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Mid West Humanists send submission to the Constitutional Convention on a Secular Constitution

At meetings in March, April, and May 2013 we have discussed a submission to go to the Constitutional Convention, on removing the parts of the Constitution that are biased  against people of no religion; and thereby making the Constitution secular.

The Constitutional Convention is due to discuss other aspects of the Constitution, which the Government did not put on its agenda, at its meeting on Saturday 30 November and Sunday 01 December 2013.

We are hoping that a Secular Constitution will be discussed then.

The Mid West Humanists have sent a submission, as detailed further below.

The more people who ask the Convention to discuss an issue, the more likely it will be that the Convention will deal with it.

So we suggest that every person who thinks the Constitution should  be secular should send their own personal submission to the Convention. You do not need to make a case with detailed arguments.

Go to the Constitutional Convention website, which has a button marked “Make a Submission” which will lead you to the submission page.

You can write “Secular Constitution” as the title of your submission. The site has a “Comment” box, in which you can write your views, up to 1000 characters (this 1000 includes the spaces between words). You can attach a file but you do not have to do so.

You will have to give your name, address, email, and phone number: but only your name and your County will be shown on the Convention’s website. Several submitters with titles that are clearly not real names have managed to get submissions in.

The Constitutional Convention website will lead you to the Mid West Humanists’  submission.

The page for an individual submission shows comment of not more than 9 lines, and a link to download the submission’s larger file. Our submission is in a Word file.

When you press that link the download box may say that the file is “AttachmentDownload.ashx” (rather than the name of our submission).
You can download the file – with the Save option (do not choose to open it immediately). When you see your own computer’s dialog box about where to save the file, you can rename this file. If your computer is not set up to open this dialog box, find where the saved file is and rename it.
Put any name you choose, but make its extension (suffix) .doc – “MidWestHumanistsSecular.doc”.
Microsoft Word will open the file – it remained a Word file but the Convention’s website renames it.

How the Mid West Humanists would like the various Articles of the Constitution to be after the changes is in a Meeting Report.

Here is what we sent to the Convention: –

from Mid West Humanists 22 May 2013

The Mid West Humanists are people with no religion (people meeting monthly since 2008), in Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary.

To the Constitutional Convention

Making the Constitution of Ireland secular

Reason to make this Submission to the Convention

The Convention has already considered issues outside the list that the Government set. Accordingly the Mid West Humanists propose changes to make the Constitution secular, in addition to their proposal to delete the criminalisation of blasphemy.

Summary Statement

1.                       Approximately 10% (perhaps more) of the population of Ireland have no religion – including in this region.
Society, law, and the constitution are biased towards religion.
The Mid West Humanists want our Constitution to mandate the equal treatment of people of all religions and of people with no religion – by removing references to religion and God but keeping the guarantee of freedom to have or not have a religion.
The changes we seek will make it easier for government to deal with the increasing variety of religions (and no religion) to which people in Ireland belong; and will make it easier for government to operate many of its services; and easier for government to prevent civil strife.

Summary of where the Constitution needs to be Secular

Organised by Principles

2.                       The Preamble, Article 6, Article 44 Part 1, and the Epilogue refer to a god, and these bias the State towards religion, while a substantial portion of the people have no religion. These parts do not improve the operation of the government, or provide any practical benefit to people who have a religion – but they tell people who have no religion that they are second class citizens.
Article 44 says that homage is due to God, and it appears to direct people, who by the use of reason and evidence conclude that gods do not exist, to give homage to a god. All these parts that mention God should be deleted.

3.                       Articles 12, 31, and 34 require our President, members of the Council of State, and our judges, on starting their job, to declare their honest intention to do the job, and to declare that they are so declaring in the presence of a god. This discriminates against honest people who have no religion from doing those jobs. The guarantee of the high quality and honesty of the work of a President, members of the Council of State, and judges is not increased by obliging them to mention God – it might be reduced. As it requires religion as one of the qualifications for these important State posts, it tells people with no religion that they are second class. The phrases referring to a god must be removed.

4.                       Part of Article 40 states that Blasphemy is an offence. This encourages people to expect that their religious ideas will be immune from public criticism, and the blasphemy offence encourages people to take offence at criticism of their religious ideas, and thereby promotes discord and trouble. It is also a discrimination against ideas that criticise religion. In politics and sport many people hold strong views and get annoyed at people criticising them, yet they do not expect the law to stop others making this criticism. The blasphemy offence makes the job of government harder. It must be abolished.

5.                       Article 42 on Education and Article 44 on Religion prohibit discrimination between people of different religions but do not prohibit discrimination between those with religion and those without religion. The prohibition of discrimination between people of different religions must be extended fully to between people of religion and of no religion.
Article 42 lists several types of education, including “religious and moral” education, and that it is the duty of a parent to give religious education to their child. It directs people, who by the use of reason and evidence conclude that gods do not exist, to tell their children to believe something that these parents are quite sure is not true. “religious and” must be deleted.

6.                       Article 40 Part 6.1.i and Article 44 state that public morality limits the exercise of general rights and of religious rights respectively. We think that “public morality” is very liable to be interpreted with a bias towards religious morals and against freedom to do sexual acts that harm nobody. The Dáil and Senate can pass laws to prohibit any particular action that harms other people’s rights, and then that law would state precisely what you are not allowed to do. The phrase “public morality” is more general than is needed in our Constitution, and must be removed.

7.                       Article 44 Parts 5 and 6 state in our Constitution protections against unfair State compulsory taking of property, to apply to religious denominations, which protections apply to all other people and organisations in statute law, with the support of Article 43 of the Constitution. These parts mark religious organisations unnecessarily as special, and must be removed.

Summary of a Secular Constitution

8.                       We seek a State and a society that treats all people equally irrespective of their religion or lack of religion. This would mean that the State should take no interest in whether you have a religion or not, nor in which religion (if you have one). We support strongly the right of all people to choose to have a religion and to choose not to have a religion, as long as this does not interfere with the rights of other people.
We ask for equal treatment and equal respect for people who have a religion and for people of no religion.

                           Summary of advantages of a Secular Constitution

9.                       Most importantly, at least some aspects (probably all) of our desired changes will produce a society that will be better for all people. After these changes, the work of governing the State will also be easier.

We put some general arguments first, and then an argument for each of the changes we seek.
We also show here the arguments against certain compromises that some other people may suggest, but which would not advance a secular society, and may actually make things worse.

After the arguments on each Article, we list the Articles as they are now and as they would be after the changes that we have proposed.

General Arguments

10.       Why people without religion seek to have the Constitution changed.

The Constitution stands over the laws of the Republic of Ireland and sets limits to what laws the Oireachtas (legislature) (Dáil and Senate) can pass. If a law is not consistent with the Constitution the Supreme Court can declare it to be unconstitutional, and then that piece of law is no longer a law and has no force.

Some parts of the Constitution are unfair to people of no religion, or give more rights, opportunities, or powers to people who have a religion. Even if the TDs and Senators are favourably disposed to making laws that are equal to people of religion and of no religion, they cannot make some laws egalitarian. For example, if the Dáil and Senate passed an Act so that the declaration by a judge when she or he is appointed does not refer to a god, this would have no effect because that declaration is fixed in Article 34.5.1 and it does refer to a god.

Some of the articles which we seek to change promote the influence of religion over society’s structure and institutions in a way that is not so clear or straightforward, for example, parts of Article 42 about education. Sub-parts 5 and 6 of Part 2 of Article 44 about religion protects religious organisations’ property from state interference, to a standard that applies by law to most land belonging to farmers, house owners, or business. The specific protection in the Constitution to religious organisations privileges them in ways that are hard to predict, but probably do occur.

11.       Why people both with and without religion should carefully examine any other proposals to change the Constitution, in case these other proposed changes are insufficient or make things worse.

Another group or person has proposed changes in Articles 12, 31, or 34, so that a president, or a member of the Council of State, or a judge, on starting the job would have a choice between making a declaration with the existing religious words included, or another declaration with no religious content. We think that would be a very bad idea, as it would mark out judges to the public as religious or not religious, and create a perception of bias in each judge that would apply in some court cases. We oppose that proposal.

Here is a recent real example, though not involving the Constitution. The Senate changed in early 2012, from having a spoken prayer before they start the day’s work, to having a minute’s silence, followed by the prayer. This is not satisfactory. The new arrangement leaves the prayer prominent, and little attention comes to the silence, which has little meaning. The people’s legislators are still praying aloud during work time paid from the taxes, which communicates that the State’s institutions believe there is a God, which makes people with no religion second class citizens. We the people pay the legislators to use evidence and their human powers of reason to vote for the best legislation. (All TDs and Senators are free to pray as they choose, in their own time, including before starting work each day.) Changes of this type should not be introduced; instead, the prayer by the organ of State should be abolished.

12.       How some changes that the secularist people seek may produce a saner society that is easier for the government to administer, and thus helpful to people who have a religion just as much as people with none

While only partly mandated by the Constitution, the system of schools in Ireland is a system like the franchising of certain businesses. The Department of Finance collects money from us in taxes, and the Department of Education uses its share of taxes for running schools. It does not generally operate schools. It agrees that certain organisations (mostly religious) operate the schools. The present Constitution clearly allows for and envisages that many or most schools be run by religious organisations. This segregates citizens into groups when they are young and thereby teaches them that these groups are relatively permanent and enduring. When there is any trouble in society, those people, who see society as composed of groups, are more prone to blame the trouble on another group. A one-type, state, secular set of schools would avoid one version of group identification.

All the articles in the Constitution, that mention religion – as if it is an automatic feature of a person in Ireland – mark religious people as standard and mark people with no religion as sub-standard, making it easier for many of the population to falsely think that nearly all (or indeed, all) people have a religion, and so to ignore the atheists and humanists most of the time, and not be aware how there is discrimination against them; and this also makes it easier for the people with religion to blame those with no religion, or those with another religion, for any social problem.

Thus it is not solely individual discrimination against people with no religion that argues for making the Constitution secular. A cohesive society where there is the minimum of marking of people as belonging to groups, so as to reduce strife between groups and thus between people, also favours a secular Constitution (as well as favouring secular laws).

Arguments for each of the changes to the Constitution, by each Article

13              Preamble

The preamble implies that all citizens are religious and indeed belong to a limited set of versions of Christianity (though with numerous followers in each branch). This implies that other people (with no religion) are not as important, as their view of why we have a constitution is not covered in the preamble. It makes it easier for those with religion to notice less that there are some people with no religion, and thus not to notice that society and the State need to adapt to the non-religious.
The religious parts of the preamble do not make any part of the operation of government easier.

The religious phrases should be removed.

14        Article 6 – Power derived from the people, but under God.

Article 6 says that power in the Constitution derives from the people. That on its own would be satisfactory. But the mention of the people and the derivation being under a god has no function. It serves only to mark religion as an automatic feature of a person in Ireland, marking religious people as standard and marking people with no religion as sub-standard.
It does not add to smooth operation of government or its services. It has no practical benefit for people who have a religion.

“under God” should be removed.

15        Article 12 – the President

Article 31 – the Council of State (who give advice to the President)

Article 34 – the Courts (judges)

These 3 articles, separately, state that to begin in those 3 types of important State job, you must make a declaration of your promise to do the job properly, stating that you are in the presence of a god. We do not know if this form of declaration has actually caused a person with no religion, otherwise qualified for and interested in those jobs, to decide not to be a president, judge, or member of the Council of State. We can calculate that it makes non-religious candidates think carefully before taking those jobs. Perhaps other people, who may or may not have a religion, including some judges, think it is a reasonable thing for someone who has no religion to decide to make this declaration, in order to become a judge. The state is not promoting honesty among this set of judges (if such exist), whereas generally honesty is one of the most important features needed in a judge.

The replacement should be one declaration with no reference to a god. To delete “In the presence of Almighty God” and to delete “May God direct and sustain me” would be correct.

To have the Constitution give a president, judge, or Council of State member a choice between (a) a declaration including “God”, and (b) a declaration without it, would mark the office holder publicly thereafter either as having a religion or as not having a religion. Such knowledge about a judge would lead to allegations of bias in cases where one of the legal parties thought that religion or its absence was relevant.

The new declaration must be one declaration only and not refer to a god.

16              Article 40, Part 6 – Blasphemy

Blasphemy is an offence, Article 40.6.1.i writes. This is the only offence which the Constitution states definitely exists. (Article 39 refers to treason, to state that it consists only of a set of specified actions. We think that this means only that it cannot by statute be made more extensive, not that Article 39 makes treason an offence.) The offence of blasphemy sets limits to freedom to speak about religion(s), in a way that the Constitution prevents any limit on speech about any other subject. This insulates some people who have a religion from having to face ordinary criticism of these ideas, encourages them to be more outraged by the criticism than they might otherwise be, and promotes hatred between people. The existence of the offence increases the chances of civil discord, and on some occasions, violence. There is no positive value in the offence of blasphemy. It does not make the work of the government easier, rather it makes it harder.

You could compare the blasphemy offence limiting the right to criticise a religion to a law that would limit the right to criticise a political party. Many people feel just as strongly about their favoured political party, and some of those people look very uncomfortable hearing criticism of it, but they do not expect the law to forbid such criticism. They have to tolerate the criticism; or, they can move away or turn off the radio so that they do not hear it.

Blasphemy as an offence must be removed from the Constitution.

17              Article 40, Part 6 – Personal Rights subject to public morality

A list of rights in Part 6, sub-Part 1 – freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom to form associations – all hang on sub-Part 1’s starting sentence. The starting sentence grants these rights, subject to public order and morality. Order in public is a reasonable aim.
But on morality, any really important moral rules that the state wants to enforce can have either a common law or an Act of the Oireachtas stating the action that constitutes the offence, and stating the appropriate punishment. If there are additional moral rules that the state wishes to enforce, the Dáil and Senate can pass an Act to do so. “public morality” is likely to be interpreted in a religious sense, indeed maybe particularly to mean about sex. This is contrary to freedom of expression, and is likely to mean interfering with freedoms in a manner biased towards religion.

“and morality” should be removed.

18              Article 42 – Education

Part 1 of Article 42 tells parents that it is their duty to carry out the education of their children. It tells them it is their duty to do several particular types of education. The first type is religious (“religious and moral”). Here are two disadvantages to the inclusion of “religious”.
A. This appears to direct a parent, who by the use of reason and evidence concludes that gods do not exist and thinks that religion is a mistake, to make their children believe in religion, that is, to believe something that the parent is quite sure is false, and for which there is no evidence.
B. We support Part 1 of Article 42 on the “inalienable [right and] duty of parents” to provide moral education. Good morals among the citizens, and the young and growing up citizens, make it easier for the state institutions to govern the people, and reduce civil strife. However, if the State in our Constitution also tells parents to teach religious morals to children, then the State tells various parents to teach their children to observe different moral rules (there are, and there inevitably would be, several different religions in Ireland and in any other country). To encourage such difference may lead to social conflict, which is not in the interest of the State or the citizens.
The State should not prohibit parents from such choice. Article 44.2.1’s guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion is sufficient to stop the State so prohibiting parents. The State should not encourage or direct such disunity in civic morals.

“religious and” should be removed.

Part 4 of Article 42, at the end, describes some circumstances when the State should step beyond merely to “provide for” education as at the start of Part 4. Schools and other education services that the State provides should not be divided according to religion, as in Paragraph 12 of this Submission. To segregate citizens into groups when they are young thereby teaches them that these groups are relatively permanent and enduring. When there is any trouble in society, those people, who see society as composed of groups, are more prone to blame the trouble on another group.

Part 4’s “rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation” are liable to be interpreted as forcing the State to operate these schools divided by religion, whereas divided schools promote young people to see society divided into groups, which tends to increase civil strife.
Further, this provision involves the State promising various parents that these schools will teach their children to observe different moral rules. To encourage such difference may lead to social conflict, which is not in the interest of the State or the citizens.

“with due regard, however, for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation”  should be deleted.

19              Article 44 – Religion

In Part 1 the State says that homage is due to god. This is the strongest marker in the Constitution of religion as being standard for people, and therefore of people lacking religion as sub-standard. It appears to direct people, who by the use of reason and evidence conclude that gods do not exist, to give homage to a god. This must be deleted.

Part 2 sub-Part 1 gives rights to people of many types of religion, but not to people of no religion. The rights for people of no religion must be inserted, “or no religion”.

As mentioned under Article 40 “public morality” is likely to mean religious or anti-sex. Some religious people’s ideas about freedom to practise their religion include the supposed right to damage the body (sometimes also the mind) of their child.

“public order and morality” should be removed. This right must be subject, instead, to “the rights of other people”.

Part 2 sub-Part 2 has not succeeded (in the Supreme Court) in preventing the state from funding religious chaplains in vocational schools. Further it has not stopped the state handing taxes to religious-operated schools and hospitals, with the permanent wealth coming from those taxes remaining with the religious organisations.

This sub-Part must be strengthened, by inserting “either directly or indirectly”.

Part 2 sub-Part 3, similarly to sub-Part 1, needs to be equal towards people of no religion, by inserting “or no religion”.

Part 2 sub-Part 4 allows the state to discriminate between schools linked to religions and schools not linked to a religion.

The equal rights for schools not linked to a religion must be inserted, “or none”.

Part 2 sub-Parts 5 and 6 provide in the Constitution a protection against unreasonable taking of property, taking of property compulsorily from, and paying compensation to, religious denominations. To all other people (a person who owns a house, a farmer, and a business owning a building or land) these protections apply through ordinary laws. These laws depend on the Constitution, where Article 43 Part 1 supports private property rights, and Article 43 Part 2 sets limits to those rights based on social justice and the common good. These provisions are sufficient for all people and organisations and therefore are equally sufficient for religious organisations.
Religions do not need these protections to be specifically for religious denominations in the Constitution. Their presence in the Constitution particularly for religions is a further measure of religion being special, to which it has no right.

These sub-Parts 5 and 6 must be deleted.

20              Epilogue

It is not part of the State’s functions to promote any glory said to belong to a god.

“Glóire Dé” should be removed.

How the Mid West Humanists would like Article 40 to be after the change is in our Meeting Reports.


One Response

  1. Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom , the framers of the Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the federal government any power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise, thus protecting any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference. The decision was mainly influenced by European Rationalist and Protestant ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent them.

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