| Religious Freedom Ranking:
3 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1922, separating the country into an independent Irish Republic and colonial Northern Ireland. The Irish Republic has a constitution which formally acknowledges the Catholic “Holy Trinity,” but guarantees religious freedom for Protestants and other religious minorities. Nevertheless, the long history of violence between Catholics and Protestants has often carried over from Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic. While the war officially ended in 1998 with the Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement, belligerence still continues between the two groups. Although rooted in religion, the fighting is political in nature because the Catholics were mostly nationalists who held loyalty towards Ireland and the Protestants’ loyalty was towards Britain.
The country has a population of 4.6 million people. The Catholic Church is the largest church in the country, with 86.8 percent of the population in its membership. About 3 percent belong to the (Protestant) Church of Ireland, 0.76 percent is Muslim, 0.68 percent is an unspecified denomination of Christianity, 0.55 is Presbyterian, 0.49 percent is Orthodox Christian, 0.28 percent is Methodist, and less than 0.1 percent is Jewish. Six percent of the population is unaffiliated with any religion.
The Preamble to the 1937 Constitution of Ireland begins:
“In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States shall be referred.
We, the people of Eire,
Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial ...”
The Constitution goes on to guarantee that the State shall not endow any religion or impose disabilities discriminate on the basis of religion. Freedom of conscience and free profession of religion are guaranteed, subject to public order and morality. The right of citizens to freely express their opinions is also guaranteed, but publication of blasphemous material is a punishable offense. The Constitution recognizes the family as the primary unit of society, superior to positive law and acknowledges the primary role of the family as the educator of children. The State requires that children receive a minimum education and provides support for education but does not require parents to send their children to state or state-designated schools. Legislation may not discriminate between schools of different denominations.
The 1996 US State Department Report on Human Rights says that the government does not hamper the teaching or practice of any faith. It points out, though, that almost all primary and secondary schools are managed and controlled by the Catholic Church, which provides religious instruction as an integral part of their curriculum. Parents are allowed to exempt their children from such instruction if they so desire.
In 2003 the Equality Authority declared that church-run schools have the authority to refuse to admit a student that does not belong to the church that operates the school. Their justification is that too many students of another religion will change the “ethos”, or religious make-up, of the school and will therefore make the schools primary religious nature void. However, there are no reports that any schools have denied any students based on their religion.
2010 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Ireland
Ireland - New World Encyclopedia
Ireland Country Profile- BBC News