David Quinn: Unholy row brewing as secularisation creeps in
AT today's inauguration of Michael D Higgins in addition to the usual prayers, a reflection will be offered by a secular humanist.
I say "secular humanist" deliberately because there is a long-standing tradition of Christian humanism as well, dating back to the likes of Erasmus and Thomas More in the 16th Century.
The secular humanist has been invited to say a few words presumably because President Higgins, as he might well be by the time you read this, wants the non-believers of Ireland to be represented at a presidential inauguration for the first time ever and in keeping with his campaign promise to be 'inclusive'.
We can argue the merits of this move till the cows come home.
No one would call Norway or Sweden theocracies but they have state churches and those churches are accordingly given privileged status at many civic events in recognition of Norway and Sweden's Christian heritage.
Is Christianity from now on to have less status at civic events in Ireland than it does in ultra-liberal countries like Sweden and Norway?
Then again, given the growing number of non-believers in this country maybe it is only right and fitting that secular humanists be given their moment in the sun at big civic occasions like the one today.
Mr Higgins would not have been able to include a secular humanist reflection at his inauguration without the approval of the Government.
On its own, this could simply be taken as an isolated incident. But instead it looks like part of a pattern because so far this Government is shaping up to be the most secularising in the history of the Irish State.
Some of the Government's secularising intentions are justified.
For example, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was correct to convene a forum on the future of primary schools because there are undoubtedly too many schools under the patronage of one or another Church.
The big question is exactly how many denominational schools will be given to new patrons, and will the autonomy of the remaining schools over their enrolment policy, their employment policy and their curriculum (there's already too little control over this last one) be respected?
Other actions of the Government are far less justified, such as the attack on the Seal of Confession -- an attack that is very rare in other Western democracies that are just as concerned about child protection as we purport to be.
In fact, quite a number of countries give explicit protection in their laws to the Seal of Confession.
Coming up we have a Constitutional Convention, sought by Labour and acceded to by Fine Gael, which no-one other than Labour and the usual swarm of NGOs want but which could foist one referendum after another upon us for which there is no real public demand.
Labour's principal gripe with the Constitution is that it is too Catholic, although it is liberal in the proper sense in that it keeps limits on the power of the State.
Then there was the extraordinary attack on the Vatican and the Pope by Enda Kenny based on the very dubious, but very serious charge that the Vatican had interfered with the law of this country and "frustrated" a statutory inquiry.
The attack included a totally out-of-context quote from the Pope, which quite wrongly gave the impression that the Pope was practically condoning ignoring civil law.
Now we have the decision to close our embassy to the Holy See for 'economic' reasons, while keeping open embassies to countries such as Lesoto, Malawi and Mozambique.
Impoverished Haiti has an embassy to the Holy See. So does tiny Luxembourg. Aside from Malta, which has a tenth of our population, we will be the only traditionally Catholic country in Europe without an embassy to the Holy See.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin described the decision as "strange".
But more pointedly he said it was indicative of a more general move to relegate religion to the private sphere.
It is important not to overstate things here.
But at the very minimum this Government is showing no signs of viewing religion in general, or Catholicism in particular, in a friendly light.
Does the Government believe that religion has a positive contribution to make to society?
Has Catholicism a positive contribution to make?
Is Catholicism or Christianity valued partners in dialogue?
Does the Government value Ireland's Christian heritage or is it something to be pushed to the margins bit by bit until it is consigned to history?
WILL the beliefs of Christians be respected or will they find themselves hemmed in and compromised by an ever tougher application of so-called anti-discrimination laws?
In other words, does this Government value freedom of conscience and freedom of religion?
Mr Kenny will have to think about these questions, and quickly, because so far he seems content to preside over a Government that on a good day seems indifferent to religion, and on a bad one, seems very hostile, and to the majority faith in particular.
Is this really what our Taoiseach wants?