Religion, Rights and Secular Society

Religion, Rights and Secular Society

European Perspectives

Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

The expectations of many that religion in modern Europe would be swept away by the powerful current of secularization have not been realised, and today few topics generate more controversy than the complex relationship between religious and secular values. The ‘religious/secular’ relationship is examined in this book, which brings together scholars from different parts of Europe and beyond to provide insights into the methods by which religion and equivalent beliefs have been, and continue to be, protected in the legal systems and constitutions of European nations. The contributors’ chapters reveal that the oft-tumultuous legacy of Europe’s relationship with religion still resonates across a continent where legal, political and social contours have been powerfully shaped by faith and religious difference.

Chapter 5: Religion in the constitutional order of the Republic of Ireland

Eoin Daly

Subjects: law - academic, european law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


The relationship between law and religion in the Republic of Ireland is unusual and interesting. It is set within an apparent paradox: that of a notoriously close church–state relationship in the political and institutional practice of the independent state, juxtaposed against a broadly liberal constitutional framework that accords ostensibly strong priority to religious freedom and equality on religious grounds. The historically close relationship between the Irish state and the Roman Catholic Church was constructed on a largely informal basis, which finds no clear footing in the constitutional and legislative framework pertaining to religion. The quasi-establishment of the dominant church throughout the earlier part of the state’s history was facilitated, rather than being actively stipulated or formalised, by the constitutional text. Indeed, as will be seen, this elusive constitutional compromise allowed for a mediation of the two distinct traditions of Irish nationalism: the secular republican tradition represented by the Jacobin-influenced, anti-sectarian revolutionaries of the eighteenth century; and the romantic Gaelic nationalism that associated Irish identity with Christianity and, to some extent, more specifically with Roman Catholicism. Thus, a recurrent theme in this chapter is the tension, in the constitutional framework, between a liberal and republican heritage that emphasises equality before the law and therefore leans against religious ‘establishments’, and a parallel tendency to promote recognition of the determinate religious needs and traditions of the people.

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