The requirement in the Electoral Act to take a religious oath is a breach of human rights
The Electoral Act 1992 obliges persons to object publicly to taking a religious oath before they are offered an affirmation. The requirement to publicly object to taking a religious oath before you are offered an affirmation is a breach of human rights.
Last July the UN Human Rights Committee reminded the State of General Comment No. 22 (1993) on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public. The Electoral Act 1992 breaches Article 18 (the right to freedom of conscience) of the UN Convention on Civil & Political Rights, as it obliges the non-religious to object publicly to taking a religious oath because they have no religious belief.
The UN Human Rights Committee raised this issue in relation to the obligation to take a religious oath when taking up the office of President and senior public office positions. It also applies to the Electoral Act 1992 and any Act that obliges persons to reveal their religious or non-religious philosophical convictions publicly.
The UN recommended that:-
“The State party should take concrete steps to amend articles 12, 31 and 34 of the Constitution that require religious oaths to take up senior public office positions, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993) on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public.”
There are various media reports today of objections to the display of Bibles in Polling Stations. The Department of the Environment has responded to these complaints by saying that the requirement to take a religious oath under the Electoral Act 1992 is not intended to be an affront to minority religions, or those with no religious affiliation, who can make an affirmation instead of a religious oath.
According to a report from RTE a spokesperson from the Department has claimed that:-
“If a voter is asked to take an oath or an affirmation, it is up to the voter to decide which to take.”
“someone who is asked to make an oath or an affirmation can use the bible”
This explanation is not completely accurate as the spokesperson failed to point out that a person is not asked whether they want to take a religious oath or an affirmation, they must object publicly to a religious oath before they are offered the affirmation.
Section 111 (c) of the Electoral Act 1992 reads:-
“the returning officer or presiding officer may, and if so required by a personation agent present in the polling station shall, administer to any person when he applies for a ballot paper, but not afterwards, an oath or (in the case of any person who objects to taking an oath on the ground that he has no religious belief or that the taking of an oath is contrary to his religious belief) an affirmation in the following form:
“I swear by Almighty God (or — do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm — as the case may be) that I am the same person as the person whose name appears as AB on the register of Dáil electors now in force for the constitutency of……….and that I have not already voted at this election, and that I had attained the age of eighteen years on……….(date of coming into force of the register)”;
and if such person refuses to take the oath or make the affirmation he shall not be permitted to vote”.
The spokesperson from the Department of Environment went on to say that:-
“is not intended to be an affront to minority religions or those with no religious affiliation, who can make an affirmation instead of a religious oath.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Act 1992 does not refer to the “Almighty God” as the “Almighty Christian God”, the spokesperson claims that religious minorities can make an affirmation instead of a religious oath. If he or she is correct, this means that in Ireland the law provides for Christians to swear to their god while religious minorities must take an affirmation and declare publicly that they are not Christian.
If we look at the comments from the Department of the Environment closely they are telling us that the reason why there are bibles on Polling Tables is because the religious oath in the Electoral Act 1992 is for some Christians in Ireland. The Act obliges the non-religious, religious minorities and those Christians that object to taking a religious oath to publicly declare that they are not a particular type of Christian, only then will they be offered the affirmation. To require persons to declare publicly that they are not Christian is a breach of human rights.