The Case for a Secular Irish Constitution
The preamble to the Irish Constitution includes at least two untruths: that all authority of both men and States comes from a fictional being called ‘the Most Holy Trinity’, and that the people of Ireland have obligations to somebody called ‘our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ’.
Actually, all authority (in the sense of legitimate power) comes from agreed relationships between people, and not from any gods that some of those people imagine to exist.
And the people of Ireland have no obligations to Jesus Christ, who may or may not have existed in the Palestine of two thousand years ago, but who is certainly not the ‘Divine Lord’ of four million citizens in the Ireland of today. >>>
The Rights of Gods
Article 44 begins with even bigger whopper: ‘The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God.’
Just think about this for a moment. This is not a guarantee of the right of Irish citizens to worship a god, but of the right of this god to be worshipped by Irish citizens.
The next line—the State ‘shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion’—also protects the rights of this god, not the rights of Irish citizens.
And the State’s respect for religion flows from the rights of this god to be revered, not from the rights of its citizens to revere it.
The Rights of People
Does it matter that our Constitution includes these untruths? Yes, it does, for two reasons. Firstly, they reflect an attitude that has replaced possible happiness with unjust suffering for countless Irish citizens.
As it happens, the Constitution is not protecting just any old god. Until 1973, it also protected the ‘special position’ of the Roman Catholic Church, whose priests were raping Irish children while their Bishops were shaping Irish laws.
Their religious obsession with policing anything related to sex has harmed many Irish citizens in abusive heterosexual marriages or loving gay relationships.
As recently as the 1990s, the Irish courts stopped a raped child from traveling abroad for an abortion, and fined a record shop for selling condoms.
The Quest for Knowledge
But it also matters for a more fundamental reason. Put simply, State Constitutions should not include references to fictional beings. And that is what specific, personal gods are.
In any generation, we humans understand some, but not all, of how nature works in its almost limitless diversity.
In any generation, some of us try to learn more about the bits that we don’t yet know, by observing what happens and applying reason to the evidence.
Others take a short-cut; they simply imagine possible answers, and invent fictional gods to attribute the answers to.
And most of us end up believing in one of these fictional gods, without any reasonable evidence for doing so, because doing so provides a sense of meaning or comfort or community.
However, when civic States encourage this lazy approach to understanding how nature works, they hinder the spread of curiosity and wonder and reason and knowledge, and they retard the development of human potential.
The Secular State
Here’s where the line should be drawn: you can believe in whatever gods you like, and publicly celebrate your beliefs all you like, but don’t impose your beliefs on the health and happiness of others.
In a State that respects everybody’s rights, government should be secular, culture should be pluralist, and beliefs about gods should be personal.