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athgarvan

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

I'm reflecting again! There is much talk in Ireland today of the separation of Church and State. It is a doctrine we have scarcely come to terms with yet.

The modern doctrine of the separation of Church and State is traced back to Thomas Jefferson.  It was one of the great gifts that American political philosophy has given to the world. But there are limits to the doctrine. The most significant aspect of the separation of Church and State is not, as some seem to think, the shielding of the secular world from too strong a religious influence; the principal task of the separation of Church and State is to secure religious liberty. It does not mean that people whose motivations are religious are banned from trying to influence government, nor that the government is banned from listening to them. There is nothing undemocratic about religious activism and religious language in politics.

What the doctrine means is that the State should remain neutral in regard to religion. The State’s neutrality is required in the interest of religious liberty. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another.

This neutrality is notably absent in Ireland, but the historical context must be considered. In the US the separation is guaranteed. In Ireland the Constitution explicitly recognises the role of religious groups in a variety of ways. In the absence of a native parliament and a native government in the 19th and early 20th century, it fell to the Church to provide services and facilities in education and healthcare, and in the enforcement of morals, that would otherwise have been the responsibility of a democratically elected government.

It should never be forgotten, especially in the present situation when we have witnessed a near-hysterical tirade of criticism of religious orders, that a great service was undertaken by the religious orders for the benefit, welfare, and wellbeing of the Irish people.

Comments

thank you for your kind words about US

we had an unhappy history with established religion in our early colonies
we also had people of many faiths coming to the colonies
preferring one group to another officially wasn't an option
besides the founders were men of the enlightenment and many only nominal deists
official neutrality did not prevent rampant bigotry and persecution

Ireland, like Poland, tied its identity and culture to Roman Catholicism for survival
but ultimately that is limiting
embracing a wider view can be frightening but it is growth
Thank you for that - it is good for me when something makes me stop and read carefully; you remind me of something I did know - but made me stop and think about it.
Leisure (William Henry Davies 1871-1940)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare...


Edited at 2017-05-12 11:04 (UTC)