Atheists and the presidency


Sir, — I represented the Humanist Association of Ireland at a meeting on May 19th, 2011, attended by the then-taoiseach Enda Kenny, ministers and leaders of all religions as part of the structured dialogue process between the government and “religious and other non-confessional philosophical groups” which stemmed from a clause in the Lisbon Treaty. At this meeting I asked the question, “How embarrassing would it be for our country if, later on that year, we elected a president who was unable to take office on account of being non-religious?” There was a very awkward silence, after which the taoiseach leaned over to the then-minister for justice and said, “Alan, you’d better make a note of that”.

Nothing ever happened. But, in a country where nearly half a million people declared “No Religion” in the last census, it’s only a matter of time before we elect an atheist president. Let’s hope our Constitution will be able to cope with this eventuality. – Yours, etc,


Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – If there is to be a reasonable discussion about what Dick Spicer calls “the mandatory religious oath of office” (“October 2nd), we should start by getting the terminology right. The Constitution does not require the incoming president to take an oath, but to make a declaration. Most believers will feel that this creates a less overpowering obligation: an oath involves God as a party to the oath’s promise, whereas a declaration merely refers to the divinity as a bystander or witness. (My guess is that Eamon de Valera, inspirer of the Constitution, didn’t like oaths.)

Any problem foreseen by an atheist could be resolved by his introducing the declaration with a statement along these lines : “I do not accept as factual the implications of the opening phrase and the concluding sentence of the declaration. However, as the Constitution specifies the declaration in detail, I will repeat its exact wording. My disbelief does not weaken my determination to fulfil the operative terms of the declaration fully”.

I doubt if any of the witnesses would intervene after that to raise objections to the president-elect’s assumption of office. – Yours, etc,