Church and state – already separate?
Sir, – Dr Thomas Finegan’s theory that there is separation between church and state in Ireland cannot go unchallenged (“Church and state in Ireland are already separate”, Opinion & Analysis, May 8th).
Our Constitution begins: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ”. Public office-holders (including the president, judges and members of the Council of State) are required to swear oaths to “Almighty God” before taking up office. Our Constitution prohibits blasphemy and a 2009 Act makes blasphemy an offence, carrying a fine of up to €25,000. Our legislature begins its proceedings with prayers. Some 96 per cent of primary schools are under the patronage of religious institutions (90 per cent are under Catholic patronage), which can discriminate against children on religious grounds and a religious ethos can permeate the entire school day in our schools. Much of our health service is under religious control. This is all publicly funded. Now that’s “a neat trick”. We live in a hobbled republic.
A secular outlook is one that advocates the separation of church and state, which Dr Finegan agrees is “a fundamental doctrine of democracy”. No group- whether religious, ethnic or otherwise- should receive favourable treatment, or be penalised by, the State. This cannot be said to be the case in Ireland. I am in agreement with Pope Francis on the matter of secularism. In an interview with La Croix last year, the Pope said “States must be secular . . . I believe that secularism accompanied by a strong law which guarantees religious freedom provides a framework for moving forward”. – Yours, etc,