Why we need a secular constitution
Atheist Ireland has told Senators that we need a secular constitution, as part of the Seanad’s examination of the future of the island of Ireland. In a pluralist democratic society such as Ireland, a secular Constitution is the only way to protect equally the rights of religious and nonreligious people.
We want to remove specific references to God, such as all authority coming from the Holy Trinity; replace all religious oaths for public officeholders with a single neutral declaration; and amend the articles on fundamental rights to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers.
Also this week Enoch Burke has been suspended from his teaching job for interrupting a school service and harassing his principal about using the names and pronouns that a pupil and his parents have requested.
On that underlying issue, Enoch should be aware of the constitutional rights of parents in Irish schools, as his brother Elijah recently won a Supreme Court case on the basis of the rights of parents to home school their children.
Atheist Ireland promotes and defends the constitutional rights of parents, including the right that their children do not have to attend any type of religious teaching. If you are having problems with your school about this, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can help us to campaign on these issues by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.
– Secular Sunday Editorial Team
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To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:
- Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
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- Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading. If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atheist Ireland News
Ireland needs a secular constitution, Atheist Ireland tells Seanad committee
Atheist Ireland has made the following submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the Constitutional Future of the Island of Ireland.
1. Executive Summary
3. Remove Specific References to God
4. Replace Religious Oaths for Public Office Holders
5. Amend Articles on Fundamental Rights
1. Executive Summary
Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for atheism, reason and ethical secularism. We promote the political cause of separation of church and state as a primary aim. We are participants in the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies. We work on secular issues alongside the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland. We participate in events organised by international bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
One of the most striking features of the Irish Constitution is its overt theistic, religious, Christian, and Roman Catholic character. This is a result of the political personnel and culture of the Ireland of the 1930s, and it is entirely inappropriate for the Ireland of the 21st century. In recent years we have made some important amendments to Articles unduly influenced by Catholicism. We should continue to make further amendments in this context.
Atheist Ireland wants a secular Irish Constitution, which respects equally the right of every citizen to our religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs, with the State remaining neutral on these beliefs. Religious States promote religion, atheist States promote atheism, and secular States promote neither, but respect equally the right of each citizen to hold and manifest their personal beliefs. In a pluralist democratic society such as Ireland, a secular Constitution is the only way to protect equally the rights of religious and nonreligious people.
In the High Court in 2011, in the case of AB v Children’s Hospital Temple Street & CD & EF, Justice Hogan stated that: “27. Along with the guarantee of free speech in Article 40.6.i, Article 44.2.1 guarantees freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion. Taken together, these constitutional provisions ensure that, subject to limited exceptions, all citizens have complete freedom of philosophical and religious thought…”
Our recommendations seek to make explicit, in other Articles, the constitutional determinations made by Justice Hogan in this case about freedom of conscience and philosophical thought.
Categories of recommendations
(a) Remove specific references to God, such as all authority coming from the Holy Trinity and our obligations to our divine Lord Jesus Christ (Preamble); powers of government deriving under God from the people (6); the homage of public worship being due to Almighty God and the state holding his name in reverence (44); and the glory of God (Closing Line).
(b) Replace all religious oaths for public officeholders with a single neutral declaration that does not refer to either the religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs of the person. As well as President (12), Council of State (31) and Judges (34), please note that there is also in practice a religious oath for Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Chair of the Dail and Seanad, and Attorney General, as these officeholders are obliged to be members of the Council of State and are thus obliged to swear the oath for that office.
(c) Amend the Articles on Fundamental Rights to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers, particularly where the Articles are unduly influenced by Roman Catholic teachings. This includes the Articles on equality (40), the family (41), education (42) and religion (44). Frame Articles generally so that they are based on human rights and duties and not on religious beliefs.
Remove References to God
- Remove the religious references from the Preamble. Ideally, amend the Preamble to simply state: “We the people of Ireland enact this Constitution.”
- Remove the words “under God” from Article 6.1
- Delete Article 44.1 which says the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God.
- Remove the reference to the Glory of God from the closing line.
Replace Religious Oaths for Office Holders
- Replace each of the religious oaths for public office holders with a single declaration of loyalty to the Irish Constitution, State, laws, and people, that does not reveal any information about the person’s religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs.
Amend Articles on Fundamental Rights
- Amend Article 40 (equality) to guarantee quality to all and to proscribe discrimination (direct or indirect) in any area of law on non-exhaustive grounds (such as race, sex, language or religion).
- Amend Article 41 (the family) to remove the reference to mothers having and neglecting duties in the home.
Amend Article 42 (education) comprehensively to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers.
- Amend Article 42.1 to explicitly give equal protection to married and unmarried parents.
- Change the heading of Article 44 from ‘religion’ to ‘Religion and Beliefs’
- Amend Article 44 (religion) comprehensively to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers.
- Delete Article 44.1 which says the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God.
Amend Article 44.2.3 to include nonreligious philosophical beliefs.
3. Remove Specific References to God
The Preamble to the Constitution is unambiguously sectarian, and is not appropriate for a pluralist democratic Republic. It attributes all authority to the Most Holy Trinity, and acknowledges our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Preamble is part of the Constitution, and it can be amended by referendum. The Attorney General’s Committee on the Constitution (1968) noted that the Preamble itself uses the phrase ‘this Constitution’ and that the title ‘Bunreacht na hÉireann’ precedes the Preamble, both of which suggest that the Preamble is part of the Constitution. The Preamble has also been cited in legal cases and judicial decisions.
Article 6.1 states: “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people…” The phrase ‘under God’ should be removed.
Article 44.1 states: “The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.” We address this in more detail in the section below on fundamental rights,
The closing line states: “Dochum Glóire Dé agus Onóra na hÉireann (For the Glory of God and the Honour of Ireland)”. The phrase ‘Glóire Dé’ should be removed.
4. Replace Religious Oaths for Public Office Holders
Article 12.8 requires the President to enter upon the office by taking and subscribing publicly to a declaration that begins “In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland…” and ends with the words “May God direct and sustain me.”
Article 31.4 requires every member of the Council of State, at their first meeting, to take and subscribe publicly to an oath that begins “In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State.”
Article 34.5.1 requires every person who is appointed a judge to make and subscribe a declaration that begins “In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my power…” and ends with the words “May God direct and sustain me.”
Problems with alternative oaths
The option of providing public office holders with two alternative declarations, one religious and one neutral, is not appropriate for three reasons.
(a) A public office holder should not be obliged to reveal his or her religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs. Instead, they should be office holders for all of the people, representing the State, which itself has no religious beliefs.
(b) If alternative declarations were to be provided, the opposite to a theistic oath would not be a neutral declaration. The opposite to a theistic oath would be a declaration that there is no God. If you realise why it would be inappropriate for the President to swear that there is no God, then you should also realise why it is inappropriate for the President to swear that there is a God.
(c) In particular for Judges, if there were some Judges who were known to have opted to ask God to direct and sustain them in their duties, and some Judges who had opted to not do this, then it could be impossible to find a Judge (from either group) who would be publicly viewed as impartial to hear any case that involved making rulings on questions related to religion.
The oaths encompass the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and others
Article 31.2 states that “The Council of State shall consist of the following members: i. As ex-officio members: the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Chairman of Dáil Éireann, the Chairman of Seanad Éireann, and the Attorney General.”
This means that there is also a religious oath for Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Chairman of the Dail, Chairman of the Seanad and Attorney General, as these officeholders are obliged to be members of the Council of State and are thus obliged to swear the oath for that office.
This additional obligation became clear when Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore became the first person who is publicly on record as saying that he does not believe in God had to attend his first meeting of the Council of State and had to swear the religious oath.
Mr Gilmore stated that he had taken legal advice, that he respected the Constitution, and that he would comply with his constitutional obligations. These obligations include not only swearing the oath at his first Council of State meeting under Article 31.4, but also being a member of the Council of State under Article 31.2.
5. Amend Articles on Fundamental Rights
Article 40.1 Equality
Article 40.1 states: “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law. This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.”
The way that equality is protected under article 40.1 is inconsistent with the principle of nondiscrimination. In 2002 the United Nations committee on economic social and cultural rights stated that:
“16. The Committee regrets that the State party [Ireland] has not yet undertaken any measures with regard to the Committee’s 1999 recommendation concerning the inconsistency of article 40.1 of the Constitution on equality before the law with the principle of non-discrimination as set out in articles 2 and 3 of the Covenant.”
Article 41 The Family
Article 41.2.2 states: “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” This is anachronistic and should be removed or amended to use non-sexist language.
Article 42 Education
We recommend that Article 42, on Education, be amended comprehensively to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers.
Under the European Convention, the State has a positive obligation to respect the philosophical convictions of secular parents in the education system.
Article 42.1 states that: “The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.”
According to the Constitution Review Group Report in 1995 this Article only applies to married
parents. They said it should be amended to apply to all non-marital parents, provided they have appropriate family ties and connections with the child in question.
Article 44 Religion
Heading: Changing the heading from ‘Religion’ to ‘Religion and Beliefs’. The current heading gives privilege to religious beliefs over nonreligious philosophical beliefs including atheism.
Article 44.1 states: “The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.” This is an extraordinary assertion to have in the Constitution of a democratic Republic. It does not enshrine the right of citizens to publicly worship a God, but enshrines the right of that God to be publicly worshipped.
The 1996 Constitutional Review Group found that: “In effect, this section imposes an obligation on the State to refrain from engaging in what might loosely be termed ‘atheistic propaganda’ and prevents the State from adopting a policy which is actively hostile to religion.” But atheistic beliefs are as much protected by the human right to freedom of conscience as are religious beliefs. In order to protect equally the beliefs of all citizens, the State should not engage in “what might be loosely described as” either atheistic or religious propaganda. It should equally respect the rights of theists and atheists to hold and democratically manifest their beliefs. Read more…
Enoch Burke should be aware of the constitutional authority of parents in Irish schools
Today the High Court has ordered the arrest of Enoch Burke, a teacher in a Church of Ireland School, for breaching the terms of an injunction to not attend the school. He was suspended because of his behaviour at a religious service and dinner, but has continued to turn up for work. You can read about that here.
His suspension is about his behaviour at the service and dinner, but he is presenting it as if it is about his right to call a child by a different name, and to use the pronoun ‘they’, which is the wish of the student and their parents.
On that underlying issue, Enoch Burke should be well aware of the constitutional rights of parents in Irish schools, as his brother Elijah recently won a Supreme Court case on the basis of the rights of parents to home school their children.
When looking at this issue there are three essential things to note:
- You cannot compare the Irish education system to any other school system. Our education system is unique in the world.
- Under the Irish Constitution it is parents and their children who are the rights holders. Teachers, patron bodies, principals, and schools are not mentioned in the Constitution.
- The constitutional articles on education are a reflection of Catholic church teaching in relation to the rights of parents.
The Supreme Court stated, in the recent case that Enoch’s brother Elijah won, that:
“An overall saver in the constitutional text is that the State, in providing for free primary education and in endeavouring to assist post-primary education in various forms, have “due regard … for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.” This provision reflects a concern for upholding parental authority; a foundational pillar of the Constitution that accords with Article 41 recognising the family as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of” Irish society. Hence, society is built around the family.”
The Irish Constitution recognises all parents’ rights. They are not confined to religious parents, notwithstanding the fact that many people believe that it is only religious parents that have rights in relation to the education of their children.
Parents with philosophical convictions have exactly the same rights as those with religious beliefs and the Irish courts recognise this. The rights of parents in our Constitution (which reflect Catholic Church teaching on education) are the very thing that undermines the claims of Enoch Burke in relation to his Constitutional rights.
In the High Court in 2011 (AB v Children’s Hospital Temple Street & CD & EF), Justice Hogan stated that:
“35. There is thus no doubt at all but that parents have the constitutional right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views.”
“27. Along with the guarantee of free speech in Article 40.6.i, Article 44.2.1 guarantees freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion. Taken together, these constitutional provisions ensure that, subject to limited exceptions, all citizens have complete freedom of philosophical and religious thought, along with the freedom to speak their mind and to say what they please in all such matters….”
A teacher’s religious beliefs or a school’s religious ethos do not take precedence over parental authority in relation to the education of their children. A school would have to prove that referring to a child by a different name undermined their ethos. How can a school or a teacher prove that? it is ridiculous to even suggest it. Also, how can referring to a child by a different name undermine the religious belief of a teacher? It would not be much of a belief if that was the case. Read online…
Calling concerned teachers
If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at email@example.com
List of Atheist Ireland Submissions
Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”
**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about gods‘ free (excluding postage and packaging). This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…
Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.
Lessons about Atheism
Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans
Be Good without Gods
Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of $37,525 to 1310 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.
Atheist Ireland’s ‘notme.ie‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1944 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here.
Petition on Schools Equality PACT
Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,113 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.
Tell us what you think
Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland
Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.
Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:
- You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
- You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
- You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
- You will have access to our members only Facebook group
- Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.
You can join Atheist Ireland here.
Thank you for your continued support
Atheist Ireland Committee
Atheist Ireland has made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. This committee is currently inviting submissions on the Constitutional Future of the Island of Ireland. Deadline is tomorrow the 5th of September. Please make your own personal submission. You can find Atheist Ireland’s submission here.
You can read the details here and send your submission to the following email address email@example.com.
Opinion and Media
Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.
Blogs & Opinions
Religious orders involved in redress sold properties totalling €90 million since 2016
By Maria Delaney
RELIGIOUS CONGREGATIONS INVOLVED in historic abuse have sold over 75 properties worth a total of over €90 million since 2016. During this time, €27m was paid to the State in redress by the same seven key organisations analysed by Noteworthy. Read more…
Minister shelves testimony review from mother and baby home survivors
By Harry McGee
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has abandoned a promised review of testimony given by survivors of Mother and Baby Homes because he believes an alternative “initiative” can best address the exclusion of their personal experiences from the official report on the scandal, his department has said. Read more…
‘This isn’t justice’: Relatives criticise fact Bessborough site won’t be excavated like Tuam
By Órla Ryan
A WOMAN WHOSE brother was born in the Bessborough mother and baby home has criticised the fact the site of the former institution will not be excavated in a bid to locate the burial place of over 850 children. Read more…
A Christian school baptized 100 kids without telling their parents
By Hemant Mehta
Northwood Temple Academy, a Christian school in Fayetteville, North Carolina, baptized 100 students last week without telling parents what was happening. While this would be beyond illegal in a public school, the fact that Northwood is a private religious institution hardly makes this any better. Read more…
What makes ‘skeptical’ kids grow up to be God-believing adults?
By Rick Snedeker
If kids are the savvy, skeptical creatures that Will Gervais proposes in his recent essay, why do endless hordes of them in each generation turn into conservative American adults who uncritically worship invisible gods with zero objective verification? Read more…
‘Unexplained questions’ around new young people prayer poll
By Humanists UK
A new ComRes opinion poll, commissioned by the Church of England, has suggested that young people are more likely to pray, attend religious services, and read religious texts than old people. The polling has received widespread media coverage, but it flies in the face of all previous polling and observable data, bar another from ComRes. Read more…
If you are a blogger or vlogger writing or talking about atheism, secularism, ethics, skepticism, human rights etc. and would like us to include your work here please email the link to firstname.lastname@example.org
Podcasts, Videos and Interviews
News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement.