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Full text of Senator Martin Mansergh's article on religious freedom

Below is the full text of Senator Martin Mansergh's article on religious freedom. With kind permission of the Irish Catholic.

The 1916 Proclamation guarantees religious and civil liberty. Until recently, religious freedom in Ireland would have been taken for granted, but in fact there are increasing signs that it is being fundamentally challenged. Religious freedom is the freedom individually and collectively to profess and act on religious beliefs, without being coerced into actions contrary to conscience.

Handel’s late oratorio Theodora based on a 17th century novel by Robert Boyle, the famous chemist born in Lismore Castle whose statue flanks Government Buildings, is the story of the martyrdom of a princess of Antioch, who refuses to attend a sacrifice to Jove in honour of the Emperor Diocletian. Her political loyalty as a Christian is brushed aside with the comment, ‘they are not Caesar’s friends, who own not Caesar’s gods’. Substitute secular norms for Caesar’s gods, and one can detect in some quarters an increasing impatience with those whose religious beliefs prevent them from giving their full cooperation, without of course the threat of barbaric punishments.

In today’s Ireland, the religious faith still professed to a greater or lesser extent by a large majority of the people places few constraints on personal freedom or choices, but equally no person or organisation should be forced by legislation or agencies of the State to act in a manner contrary to their conscientious religious beliefs.

Today, there are influential voices that want to overthrow that equilibrium. In the name of equality, human rights or the rights of minorities, the demand is that unrepresentative views be entitled to supplant the democratic wishes of a majority of the people. Secular humanism, instead of being one minority view among others, is being promoted as the embodiment of neutrality and therefore should rightfully become the norm at a stroke.

Catholic pregnancy advisory agencies in Ireland have been threatened with a withdrawal of funding, unless they are prepared to engage in abortion referral at one remove. Catholic adoption agencies in Britain must be prepared to accept same-sex couples as suitable to adopt, or also be forced to close through loss of State funding, with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s scruples overridden. The Angelus on RTE and Oireachtas prayers should be withdrawn, on the grounds that they might be offensive to Jews, Muslims and others. Derogations from the EU equality directive negotiated by the Government at the request of all the Churches, which allows them to protect the ethos of their schools, hospitals, and charities, should be removed, we are told, even though it would then become impossible to maintain a religious ethos in any institution. In short, religion is to be privatised and removed from the public sphere in a (proudly?) post-Christian Ireland.

Two factors give this movement a certain momentum. In Ireland, the child abuse scandals involving priests are deemed to have weakened the legitimacy of the Church by its opponents. In Britain, it is the fear of international terrorism inspired by religious fanaticism.

Every State, country and society needs a set of democratically determined core values. They do not have to be exclusive or impervious to change or unaccommodating of alternatives within limits, nor does everyone have to subscribe to all or most of them, provided that the right of the people to determine the nature of their own society is accepted. Naturally, society should be as inclusive as possible without losing its (evolving) identity or all the characteristics that give it stability. A pure multicultural relativism will not answer those needs, and it is not fair of those who purport to speak for various kinds of minority to demand in the name of equality that Ireland should not just adapt but simply abandon or surrender large parts of its distinctive political and religious heritage. Certainly, religious minorities would get short shrift, if this were ever granted, and most of them know it.

Those who value that heritage, needless to say, should not seek an unattainable return to the conditions of fifty years ago, but rather to maintain a reasonable balance between the respect for and reflection of religious beliefs and values, and openness to other influences. Fortunately, the Constitution, with its requirement that fundamental changes be first put to the people for their approval directly in a referendum, poses a significant barrier to some élites who want to reshape Irish society according to their lights with least possible reference to the people.

This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the Irish Catholic.

22/03/07

Religious freedom under threat says Senator Mansergh

Elites “who want to reshape Irish society according to their lights with least possible reference to the people" are fundamentally threatening religious freedom in Ireland, according to prominent Senator, Martin Mansergh.

22/03/07
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UK social welfare benefits 'destroying family life' says new book

Couples who pretend to live apart can gain up to £10,000 a year in benefits, according to a new book published by UK think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. Written by sociologist and author Patricia Morgan, the book says that the scale of the fraud is the result of a Government policy which discourages couples from marrying or even cohabiting, dealing a "devastating blow" to family life.

21/03/07
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Greens welcome Iona policy on tax individualisation

The Green Party has welcomed The Iona Institute's new policy document calling for fairer treatment of one-income married couples in a statement released by Finance spokesman for the Greens, Dan Boyle TD. The Deputy said that a series of measures are needed to eliminate the anomalies.

20/03/07
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Fine Gael adopts 'Iona' tax policy

Fine Gael have pledged to begin easing the effects of tax individualisation if they are in Government after the General Election. Their plan involves increasing the stay-at-home carers tax credit, currently worth 770 euro pa, by 1000 euro pa. The proposal is in line with the tax policy document launched by the Iona Institute which called for the Government to begin closing the tax gap between double and single income married couples.

16/03/07
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Bishops favour delaying children's rights referendum

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference have called for the Government's proposed referendum on children's rights to be postponed until after the General Election.

16/03/07
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First Iona Institute policy document launched

Stay-at-home mothers have been heavily penalised by the Government's ongoing tax individualisation policy, according to a new report published by the Iona Institute. The report says that the growing income gap, which now stands at up to €6,240 between single and double income married families should be an issue in the forthcoming election.

15/03/07
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An interview with Iona director David Quinn

Catholic news website Zenit has just published an interview with our director David Quinn on the reasons behind the establishment of the Iona Institute.

08/03/07
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Brother and sister challenge Germany's incest law.

A German brother and sister, who have four children together are campaigning to have their country's incest laws quashed.

07/03/07
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Irish Times article on gay adoption

The Irish Times yesterday printed an article by Iona Institute researcher Tom O'Gorman on gay adoption. Here is a link to the piece to enable readers to go online and engage in the debate. (Subscription required)

06/02/07
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Irish children more likely to binge drink and abuse drugs, study finds.

Irish children are more likely than those in other countries to abuse drugs and alcohol, a new Government-sponsored study on child well-being has found.

01/03/07
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Women twice as likely as men to file for divorce

New divorce statistics show that women are twice as likely to apply for divorce as men, a conference on family law was told on Tuesday.

28/02/07
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Blair rejects marriage-based cure for social ills.

Prime Minister Tony Blair today rejected calls to put marriage at the heart of social and family policy. Rejecting Conservative Party leader David Cameron's suggestion that family breakdown and fatherlessness were at the heart of Britain's social ills, Mr Blair said that anti-social problems were not limited to to fatherless families.

27/02/07
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UK marriage rates plummet

The number of new marriages in Britain has fallen to the lowest level in 111 years, according to new data which emerged last week. Latest figures reveal that the number of marriages has dropped by 30,000 between 2004 and 2005 to a total of just over 244,000.

27/02/07
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Aggressive secularism a “betrayal of republican traditions”: Taoiseach

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has praised organised religion as a force for good in Irish society. Speaking at the opening of an ongoing structured dialogue between the State and religious groups, the Taoiseach said that there was no place in Ireland for “aggressive secularism”.

27/02/07
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Text of Professor Binchy's Trinity address

The following is the most relevant section of Professor Binchy's talk as delivered at TCD on Wednesday evening.

22/02/07
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Effects of referendum “uncertain” says William Binchy

The wording of the Government's proposed children's rights referendum could have legal effects “well beyond those indicated by the Government” according to Professor William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin. Professor Binchy, an acknowledged authority on family and constitutional law, said the proposed wording “raises several important questions of interpretation”.

22/02/07 [date] 22/02/07
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Bishops to study children's rights amendment

The Catholic bishops are to examine the wording of the proposed children's rights amendment but will not issue a statement about it until after their March quarterly meeting at the earliest. A spokesman for the Bishops made the comment after the wording of the proposed amendment was announced on Monday.

21/02/07
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Fathers have key role in fighting crime, says Tory leader

A family friendly society is a key element in stamping out gang culture, according to Conservative Party leader David Cameron. He was reacting to the third fatal shooting in London in a month. Teenager Billy Cox was found dead from gunshot wounds on Wednesday.

10/02/07
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PDs should respect religious conviction - Tanaiste

The PDs should “honour and respect religious practice and conviction”, and be prepared to work with the Churches “as partners in social action”, Tanaiste Michael McDowell has said.

20/02/07
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"The child...shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents."

Article 7. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.