Irish Government says religious oaths are “necessary in a democratic society”
It is disgraceful that the Irish Government is arguing at the European Court of Human Rights that the religious oath for President and members of the Council of State are “necessary in a democratic society.”
The Government is contesting a legal challenge to the religious oath by Roisin Shortall TD, John Brady TD, Senator David Norris, Fergus Finlay, and David McConnell.
The Taoiseach and Tanaiste have to swear this oath, as they are member of the Council of State, so Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar are now trying to legally prevent conscientious atheists from occupying the positions that they themselves now hold.
Shockingly, the Government is actually arguing that these oaths are “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Is this how the Government of a Republic treats its citizens? How does this vindicate the right to freedom of conscience, and equality before the law? How can Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and the Green Party actively promote overt religious discrimination?
Atheist Ireland runs a One Oath for All Campaign. We believe that holders of public office should make a declaration to uphold the Constitution, with no reference to their personal religious or nonreligious beliefs.
Atheist Ireland raised this issue with the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2014, and the Human Rights Committee concluded 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) concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public.”
As recently as last October, the UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland:
“Please report on the measures taken to ensure that the right to freedom of conscience and religious belief is fully respected, in law and in practice, on a non-discriminatory basis… Please indicate whether there have been any changes to the constitutional provisions requiring persons who take up certain senior public positions to take religious oaths.”
The European Court of Human Rights has consistently found that the right to freedom of religion and belief is one of the foundations of a democratic society. The court has also held that the right to manifest your religion or belief has a negative aspect.
This means that the State cannot oblige you to disclose your religion or beliefs. Nor can it oblige you to act in such a way that it is possible to conclude that you hold, or do not hold, religious beliefs. That is intervening in the sphere of your freedom of conscience.
We have removed the law against blasphemy. That is one step towards a secular State that respects equally everybody’s right to freedom of conscience. Removing these anachronistic religious oaths from our Constitution is the next step.