Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Separation of Church and State) Bill 2017: First Stage


Go gceadófar go dtabharfar isteach Bille dá ngairtear Acht chun an Bunreacht a leasú.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.

This Bill seeks to remove the religious references from the Constitution. Many people are not aware of the religious nature of the Constitution until they read the document. People are often surprised to read the first words, which are, "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity" with the preamble going on to mention how the people, "Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ," enacted the Constitution. Throughout the document there are religious oaths of office, references to the idea that all power derives from God and an obligation on the Oireachtas to legislate for the crime of blasphemy. The Constitution also states that homage and public worship "is due to Almighty God".

Some may say this is just a historical relic from the 1930s and has no real effect but that is not the case. The framing of the Constitution in this religious way means there is actual discrimination on grounds of religion in this State today. The Constitution is written from the perspective of a Catholic people and a Catholic State, which then gifts religious liberties to others. Religious minorities are tolerated. What most people want, however, is the guarantee of religious liberties for all, regardless of the religion they may have.

Recently there was a debate around the prayer at the start of each day in this House. The legal advice received by Solidarity was that the prayer and the obligation to stand were constitutional, given the religious nature of the Constitution. The State should not oblige anyone to declare his or her religious belief when interacting with the State. Religion is a personal matter and it should not result in either favourable or less favourable treatment by the State. In our schools, religious discrimination against staff is perfectly legal. As recently as 2015, the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government reaffirmed this. Religion can determine entry to State schools and has influence over the curriculum. Even in our school transport system there is discrimination based on religion. All of this is perfectly legal.

This Bill would remove the obligation to treat blasphemy as a crime. In 2009, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government passed the Defamation Act which set a fine of up to €25,000 for the crime. Only a few months ago, Stephen Fry was investigated for blasphemy because of an interview he gave about his views on religion. Again, all this is perfectly legal. The Constitution outlines religious-based oaths for key offices of State. The President, all judges and members of the Council of State must take religious oaths and publicly declare their belief in God. What would happen if a person was elected President next year and was not a believer in God? Would the President-elect have to break his or her own conscience and take a religious oath or would he or she be permitted to become President if he or she refused to take an oath in which he or she did not believe? The political establishment today is unwilling to support separation of church and State. It has relied on the institution of religion as a key pillar of its rule for decades. Not only were religious organisations gifted schools and hospitals by the State, they also provided an ideology for the ruling class that justified its rule. In fact, to this day religious organisations are gifted the State's schools and hospitals.

It is noteworthy that the population is changing, placing the political establishment even more out of touch. According to the most recent census, 468,400 people have no religion. This constitutes an increase of 76% in just five years. The percentage of Catholics has dropped from 84% in 2011 to 78% in 2016. We clearly have an increasingly diverse population with a range of religious belief. The passing of this Bill by the Dáil would require a referendum, which we suggest could take place on the same day as the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment.

Solidarity is very serious about a full separation of church and State and this Bill is part of a series of Bills we have or will put forward. We look forward to continuing our campaign work on the separation of church and State.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Tairgim: "Go dtógfar an Bille in am Comhaltaí Príobháideacha."

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.