Five Steps to Civil Rights in a Secular Ireland

These are five steps to civil rights in a secular Ireland. Atheist Ireland is lobbying to promote these proposals on an ongoing basis. We welcome any feedback before we send the final version of this list to all TDs and Senators.



Atheist Ireland wants a secular Irish State, where we each have the right to our religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs, and where the State remains neutral on these beliefs. Religious States promote religion, atheist States promote atheism, and secular States promote neither. A secular state is the only way to protect equally the rights of religious and nonreligious people.

Step 1: Secular Constitution

  • Remove the requirement for the President, judges and Council of State to swear a religious oath in the presence of Almighty God (Arts 12, 31, 34), and for the President and judges to ask God to direct and sustain them (12, 34), and replace these with a single neutral declaration that does not reveal any information about the person’s religious beliefs.
  • Remove the references to 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 a crime (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).
  • Amend Article 44, on Religion, to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers. Examine and amend other Articles that are unduly influenced by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Step 2: Secular Education

  • Establish a secular State education system, that makes no distinction between children based on religious beliefs, and ensure that secular primary schools are widely available.
  • Ensure that all schools convey all parts of the curriculum, including religious education, in an ‘objective, critical and pluralistic manner’, as ruled by the European Court of Human Rights and recommended to the Irish Government by the Irish Human Rights Commission.
  • Provide effective remedies for parents to vindicate, in practice and law, their human right to ensure that their children’s education is in conformity with their convictions.

Step 3: Secular Lawmaking

  • End the prayer that starts each parliamentary day which asks the Christian God to direct the actions and every word and work of our parliamentarians, through Christ Our Lord.
  • Examine all existing and future laws to ensure that there is one law for all, based on human and civil rights and not on religious beliefs.
  • Remove the law against blasphemy from the Defamation Act 2009;
  • Repeal Section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000 and Sections 12 and 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998, which allow schools, teacher training colleges and hospitals to discriminate on religious grounds.
  • Amend the Charities Act 2009, which includes the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose, and tax religious organizations on income that is not for genuine charitable purposes.

Step 4: Secular Government

  • Ensure that neither the Government, nor any institutions of the State, give preferential treatment or access to any organization on the basis of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.
  • Until this ideal is reached, ensure that nonreligious philosophical organizations are given the same treatment and access as are religious organizations.

Step 5: Secular Courts

  • Remove the requirement for judges to swear a religious oath, and replace it with a single neutral declaration that does not reveal any information about the judge’s religious beliefs.
  • Remove the requirement for defendants, witnesses and jurors to choose between a religious or nonreligious oath, and replace these with a single neutral declaration (or a question asked by the judge) that does not reveal any information about the person’s religious beliefs.
Michael Nugent


  1. Avatar
    Yewtree January 17, 2012

    Step 1, third bullet point: “Amend Article 44, on Religion, to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers” — if it does not already give protection to people following religions other than Catholicism, then it should do.

    Step 5, second bullet point: some people like the option for a religious oath and I don’t see that this affects anyone else, as long as there is an option for non-religious oaths, affirmations for Quakers, and a different oath for different religions (e.g. in the UK, an oath “I swear by all that I hold sacred” was introduced after a campagin by Pagans – but note that the wording is very inclusive).

    Otherwise, this is excellent and I wish you well with your campaign. Secular government is the only way to protect all religions and beliefs from persecution.

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    Wendy Morris January 17, 2012

    You are to be congratulated on an impressive document! I was stunned to read the part referring to your constitution. You have much work to do and I wish you well.


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    John Birrane January 17, 2012

    This is a really impressive document. I didn’t realise the full extent to which religion was enshrined in law in this country, being familiar only with recent cases like that regressive Blasphemy Bill. Well done, Atheist Ireland.

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    Republic Of Zen January 17, 2012

    Get the government out of education, I dont want secular nuts blundering with childrens future. I want any kid under my influence to learn logic, science and business. A good classical education. I dont care if the majority send theirs to a religious school.

    Also the right to discriminate is my ultimate right to boycott those that engage in activities I disapprove of. Catholics should have a right to discriminate against whoever they ant, and we should have the right to discriminate against them.

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    Cillian Doyle January 17, 2012

    Excellent stuff! Thank you to everyone at AI for their continued opposition to credulous, divisive and superstitious iron age philosophies! I hope the campaign proves successful in rolling back these anachronistic references to religion in our constitution. Freedom of religion is a human right and it’s high time freedom from religion became a human right too!

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    Brian Rogan January 18, 2012

    Excellent work, best of luck with it!

    Yewtree, having an option to choose a non religious oath is fine in theory, but not in practise, as a witness or juror I’d have no problem with stating that I was an atheist, but sadly I’m not sure whether I’d mention it if I was the defendent, I’d imagine that it could easily go against you in the case if the judge or jury were in any way religious. Religion shouldn’t be any part of our justice system, it’s simply not required.

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    Terry January 18, 2012

    Good luck. Is there a need for a secular political party in Ireland, like Palikot’s Movement in Poland? – (apologies in advance to anyone who clicks this link during the anti-SOPA protest on 18 Jan, btw!)

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    aZerogodist January 19, 2012

    Excellent, clearly states the aims & role of AI in a modern Ireland, which is no longer ‘Tea or Coffee’ in regards to religious belief.

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    Anonymous January 19, 2012

    Yewtree – If a witness or defendant has to actively refuse the bible and ask for a secular affirmation they are making a statement about their religious preferences to the jury and the judge. People are offended easily on issues of faith and there is a bad public perception of atheists so I would be very wary of damaging a case by turning some of a jury off me from the get-go. I’ll be in court next week and find myself having to make provision to contact the court clerk in advance (if that’s even possible) so I can take the secular affirmation with minimal fuss. Last year I called the courts and spoke to a clerk who explained that they usually don’t have the secular affirmation to hand and it would be very messy to hold up the court while the clerk digs it out. I don’t see why faith should come into it at all, our word should be enough and the oath is just there to be sure we are aware of the consequences of lying to the court.

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    Matt Anson January 27, 2012

    Great work as always. I wrote letters recently to my local TDs and also Rauri Quinn, Minister for Education, had replies from all. I’ll scan them and send them to Michael. One to call out was Emmet Stag, the Labour Chief Whip and one of my TDs, who fully supported the recommendations of the Irish Human Rights Commission.

    Terry, like the idea of a secular political party as religion is too pervasive in Irish society and government.

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    Feardorcha March 04, 2012

    Thank you for a clear set of demands.
    Can I suggest you use quotation marks in all clauses as you do in the second bullet point paragraph of Step 2? Otherwise it seems (or would seem to a person who chooses to see it that way) that you are accepting Almighty God and our divine Lord Jesus Christ when you are only quoting those words and phrases from the Constitution.