Good News for Ireland by Nicolas Johnson (June/July 2002)

Ireland on March 6 of this year once again held a referendum to amend the constitution on the matter of abortion. The amendment submitted to the electorate would have further restricted what are now the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. As in other countries where the issue of abortion arises, it brings to the forefront religious forces of all colors. No exception in Ireland, and all the more so because of the strong influence of the Catholic church in Irish society.

The campaign preceding the election on this particular amendment stood out because of the full-court press by the Irish Catholic bishops, all 26 of them, in support of the amendment. The pope himself got into the act by signaling from the Vatican his strong support. And on the Sunday before voting day, all Catholic mass-goers in the entire country were subjected to a sermon on the importance of voting for the amendment. The faithful were then again reminded of the pope’s endorsement.

Now, most voting in Ireland takes place in school buildings, and since most of the schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic church, voting takes place on church property. So here we had a highly charged social issue, heavily laden with religious notions about life and sex, and the electorate, made up of all faiths and no faith, given no choice but to enter church grounds and buildings to cast their vote.

Such polling places certainly do not convey a sense of neutrality on matters of religion, what with their religious statues and other icons which one must circumnavigate to reach the voting booth.

The accompanying photo of a polling station in Dublin is one example of such a scenario. The notice over the door reads “Peace to all,” and on the door itself is a government document which states “Referendum on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (Protection of Human Life In Pregnancy).” Note also the mini-altar with a statue of the “Virgin” Mary and appurtenant gaudy trappings, all shamelessly presented at the entrance to the polling station. The sign on the base of the mini-altar reads “The spirit of the Lord is upon me.”

But there was some good news from all this. The amendment failed to carry by the slim margin of about 0.8% of the total vote. By how much more it would have failed to pass if the polling had been conducted on neutral territory is difficult to say. So the spirit of this Lord did not seem to fall upon the Irish voting public, and the effort of all the Irish Catholic bishops and the pope himself failed to convince a majority of the voting population to tow the party line.

Good news for Ireland!

Freedom From Religion Foundation