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General overview

Historical background

For much of Ireland’s history under English colonial rule there was not freedom of religion. Catholics and sometimes Protestant dissenters were legally disadvantaged, the most serious situation (...)

For much of Ireland’s history under English colonial rule there was not freedom of religion. Catholics and sometimes Protestant dissenters were legally disadvantaged, the most serious situation being under the Penal Laws of the 18th century. Alleviation came through the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (Anglican) in 1871. After 1922 the new independent Irish state was overwhelmingly Catholic and this was reflected in the 1937 Constitution which recognized the special position of the Roman Catholic Church (the effect of this in practice was muted and it was removed in 1972). Of more significance than the Constitutional position on religion was the indirect influence of the Catholic Church on politics and social policy through shared values with a devout Catholic population and electorate. Furthermore the Constitution through its conservative positions on family policy, for example divorce, upheld traditional Catholic moral teaching. Religious and political change is evident in the 1990s with the passing of a referendum to allow divorce despite some Catholic ecclesiastical opposition.

D 21 September 2012    ARichard O’Leary

Current legal position on religion

The supreme law of the state is the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann). The articles of the Constitution which refer to religion are to be found at 44.1 and 44.2.
The Constitution (...)

The supreme law of the state is the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann). The articles of the Constitution which refer to religion are to be found at 44.1 and 44.2.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion as described in article 44.1. “The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion”.

Article 44.2 guarantees religious freedom in the following terms:
“Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen”. (44.2.1)
And “The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status”. (44.2.3)
The constitutional neutrality of the state vis-à-vis any particular religion is stated in “The State guarantees not to endow any religion”. (42.2.2)
Note also the Referendum in 1972 which removed the clause in the Constitution which had recognized the special position of the Roman Catholic Church.

The position of religious bodies is protected through the following articles :
“Every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire and administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes”. (44.2.5)
And “The property of any religious denomination or any educational institution shall not be diverted save for necessary works of public utility and on payment of compensation”. (44.2.6).

D 21 September 2012    ARichard O’Leary

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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