Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and others must swear a religious oath to remain in office
One of Atheist Ireland’s main campaigns this year is One Oath For All, a campaign to remove from the Constitution the religious oath that Presidents, Judges, and members of the Council of State must swear.
Many people are unaware that this oath encompasses the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, chair of the Dáil and Seanad, Attorney General, and others, as they are constitutionally obliged to be on the Council of State, and therefore constitutionally obliged to swear the religious oath.
In 2013 Eamon Gilmore, as Tánaiste, become the first Irish person to be asked to swear a Constitutional oath in the presence of a god that he was publicly on record as not believing in.
In 1995 when Hot Press asked Gilmore does he believe in God, he 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.” In 2007 when Hot Press asked does he believe in God, he said “I’m agnostic. I doubt rather than I believe, let me put it that way.”
As Tánaiste in 2013, Gilmore was automatically a member of the Council of State. Article 31.4 of the Constitution requires Council of State members at their first meeting to say: “In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties.”
Atheist Ireland asked Gilmore to decline to swear the oath, but his legal advice was that, as Tánaiste, he was constitutionally obliged to be on the Council of State, and therefore constitutionally obliged to swear the religious oath.
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.
The religious oaths for President and Judges are even worse than the religious oath for members of the Council of State. In addition to swearing “in the presence of Almighty God,” they require that the incoming President or Judge say: “May God direct and sustain me.”
Atheist Ireland takes oaths of office seriously. We believe that it undermines freedom of belief, and democracy itself, to treat such oaths as empty phrases to be said with a nod and a wink.
Please join Atheist Ireland and help us to campaign for One Oath For All.