Irish law protects marriage from ethical atheists and unethical humanists but not from a spiritualist thief
Tom Colton was recently jailed for stealing €320,000 from an elderly couple. This conviction highlights the suspicion and contempt that the state holds for secular bodies in Ireland.
Tom Colton is a registered marriage solemniser in Ireland, as his Spiritualist Union of Ireland is considered a religious body. Despite this conviction, Tom Colton remains on the Register of Solemnisers in Ireland
The law does not require religious bodies to be ethical in order to nominate solemnisers – all that they have to do is to meet regularly for worship. As an officer of the Spiritual Union of Ireland, Tom Colton is required under Section 9 of the Civil Registration Amendment Act to certify that proposed solemnisers from that body are fit and proper persons to solemnise marriages.
However, for a secular body to be allowed to nominate solemnisers, the law says that they have to be both humanist and ethical. The reason given for these and other restrictions on secular bodies is that marriage needs to be protected. This wording means that marriage needs to be protected from atheists who are not humanists, and from humanists who are not ethical.
Yet these restrictions do not apply to the Spiritualist Union of Ireland or to any churches. Religious bodies can solemnise marriages while including psychic mediums, people who lie to state inquiries, and debt defaulters, but secular bodies must be vetted to prove that they are ethical and humanist.
Discrimination on the ground of religion or belief
This piece of legislation shows the contempt the state holds for the non-religious in Ireland. It tells us that:
- The state accepts that once you are religious, then you are a fit and proper person.
- If you are a humanist, then in order to be a fit and proper person, the law requires you to be ethical as well.
- Being an ethical atheist does not come into the reasoning at all, as you are simply not considered a fit a proper person to come under this legislation.
This discriminatory piece of legislation benefits only religious bodies however new or old, and humanist bodies that are both ethical and have been in existence for five years or more.
Atheist Ireland has been campaigning against the Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012 for some time as we believe that it is based on prejudice and religious discrimination. It discriminates between religious and secular bodies, as well as discriminating between different secular bodies – most notably, it explicitly discriminates against any secular body that is not humanist.
A body can only be a secular body for the purposes of the Act if:-
- it has not fewer than 50 members
- its principal objects are secular, ethical and humanist.
- it is a body that, on the date of its making of an application under section 54 or 57, has been in existence for a continuous period of not less than 5 years.
- it maintains a register of its members.
- it does not promote a political cause.
Religious bodies are not subject to the above robust criteria.
Restrictions on promoting a political cause
The Humanist Association of Ireland (which is the only secular body so far registered) cannot promote a political cause while also registered to solemnise marriages but religious bodies can. Promoting the separation of Church and state, promoting a secular education, promoting equality and even promoting change to the Civil Registration Act are all classed as political causes.
The Standards in Public Office have defined what a political purpose means, one of the definitions is; “otherwise to seek to influence the outcome of the election or a referendum or a campaign”. Another definition is:-
“to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a third party in connection with the conduct or management of any campaign conducted with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome in relation to a policy or policies or functions of the Government or any public authority.”
The reason given in the Dail for this religious discrimination was to protect the institution of marriage from Elvis Impersonators. The conviction of Tom Colton shows clearly that there is no reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought to be realised. This law directly discriminates against the non-religious and undermines their human rights without any ratio of proportionality to the stated aim of protecting marriage.
Refusal to give information on how the law is implemented
Every citizen has a right to information to assess whether the arguments advanced by the Government for justifying the difference of treatment in the legislation are relevant and sufficient. The Humanist Association of Ireland was required to produce documentary evidence to confirm that the organisation conformed to the requirement to be ethical and that it did not promote a political cause. Despite this requirement there are no rules or guidelines in place to establish what is deemed as acceptable documentary evidence.(Civil Registration Application Solemniser)
We have tried unsuccessfully (FOI Act)(Ombudsman), to obtain the rules, procedures, practices, guidelines and interpretation in relation to the Civil Registration Act so that we can see what this Act mean exactly by ethical and political cause. Having guidelines would define in writing how a secular humanist body is required to be ethical and define what exactly is meant by political cause and why this religious discrimination is necessary to protect marriage. Having no rules or guidelines means that decisions are made up as they go along.
One of the principal aims of Atheist Ireland is to ensure that religious discrimination is banned as it undermines democracy and human rights. We highlight and campaign against religious discrimination in our education system and in all areas including the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act. We will continue to campaign for the state to treat all citizens equally and without religious discrimination and will again raise this particular issue with the government.