The Case for a Secular Irish Constitution

January 30, 2008 at 5:37 am 7 comments

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.


Entry filed under: Ireland, Politics, Religion.

Bertie Ahern at the Tribunal Part 1 Musical Interlude

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. avid_mass  |  January 30, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Wow, someone else on wordpress with a brain.

  • 2. blankpaige  |  January 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    I love how u take an incisive Milligan-esque long hard look at things. But where were you when we had a blankpaige and enthusiasm?


  • 3. Michael Nugent  |  January 31, 2008 at 3:30 am


    Ah, yes, the great Tory MP Stephen Milligan, who died about ten years ago after a mistimed bout of auto-erotic asphyxiation…

    You are right about the Constitution. That is the ideal way to do it, starting from a blank page and creating a modern, future-proofed document.

    I wonder would it be worth setting up a group blog for that purpose, and see if people were interested in collectively writing a new Irish Constitution?

  • 4. rubensni  |  May 1, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    It’s not only the preamble. The oath of office for both president and judges open with “In the presence of Almighty God…” and close with “…May God direct and sustain me”.
    Surely there’s one judge in the country who doesn’t believe in god, or at least not the catholic god (from reading the preamble, it doesn’t take a genius to realise they’re not referring to the primordial deities – this issue affects quakers, etc. who don’t swear oaths as well). Or if there hasn’t been yet, it’s likely there will be one in the future.

  • 5. Darragh J.  |  May 16, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Michael, Darragh J. here, just wanted to give you a big thumbs up on this piece. However, a blog here or there isn’t going to change this ridiculous piece of religious crap enshrined in the founding document of our state. I’m trying to get Eight specific sections of the constitutions changed due to their religious nature, including the Opening Preamble, the ‘Divine Lord’ part and the oaths for our legal officials.

    Do you have any advice on how we can get this done?

  • 6. Uli  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Lets have a first amendment ala the US consitution which allows for freedom of religion but also freedom from religion..they just bolted the one nation under god stuff on in the 1950’s

  • 7. John  |  June 12, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I think atheists and agnostics should keep their erroneous and unsubstantiated beliefs personal and not foist them on the majority who are believers (in some God at least).


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A blog by Michael Nugent

Welcome to my blog about living in the maddest country on earth. Please feel free to leave a comment.

I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohemians football club in the 1970s.


Bionic Bohs

As mentioned above, if you like Irish football and/or cultural nostalgia, I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohs in the 1970s.

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