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Ireland: Religious oaths and high office

Saturday 7 August 2021, by siawi3

Source: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/religious-oaths-and-high-office-1.4638770


Religious oaths and high office

Thu, Aug 5, 2021, 00:11

Sir, – I am disappointed at our Government’s opposition to the case before the European Court of Human Rights about religious oaths in the Constitution. Every citizen of this country has the right to complain about a lack of full democratic access to every elective office.

Requiring every holder of the office of president, Council of State and judiciary to make a Christian oath actively excludes non-Christians from such offices, and is a discriminatory restriction on their democratic access and human rights. It should be noted that one current Coalition partner refused to attend the Dáil for several years over an oath to a king. If they opposed one oath, why support others?

Some argue that there should be a choice between a religious or a non-religious oath. This is problematic as an office-holder has to publicly pick one, thereby disclosing their religious affiliation.

This infringes on their human right to privacy, which includes their right not to disclose their religious affiliation.

It may also cause some office holders to be pressured into selecting a certain oath in order to avoid public commentary or criticism. This is problematic for independent offices, like the presidency and judiciary, which are supposed to be immune from such undue influence.

The simplest solution is often the best, so as was done in 1933 for oaths for TDs and senators, why not remove all oaths from the Constitution? – Yours, etc,

JASON FITZHARRIS,
Swords,
Co Dublin.

°

Sir, – It is disgraceful that the Government is arguing at the European Court of Human Rights that the religious oaths for President and members of the Council of State 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 Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party actively promote overt religious discrimination?

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 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. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL NUGENT,
Chairman,

JANE DONNELLY,
Human Rights Officer,

Atheist Ireland,
Drumcondra,
Dublin 9.