The State is giving religious privilege to the Catholic Marriage Agency Accord
The Government has cut the funding of Accord, a Catholic Marriage Agency by €378,000 for pre-marriage courses. But despite this cut in funding, Accord will continue to receive State funding for their other services which are all based on the beliefs of one specific religion.
Accord offers various services according to the beliefs of one particular religion, including going into schools and teaching about relationships and sexuality. The website of Accord includes a Pastoral Statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference on the meaning of marriage.
If one religion receives this type of State funding, then every other religion in the country is entitled to it, as otherwise this funding constitutes an endowment of religion forbidden by Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution and could be regarded as religious discrimination contrary to Article 44.2.3.
Other religions are entitled to equal treatment
There are 106 religious groups registered with the Civil Registration Service to solemnise marriages. To avoid endowment or religious discrimination, each of these are entitled to the same type of funding that Accord receives, and they can legitimately claim such funding.
Some of the religious groups registered by the State to solemnise marriages are: The Methodist Church, Dublin Buddhist Centre, The Pagan Federation of Ireland, Transfiguration Christian Centre, The Spiritualist Union of Ireland, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jehovahs Witnesses, Elim Ministries, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Church of the Nazarene (Ireland), Assemblies of God Ireland, One Spirit Interfaith Foundation, Islamic Community, Healing Streams Christian Renewal Centre and the Presbyterian Church.
The Catholic Church and State privilege
In a Submission to the Constitutional Contention the Catholic Church threatened that if same-sex marriage became legal in Ireland, priests would be barred from performing these duties because Church and State definitions of marriage would be different. At present the Church solemnises the civil part of the marriage ceremony, this means that couples do not need to have two ceremonies.
Refusing to carry out the civil section of a wedding would of course cause a big headache for the State as all religious couples would then need to have two ceremonies, one in Church and the other a civil ceremony. This would cost the State a significant amount of money.
However, the Catholic Church is not suggesting that it should give up its State funding to promote its views on marriage, even though that would also emphasise the differences between the definitions of Church and State marriages. Instead, the Catholic Church has complained that the funding to Accord has been cut.
State funding for other Accord services continues
Although the State has cut the funding of Accord for pre-marriage courses, it will still fund all the other activities of Accord which are all based on the beliefs of one particular religion.
For example, the State actually pays for Accord Councillors to go into Irish schools and teach about relationship and sexuality based on the beliefs of the Catholic Church:
“ACCORD offers a range of Relationships and Sexuality Education Programmes to a variety of schools in various locations. These Programmes aim to complement both primary and second level curricula, Social Personal and Health Education in the ROI and Personal Development in NI, and give students age appropriate information about their development in an appropriate context”.
The Catholic Church and its sense of entitlement
The Catholic Church still seems to think that they are entitled to continue to receive State privilege for their particular beliefs, so that they can continue to evangelise and promote their beliefs on marriage and the family to society, with State funding of course.
Their sense of entitlement is such that they take the religious privilege they receive as a right. Religious bodies just accept that they have a right to State funding to promote their particular religious belief, and complain that the State is undermining religious freedom if their privilege is removed.
The only thing that would change if the State stopped this funding is that the Catholic Church, not the State, would have to pay for it. The Catholic Church could continue to evangelise and promote their religion in the public square, along with all other religious beliefs, but they would not have State privilege (in the form of State funding) to do this.
The State should remain neutral, not fund teachings of one religion
The State should stop endowing the Catholic Church, as it is leaving itself open to legitimate claims for funding from all the other religions in the country. The State should stay neutral in respect to religious belief, and should not be funding one particular religious belief, as this undermines pluralism in a democratic society. It is time to separate church and State and let all the various religions pay to promote their own beliefs. Accord should not receive State privilege for their particular religious beliefs on marriage and the family.