Tuesday 12 May 2009

Consulting the faiths

Grahnlaw has highlighted the EU's efforts to reach out to the faiths (but not non-confessional ethics-based groups). It has also been reported in the EUobserver.

As Grahnlaw has pointed out, dialogue with both religious and non-confessional groups will be required under the TFEU (as the TEC will be) if the Lisbon Treaty passes, a provision almost certainly inserted to counter-balance the absence of the word "God" from the Treaty. In Ireland, right-wing Catholic groups have slammed the Treaty for not including God (though it mentions Europe's common religious heritage) and have sought to portray the EU as anti-religious.

I think the Commission's attempts to reach out to the faiths is an attempt to defuse such criticism in Ireland and elsewhere - in terms of newspaper articles it's worked for today at least: the Irish Times has reported the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin's comments on the bond between Ireland and Europe in general:

“A pluralist Europe does not mean a secularist Europe; Europe needs its religious heritage and can only benefit from welcoming and respecting that religious heritage. Hopefully, Ireland’s believers will feel more and more welcome to play their part in the future of Europe, as they have done right throughout their history'’

Whether or not it will have much of an impact is questionable; I doubt anything really came out of the meeting with EU representatives, and I doubt many of the faithful that hold eurosceptic views because of the EU's anti-religious practices (in their view) will be swayed. After all, the Catholic Church said that Lisbon didn't change the position on abortion, but this didn't stop the right-wing Catholic group Coir from campaigning on that line.

In other news, Irish Health Minister Mary Harney has defended a proposed law on blasphemy. The law was proposed by the Minister for Justice as the Irish Constitution takes a dim view of blasphemy, but the courts have said that it requires legislation to punish blasphemers. So the justification is that it's in the constitution, so it must be legislated for. It's a poor excuse that makes no real argument for the necessity or desirability of the law, and the proposal has been greeted by disapproval in the media. It seems to me that the courts have wisely prevented people from using the courts to promote their religious views (and wasting the courts' time with petty litigation), and now the government has taken the hint the wrong way and thought they needed to legislate.

It may be necessary to legislate to give the constitutional provision force, but this shouldn't be confused with the need or desirability of the law or even the provision itself. Another fail for this government.


  1. The proposed provision looked like an invitation for various religious groups to feel offended, then to force the courts to set some standards to keep speech at least tolerably free.

    Not a happy turn, in my humble opinion.

  2. Yes. And the "outrage" bit of the proposed law sounds like it will encourage religious groups to round up supporters to display shows of strength and outrage. Hardly lends itself to social harmony.