The Malta Humanist Association (MHA) has launched a campaign calling for Malta to adopt a secular constitution. The campaign comes during a public debate, led by the president of Malta, to discuss constitutional reform in the Mediterranean island nation.
Raphael Vassello, speaking on behalf of MHA, said “As if it were not enough that the Maltese Constitution already pronounces the Catholic faith as our country’s official religion, and gives the Church excessive powers over the education system, ongoing talks on constitutional reform have suggested entrenching even more religious references than there already are.”
Vassello pointed to a public session of the Presidential Forum on Constitutional Reform, on April 21, featuring Douglas Kmiec, the former US ambassador to Malta. Kmiec recommended the inclusion of a Constitutional preamble which would refer to the existence of a ‘Creator’.
Below is a press statement made on this issue by the Malta Humanist Association:
The Malta Humanist Association is concerned at the direction which the President’s forum for Constitutional reform appears to be taking.
At a public session of the forum last Saturday, former US ambassador Prof. Douglas Kmiec recommended the inclusion of a Constitutional preamble which would refer to the existence of a ‘Creator’: implying that the values upon which our country’s legal system should be based – as well as the authority vested in the Constitution by the Maltese people – should derive directly from religious belief.
This is a disturbing concept, on at least two counts. One, it is by no means universally accepted that any such creator exists; still less that any one religion in particular represents his wishes on earth. Two, it would be legally and politically unsound to anchor the authority of a national Constitution in any independently existing dogma or belief: more so when this may not be not shared by all sections of the society that same Constitution represents.
To do so would be to invite further dissent within an already divided society. Any minority religious denomination (of which there are several), as well as those who do not hold down any religious beliefs at all, would be justified in feeling excluded from the resulting Constitution: leading one to question whether the authority it wields is indeed legitimate.
At this point, the MHA would like to ask what sort of Constitution the President’s forum wishes to see enacted. Do we want a divisive Constitution, which represents the interests only of one section of society, while reducing all others to the status of second class citizens? Or do we want a truly inclusive Constitution that represents all society equally, regardless of creed, or lack thereof?
On Saturday, nearly all the speakers concurred that the Maltese Constitution should be a reflection of the people it represents. If this is truly the case, then it should also reflect the growing diversity among that same Maltese people.
It is to be noted that no serious study has been undertaken to determine the precise landscape insofar as local attitudes to religion are concerned. In the absence of any conclusive evidence, we can rely only on present indications: all of which point towards an increasingly secular and eclectic society.
Last year’s divorce referendum result alone should point in that direction. Earlier still, a 2005 census carried by the Catholic Church revealed that the number of regular Church-goers in Malta at the time represented little more than 55%. Bearing in mind the forum’s own observation about how the Constitution should mirror society, one struggles to comprehend how ours should go so far out of its way to alienate a considerable segment of the Maltese population.
Even without such considerations, the MHA views the inclusion of any references to religion in the Maltese constitution as anachronistic and counter-productive. European experience amply illustrates that the best interest and safety of minority groups in any country – be they secular minorities within a religious majority, or religious minorities where the majority is secular – are best served by the principle of secularism, whereby no such institutions, beliefs or groups are singled out for preferential treatment or special privileges.
This applies not only to Prof. Kmiec’s recommended preamble, but also to the existing Constitution in its present form, which confesses the Roman Catholic religion, and accords this institution an authority (termed as a ‘duty’) which it strictly speaking has no jurisdiction to impose.
The MHA is currently drawing up its own recommendations for Constitutional reform, and invites its members, as well as members of the wider public, to send their suggestions and ideas to: [email protected]
For more information on this campaign and the work of the Malta Humanist Association, visit: http://www.maltahumanist.org/