What do people mean what they speak about the separation of Church and State? Having read Hugh Linehan’s opinion piece in The Irish Times yesterday it wasn’t clear to me.
Linehan was responding to the homily Archbishop Michael Neary delivered at the top of Croagh Patrick last Sunday, Reek Sunday.
Archbishop Neary made the comment that it has become much easier to mock Christianity than other religions such as Judaism and Islam. But surely this is simply a matter of fact?
It is commonplace, and true, to observe that comedians are much quicker to satirise Christianity, sometimes savagely, than Judaism or Islam.
The Irish Times apologised recently for a cartoon it printed which implied priests are not to be trusted with children. But it would never have seen the light of day if it had implied (say) that all Muslims are terrorists.
There was a huge international outcry a few years ago when a Danish cartoon depicted a Mohammed-type figure with a bomb-shaped turban on his head.
A former junior minister told me that Ireland’s fairly recent blasphemy legislation arose in part from that incident.
In fact, that legislation allows for fines to be imposed on those who ‘blaspheme’, so Archbishop Neary was right about this. However, in theory, those who blaspheme against Christianity can be fined as well, although it is very hard to ever see this happening in practice. (For the record, I’m in favour of the repeal of our blasphemy laws).
Linehan rightly says that Ireland has never produced explicitly anti-clerical movements unlike some other European countries.
But those movements arose in the context of strong throne/altar alliances. In Ireland, the Church was seen as part of the struggle for independence. It’s only in more recent years that the climate has changed so much that politicians now routinely attack the Church and are often de facto anti-clerics.
This anti-clericalism was, of course, made possible by our own, milder version of the old continental throne/altar alliances. It was absolutely begging to be rebelled against and that rebellion is still in full swing.
An Amarach poll commissioned by The Iona Institute in 2011 found that almost a quarter of Irish people would be glad if the Catholic Church disappeared from Ireland completely. If that isn’t anti-Catholicism, what is? The internet is, of course, full of often vile anti-Catholicism.
To return to the issue of Church/State separation, strictly speaking what this means is that there should be no State religion to which everyone must belong, or face penalties, imprisonment or worse.
That used to be the case in Britain. Today, the Church of England remains the official religion but who could truthfully say Britain is dominated by the Church?
I suspect when Linehan calls for Church/State separation what he really means is a situation whereby religion has mostly been confined to the private sphere and religious schools and hospitals are no longer in receipt of public funds.