So, my friend Ashling has noticed an outrageous question that was recently asked in the Irish parliament. Eamon Scanlon, who represents the Sligo-Leitrim constituency for the Fianna Fáil party, asked the following question of the Minster for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald:
What is the number of Muslims who have applied for Irish citizenship in the past three years; the number of these who are legally living here for the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Sometimes I despair at our legislators in Ireland and how they go about their work in our parliament. The most obvious problem with this question, is that any requirement on those applying for Irish citizenship to reveal their religion, their beliefs, or their philosophical convictions, would represent a breach of their human rights. During July of 2014, in their concluding observations on the fourth periodic report on Ireland, the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, stated the following:
“The State party should take … into account the Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993) concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public.”
Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, provides a right to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. For example, in the case of “Dimitras and Others versus Greece“ on 3rd June 2010, the Court found a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, because of the obligation imposed on the applicants to disclose their religious convictions.
One positive aspect to this story that should be noted, is that the response to this parliamentary question confirmed that no such human rights breaches are imposed by the Irish State today. The full response of the Minister (illustrated below) makes this clear.
The reason why it would be wrong to ask this question of citizenship applicants, is the implication that some relevant conclusions can be drawn about people, simply because of their religion. This idea is facile. It may be possible to look at the Muslim world in general and make some broad statements about views that exist within those communities. It may also be possible to observe how, in general terms, such views may differ from the consensus among Western democracies. However, since both regions contain such a wide spectrum of opinions and outlooks, we can conclude almost nothing about any individual person just from learning that they are Muslim.
For example, it may be stated that, in general terms, men in the USA are taller than women in the USA. As a generalised observation, this is simply an objective fact. However, if we select any random male American and any random female American, we can’t be certain that the male citizen will be taller than the female citizen, if we only know their gender.
Similarly, we have discussed previously on this site, how a mountain of evidence allows us to observe that in general terms, the Muslim world is more sensitive about cartoons which lampoon religious figures, than Western democracies are. This is an objective fact but it does not allow us to conclude that any individual Muslim person will be personally offended by religions cartoons. For example, the Muslim prohibition on images of prophets is not observed in the same way within the minority Shia tradition, and even some Sunni Muslims are also sanguine about religious cartoons. In any case, there are Western Christians who object to blasphemous artwork too.
Just as Regressive Left voices are wrong to scream “Racist!” and “Bigot!” at those who observe objective facts about broad groups, those who would draw conclusions about the views of individual people based purely on their religious identification, are also wrong to do so. Such an approach represents overt sectarian prejudice. The tenets of Islam explain the broad objections to religious cartoons across most of the Muslim world, but we can’t know the attitudes of any individual Muslim person unless we specifically ask them.
Similar issues have arisen recently in the context of the increased migration into Europe from the Muslim world. For example, people like Sam Harris and Douglas Murray have observed that in general, the communities from which the migrants originate, can have quite different attitudes to say homosexuality than those which are more common in the West. I happen to have a different opinion on how best to handle the migration issue but it is not racist or bigoted for Sam Harris and Douglas Murray to discuss in general terms, the different attitudes that exist towards homosexuality in different regions of the world.
We cannot know anything about the attitudes of any individual person towards homosexuality, just because we know what their religion is. In fact, as we discussed here on our podcast previously, there are some terrible homophobic prejudices that exist within all three of the main Abrahamic faiths and there are also many people within each of those religious communities that have very liberal views. Discovering what religion an individual person adheres to, allows us to conclude with certainty, almost nothing about their attitude to homosexuality.
So while it is not racist or bigoted to observe that in general, attitudes to homosexuality around Raqqa are different from those around Reykjavík, to assume that any individual person must have homophobic views just because they are a Muslim, would be an outrageous prejudice. Considering these and other issues, I would personally prefer an “open borders” style policy on migration. Even if large percentages of those seeking to relocate to the West did have very socially conservative views that are anathema to Western liberal democracies, I would still prefer to welcome them. If someone believes that gay people should be punished, I think it is much better for the Irish State to explain to that our legislation guarantees full equality for gay people, than to return those migrants to a region where gay people may be persecuted. Whereas that seems like the best path towards human progress to me, I don’t think that anyone who disagrees with me must necessarily be a racist or a bigot. In fact, I think it is very important to ensure that such terms are only used where they are justified.
The considerations around an application for citizenship from any individual person, should not involve any form of prejudice and should take no account whatsoever of their religion. There has already been widespread condemnation of those like Donald Trump, who would contemplate religious questions in this context. We in Ireland need to be equally wary of such ideas among our politicians.
Religion is not relevant to citizenship. It is a good thing that applicants for Irish citizenship are not asked their religion and it is a good thing that Eamon Scanlon’s outrageous question was not answered. However, religion should not be relevant either when parents are acquiring a public education for their children. Unfortunately, while people are not asked their religion as they apply for Irish citizenship, after being granted Irish citizenship they will be asked their religion if their child is availing of the public education system. This is outrageous too and it needs to change.
National Committee, Atheist Ireland
Secretary, Atheist Alliance International