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Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] However, other organisations must jump through a number of other hoops, such as to have 50 members, be five years in existence and be carrying out the practice for five years before being recognised. The group has a point but if it so believes, it will have to go to the Four Goldmines, as Phoenix magazine calls it. There might be problems in the future and people might be inclined to take that route if they feel discriminated against.

  Giving the power to solemnise the legal contract of marriage to bodies outside the State's infrastructure, be they religious or not, opens the State to endless and unsolvable problems which could end up in court. I do not think any legal definition can fairly answer the question, so it would have been better not to have opened up this can of worms. My preference is to move to a position where State officials are the only people who can solemnise the marriage contract. Religious services and organisations can carry out their own solemnisation of their religious contract, which is a separate contract.

  It is dangerous to take the route of setting out a list of guidelines on what can qualify as a religion. I do not know if Members of the House are familiar with the religion of Pastafarianism, whose deity is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Members might laugh but this is factual. The religion was created in the United States by way of a parody in 2005 to challenge the teaching of intelligent design or creationism in public schools in the US. It has members who say they believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster invented the world and subsequently falsified the carbon dating tests by using his powerful "noodly appendage". They believe the pirates were the earliest worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and correlate the global reduction in the pirate population with the rise in global temperatures and associated natural disasters. It would be funny, if it was not so serious. Pastafarianism has become a global phenomenon with its members throughout the world using it to call into sharp focus the church and state divide. In July 2011, an Austrian Pastafarian won the legal right to wear a spaghetti strainer on his head in his driver's licence photograph. He fought his case on the grounds that Austrian regulations allow for the wearing of religious headgear in identity documents.

  I am cautioning against taking the route of defining religion and non-religion in the way it is done in this Bill. In America Pastafarians also sought to have, and on occasion succeeded in having, a tree with a spaghetti on the top of it accorded equal status with the Jewish menorah and the Christian nativity scene in public buildings. Sometimes the media focus on that as political correctness gone mad, but this was a parody seeking to expose how ridiculous some of the rules were. It is not my intention to offend any religious or philosophical group, but the bottom line is that all this nonsense and the dodgy legal definitions in the Bill should be avoided. It is important to note that if marriage solemnisers were restricted to being accountable registrars employed by the State under the Ard-Chláraitheoir, it would be a better system. We would have a more secular society which would be more akin to a republic where everybody has equal status.

  Marriage is probably the most important and most prevalent legal contract entered into by citizens of the State. As in many other countries, people should have their marriage solemnised by an official of the State and after that they are free to have whatever ritual ceremony or party they like, religious or otherwise. For the purposes of the State, it should be a State employee who carries out that role.

  There are other concerns we could debate if a longer Committee Stage had been scheduled. I mentioned the Monday to Friday rules of the HSE. The legislation also states that none of these groups should be principally for-profit. Some of the religions or organisations can be for-profit and that raises concerns. It is open to a group such The Screamers, which I remember from my youth. That was a group of 50 people who worshipped on an island off the coast of Donegal and who went around screaming their heads off as a release. It was an organised religion and if they had screamed for five years, they would be qualified under these rules to solemnise marriage. It is another example, although home grown, of what can happen, as in the case of Pastafarianism.

  Another point made by Atheist Ireland is that the provision relating to the excluded bodies is taken virtually en bloc from the Charities Act 2009. However, it ends in this Bill with the phrase "a body that promotes a political cause". In the Charities Act, and this Bill is similar in some ways because the same type of rules apply, it is defined as a body that promotes a political cause but continues "unless the promotion of that cause relates directly to the advancement of the charitable purpose of that body". If that part had been left in it would have allowed the humanists to do exactly what I pointed out earlier, because it is directly related to the advancement of the charitable purposes of the body. The charitable purpose of a secular group is to promote its ideals while the charitable purpose of a religious organisation is to promote its religion, and that might involve a political cause. In fact, if the Catholic Church was not on the list and had to apply, it might fall foul of that provision because it is promoting political causes in some ways or is promoting causes which are contrary to public policy. We heard the bishops during the week, for example, saying they are opposed to the Government's announcement. That would be contrary to public policy.

  It is an area fraught with danger and it is a pity we are dealing with it on the eve of the pagan festival of the winter solstice and as nearly the last item of business before we break for the Christmas holidays. It is interesting that the humanists will benefit from our Christmas break. There should have been more thought about this. The Seanad had a long discussion about it but it would have been useful to have had a longer discussion on Committee Stage on all the questions that have been raised. However, we might have to return to this with another amendment Bill at a later date to deal with some of the points that have been raised. Atheist Ireland has said it intends to lobby the President to prevent this legislation becoming law because in its view it contravenes a number of UN Conventions, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Constitution. It is in that organisation's gift to take that challenge, because this legislation is likely to be passed.


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