Atheists and oaths of office

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Sir, – Atheist Ireland is launching a “One Oath For All” campaign, to enable conscientious atheists and other non-Christians to hold the office of president, judge, taoiseach, or other members of the Council of State.

Of 14 presidential elections or uncontested nominations since 1938, all have excluded conscientious atheists as candidates. This is because, in order to take office as president (and judge or taoiseach), we would have to swear a religious oath that would force us to dissemble about our beliefs, and breach our human right to freedom of conscience and belief.

We need a referendum to replace these religiously discriminatory oaths in our Constitution, so that all citizens of our Republic can be treated equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

These public office-holders should instead make a single declaration of loyalty to the Constitution, State, and people that does not reveal anything about the person’s religious or nonreligious beliefs.

The oath that the President must swear is contained in the Constitution (Article 12). While it is described as a declaration, it is clearly a religious oath. It is a solemn promise, invoking a divine witness described as Almighty God, regarding the president’s future action or behaviour, and asking Almighty God to direct and sustain him or her.

It is clear from the preamble to the Constitution that the “Almighty God” involved is the Christian God, explicitly naming “the Most Holy Trinity” and “our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ”.

If instead, in order to become president, the Constitution required that a winning candidate had to swear that there is no God, everybody would immediately realise that this would be a breach of their rights. But there is a blind-spot when the discrimination is the other way around.

A similar religious oath exists for judges (Article 34) and members of the Council of State (Article 34). The current Council of State includes the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, the Chief Justice, the presidents of the High Court and Court of Appeal, the Attorney General, former presidents, former taoisigh, former chief justices, and seven nominees of the President.

Our Constitution should acknowledge the important right to freedom of religion or belief of every citizen, regardless of whether those beliefs are religious or philosophical. But the Constitution of a republic should not give preference or privilege to the beliefs of either religious or atheist citizens. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL NUGENT,

Chairman,

Atheist Ireland,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

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