Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Human Rights, and my child's future.

My child is an Irish child, but she does not have the same rights as many other Irish children.

She has citizenship. She is entitled to childrens' allowance.

However, she is not being brought up as a member of any religion. And therefore, she misses out on some other fundamental rights.

For one thing, she can never become President. Article 12.8 of Bunreacht na hEireann (the Irish Constitution) states that upon taking office, the President shall swear the following oath (it also refers to the President under the default pronoun "he" but we'll leave that for another day as the sexism in the constitution deserves its own post):

"In the presence of Almighty God I ,do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me."

Atheists do not believe in god, any god. While the lines in the oath have a very Christian slant, a Muslim could nevertheless take office as he or she calls god "allah"; or a Buddhist who calls their god "Buddha" but nevertheless believes in a "god" to whom the above could refer to. An atheist however, could not in good faith take that oath, because it means nothing to them, and no one watching an atheist take such an oath could believe that it meant anything to them for belief in god is a fundamental part of it.

The same is true for a presence on the Council of State (article 31) and perhaps more importantly, the judiciary (article 34.5.1). A judge in Ireland must swear an oath to god. This oath:

"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 knowledge and power execute the office of Chief Justice (or as the case may be) without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws. May God direct and sustain me."

"May God direct and sustain me" - in my role as a judge, as I try to uphold the laws of the land. That is an ill-fit with notions of secularity, as well as meaning that once again, my daughter and others like her could never realistically be considered for the role.How does it even fit with the line that precedes it - "without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man" (man, not person, again!) - what if God directs the judge, by way of religious teachings, to have favour toward one person or ill-will toward another - religion has after all, been used to justify slavery, which certainly counts as using the law to favour one person over another.

And now we come to Article 44 - Religion. It even gets its own article!

Here is the text in full of Article 44:

1. 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. 
 1° Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.
 2° The State guarantees not to endow any religion. 
 3° The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.
 4° Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.
 5° Every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire and administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.
 6° The property of any religious denomination or any educational institution shall not be diverted save for necessary works of public utility and on payment of compensation.

Let's start at the start. The state acknowledges the homage of public worship is due to almightly god. Yeah, that's the big one. It presumes the existence of, and belief in, god. Specifically, a (male) god who needs and deserves worship.

The articles which follow are also actually offensive to secularists, not so much as the first, but insomuch as they mention religion constantly, but there is no mention of "No religion". Therefore, the state can't discriminate against religions or people from different religions, but they can discriminate against people who don't belong to any religion, meaning atheists and agnostics too. We are not afforded the same rights. This translates into law too - the nine grounds (equality and anti-discrimination legislation) include religion, but not "No religion" or "religion or lack thereof", therefore in legal analysis, those of us who have no religion are not included and may be discriminated against. The article on schools is vague and legislation around it has interpreted that the churches have a right to discriminate and choose members of their religion over non-members if the school is over-subscribed, as the religion has the "right" not to compromise its principles - the same legislation makes it perfectly legal for schools to discriminate when hiring teachers, and since most of the schools are Catholic, you can guess which sorts of discrimination take place.

Yes, I have chosen this for my daughter, as I chose not to have her christened (my other half was raised Catholic and it would have been very easy to have her baptised, his family would have been all for it!). I chose to make her life more difficult, perhaps? I chose to deprive her of rights which could otherwise have been hers? Those things may be true. I choose another perspective. I choose to bring her up in a way which is right. To not abandon my principles for what would be easier. To fight against discrimination instead of hiding away and pretending to be one of the people against whom no discrimination takes place.

I hope that by the time she is of an age where she could be president or a member of the judiciary, if she should so choose, these articles will have been amended. Because to be able to partake in politics and the justice system of your country are fundamental elements of citizenship, and as a non-religious person, she does not have those rights.


  1. Very good post, thanks for sharing. I find it quite interesting that in a country as secular in practice as Ireland, religion is so entrenched in the law, while in a country as legally secular as the US, you get such a high percentage of religious people in practice. I was once told that a culture which considers itself under threat, tends to flourish as especially the young cling to it in defiance of the threat, while a culture which is institutionalised often struggles to elicit enthusiasm. Maybe that's what it is?

  2. Thanks Muuka! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Nadia, that's interesting - I hadn't heard that before, but it makes sense, it sort of brings out people's "Inner teenager" if they feel they are being told not to do something>? I would love to study it further, as I would be very much inf avour of fully secular law, but would hate to see it backfire in the way it has in the USA.