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Parishioners attending mass in Ireland Photo by: Google images

What Ireland can teach the U.S. about trying to separate church and state

\"Parishioners

Parishioners attending mass in Ireland Photo by: Google images

With religious conservatives in the U.S. attempting to introduce faith into the public sphere, one journalist has written that a lot can be learned about the difficulties of this from the Irish situation.

The Week contributor Tish Durkin, who currently lives in Ireland, wrote about how the influence of the Catholic Church still prevails.

“Far from limiting state involvement in religion, the Irish constitution enshrines it. There isn't just prayer in most public schools; there is full-on Christian — almost always Catholic — education,” Durkin wrote.

Durkin told readers about his daughter coming home from her “government funded school” with ashes on her forehead on the first day of Lent.

“Statues of and shrines to the Virgin Mary dot the public landscape and no one makes a peep. Nor does anyone try to soft-pedal the "Christ" in "Christmas",” she states.

“The school concert always features lots of sacred carols and no one tries to sue,” she jokes.

If right wing conservatives were to come to Ireland they would: “come face-to-face with an uncomfortable, but uncontestable, reality” Durkin states.
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“Even if the U.S. were to embrace official piety to a degree that not even the furthest reaches of the religious right could imagine, it would not remotely guarantee any of the wider moral or social benisons that the religious right dreams of.”

Durkin presents the following facts  about modern day Ireland and argues that as a result the country does not make a good “advertisement for official religion as the key to social rectitude”.
- Approximately one-third of all births here occur out of wedlock.
- As of 2008, Ireland was tied with Latvia for having the highest rate in the European Union of children living with a single parent.
- Rates of alcohol and cannabis use are about the same among youth in Ireland as in the rest of Europe.
- As of 2010, Irish households owed twice as much as they earned.

“Ireland's official relationship with religion is an entirely bad thing. But viewing the Republican primary race from here, I can't help but look at the right-wing urge to mingle church and state and ask: If all-pervasive, entirely constitutional, and widely accepted state promotion of religion can have such a limited impact upon a society as small and as homogeneous as Ireland, how on Earth does anyone believe that America can be transformed by such far-punier efforts as its Constitution might be construed to vow?”

Concluding, Durkin says that the Irish context should be enough to convince Conservatives of the danger of “setting the government up with God”.

“At least the Irish will be able to skip over the step of kidding themselves that there is a simple fix to be found in setting the government up with God. They already know that it's a lot more complicated than that.

“Americans need to know that, too.”

Read the full text of Tish Durkin’s column here.

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