Pastafarian exposes religious discrimination in marriage law

John Hamill, a former member of Atheist Ireland, was a guest on RTE’s Liveline show this week. He was interviewed in his new role as the founder of the Reformed Congregationalist Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Ireland, also known as Pastafarians.

On behalf of his church, John had applied to be able to legally solemnise marriages in Ireland. He was turned down because the Civil Registration Service concluded that some religions have positive beliefs and some have negative beliefs, which is a distinction not found in the Civil Registration Act.

While John’s interview on RTE was hilarious, with many callers mocking and criticising his beliefs while accusing him of mocking and criticising theirs, it also highlighted the underlying problem that the Civil Registration Service is making up the law as it goes along, and that the law is both discriminatory and dysfunctional.

Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012

Atheist Ireland has argued since it was passed that the Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012 is based on prejudice and religious discrimination. It discriminates between religious and secular bodies. It also discriminates between secular bodies, as only a body whose principal objects are secular, ethical and humanist (as well as other restrictions) can apply for inclusion on the Register of Solemnisers.

The Government claims that this discrimination has a legitimate aim, which is to ensure that the institution of marriage is protected, so we have tried to find out if there a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought to be realised. But in reality, this law directly discriminates against the non-religious and undermines their human rights without any ratio of proportionality to their stated aim of protecting marriage.

Equality before the law without discrimination is a basic principle in the protection of human rights. It is a principle worth fighting for as inequality and discrimination undermine human rights. Atheist Ireland campaigns for equality and non-discrimination. We campaign against discrimination in the Equal Status Act and in the Education Act etc., and the Civil Registration Amendment Act is yet another example of how the Irish state undermines the human rights of the non-religious.

Direct discrimination against atheists

Atheist Ireland believes that the religious discrimination in the Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012 is a breach of human rights law. It is direct discrimination and in particular it breaches Article 26 (Equality before the law without discrimination) of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.

Article 26 states that:-

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that:-

“1. Non-discrimination, together with equality before the law and equal protection of the law without any discrimination, constitute a basic and general principle relating to the protection of human rights. Thus, article 2, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obligates each State party to respect and ensure to all persons within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the Covenant without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Article 26 not only entitles all persons to equality before the law as well as equal protection of the law but also prohibits any discrimination under the law and guarantees to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Treatment of secular bodies

A body can only be a secular body for the purposes of the Civil Registration Act if its principal objects are secular, ethical and humanist. This means that the discriminatory criteria about being ethical in the Civil Registration Amendment Act are specifically targeted at a body whose principal objects are secular and humanist.

There are also other criteria that secular humanist bodies are required to fulfil that are not required of religious bodies. The most significant of these is that a secular body that solemnises marriages cannot promote a political cause, while a religious body that solemnises marriages can promote a political cause.

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.

None of the above applies to religious bodies. Religious bodies are not obliged to be ethical, they can promote a political cause, have less than 50 members, do not need to maintain a register of members and do not need to be in existence for five years. If you are a secular humanist body you are obliged to be ethical but if you are a religious body you are not. The government just accepts that religions are ethical but where it comes to humanism, that is a different matter altogether.

Treatment of religious bodies

By contrast, religious bodies only have one condition to meet: that they meet regularly for worship.

As Michael Nugent has written on his blog:

“You can legally solemnise marriages in Ireland if you are a psychic medium, tarot card reader, public entertainer, ghost whisperer or ghostbuster (Ministers of the Spiritualist Union of Ireland); or if you oversee a culture of covering up child sex abuse, or lie to and positively mislead a state inquiry into child sex abuse, or swear victims of child sex abuse to silence (Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church); or if you default on six-figure debts, or fail to file income tax returns (Pastors of the Abundant Life Christian Centre and Victory Christian Church).”

However, despite this free run for religious bodies, the Civil Registration Service has denied the right to solemnise marriages to the Reformed Congregationalist Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Ireland. This is despite the fact that it complies with the conditions under the law, and despite the fact that the State has no right to determine which religious beliefs are valid and which are not.

What criteria does the Civil Registration Service use?

Ever since the new law was passed, Atheist Ireland has been trying to find out exactly what standards are being used to decide if a body fulfils the requirements of the Civil Registration Act. We decided to seek the rules, guidelines and criteria that the Civil Registration Service will use to ensure that a secular humanist body will comply with these standards. We have a right to this information both within and outside the FOI Act but despite this, to date, we have not got access to this information.

It is worth noting here that applications for inclusion on the Register of Solemnisers must certify that they comply with all the requirements. Applications should be accompanied by documentary evidence to confirm that the body conforms to the definition of a secular humanist body under the Act. If documentary evidence is required, one would think that there must be some rules, criteria or guidelines available if the Civil Registration Services are to decide if the documentary evidence is sufficient to confirm that the body conforms to the definition of a secular body.

The Civil Registration Service has informed us that, “it is not uncommon for designated officials to make decisions based directly on primary legislation”, that the “decisions are made with reference to the primary legislation, with recourse to qualified legal interpretation and advice where necessary and also with reference to the principles of natural justice”. They have also stated that, “The decisions must be in keeping with the applicable provision and to imply that the absence of supporting material allows for decision to be “(made) up as they go along” is inaccurate”.

It is difficult to understand why the Civil Registration Service requires documentary evidence if they have no rules, guidelines and criteria in place. It is of course extremely difficult for secular bodies to ascertain what documentary evidence would suffice if they do not know exactly what documentary evidence is required. It is also difficult for applicants to understand and appeal any refusal as there are no rules, guidelines, or criteria in place so that they can understand the reasons for that refusal.

Conclusion

The Civil registration Amendment Act 2012 is the most religiously discriminatory law passed by the Oireachtas since Atheist Ireland was founded. Officially, it discriminates between religious and nonreligious bodies, and between different nonreligious bodies. In practice, it also discriminates between different religious bodies, and for arbitrary reasons.

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign against this law, and to have it amended so that it treats all citizens equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

Atheist Ireland

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