed to discuss the regulating of abortion, an issue made so problematic because of the influence of the Catholic church on Irish politics. Indeed, on this particular Bill, the Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady has explicitly told you that, while acting as our legislators, you should remember that the right to life is conferred on us by ‘the creator’. Please think about the enormity of that claim, the lack of evidence to support it, and how the swearing of this religious oath encourages it.

Because you are the first Irish person to be publicly placed in this dilemma, whatever you do will create a precedent. Either you will be seen as a politician of principle who will literally go down in the history books of Irish Constitutional law on the issue of freedom of belief and conscience in Irish politics, or else you will perpetuate the idea that swearing an oath means nothing in Ireland as you can do it with a metaphorical wink, and nobody really cares. In effect, whatever you do will be taking a stand on one side or the other of this important issue.

We first wrote to you in July 2011, on your appointment as Tanaiste, to alert you to this potential problem that has now become a real problem. But it is also a real opportunity for you to make Constitutional history. Please take that opportunity.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Dr. John Bradley July 26, 2013

    I agree strongly with Atheist Ireland in this issue, please stand by your principles on this.

  2. Avatar
    Barry O'Donovan July 28, 2013

    This oath is, quite simply, a matter of law and a constitutional requirement that Gilmore will rightly perform without issue. The only way to change it is through a referendum and we have much bigger fish to fry in the country than holding a referendum on the wording of an oath.

    Gilmore – like I and others – who have sworn oaths and made pledges of a non-secular nature, can separate the religion from the oath. This is how conscientious agnostics make oaths – our word is our bond. After all, an atheist has no deity to swear to or swear in the presence of.

    The notion that by refusing to swear this oath, Gilmore will literally go down in the history books of Irish Constitutional law on the issue of freedom of belief and conscience is laughable and ridiculous. By refusing to swear the oath, both believers in Christ and agnostics will simply consider him a fool. A fool making a mountain of a molehill.

    • Avatar
      Derek Walsh July 28, 2013

      Barry, the statement that “our word is our bond” resonates with me. How does someone know I am telling the truth? They have to trust me, and it’s imperative that I do everything I can to earn that trust. If I begin by solemnly swearing to tell the truth, but then say that I don’t really mean that part but everything else I say will be true, I can’t really expect anyone to believe me. I would be making a mockery not only of the beliefs of those to whom the oath is meaningful, but of any claim I could make to truthfulness.
      Some “believers in Christ” may consider Gilmore a fool if he surprises us all and refuses to swear by a being he considers imaginary; but others, especially Catholics, will remember the martyrdom of Thomas More, who chose to be executed rather than take a false oath. Gilmore may be in a difficult position but his head will remain firmly attached to his body whatever he decides.
      As for agnostics and atheists, some might see a solemn vow as merely empty words while others will truly believe that their word is their bond, and refuse to utter a falsehood while pledging to tell the truth. Almost all will agree that nobody should be compelled to make a false oath, even if they themselves have no objection to doing so.