The Orange Order is "committed to the cause of Civil and Religious Liberty for all" and frequently defends its actions, beliefs and parades on the grounds that it is a "Christian organisation". Yet elsewhere it claims to be "both a Protestant and a patriotic association pledged to uphold civil and religious liberty".
Amongst its rather convoluted self-justifications it seems that that the Orange Order believes that civil and religious liberty is in some way dependent upon the maintenance of Northern Ireland's link with Britain.
Article 44 of the Constitution of Ireland states quite categorically that:
"Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen".
The Orange Order appears not really to believe this, and continue to insist that their religious freedoms can only be guaranteed in the UK.
A recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life casts doubt on the position of the Orange Order. The Pew Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan US "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Its Report, released in December 2009, is entitled "Global Restrictions on Religion" (Full report)
The report is a fascinating examination of the state of religious freedom in the world today – and as might be expected, it shows how many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere are extremely illiberal in terms of religious freedom. Its methodology is amply explained in the report.
However, for the narrow interests of this blog it is extremely interesting to note that, amongst European countries, Ireland ranks significantly better than the UK, both in terms of government restrictions and social hostilities.
Although both countries score well in the Government Restrictions Index, with low scores in terms of state restrictions, Ireland's score, at 1.0 is considerably better than the UK's 2.2. In terms of the Social Hostilities Index Ireland with a score of 0.7 is much better than the UK, which scores 2.5. The UK's score on the Social Hostilities Index is, in fact, high enough that in does not even fall into the most free category (low), but is, instead, in the 'moderate' category.
So it seems that the Orange Order has backed the wrong horse. In order to defend "Civil and Religious Liberty for all" it has backed the inclusion of Northern Ireland in a country that has worse religious liberty than Ireland.
On the other hand, the actions of the Orange Order may be easily understood if that organisation was not so much committed to 'religious freedom' as to sectarian domination. In that case, like Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Iran, it might be quite happy with a lack of freedom as long as its side was dominant. If this is the case, though, it should be a bit more honest and admit that it is a bigoted organisation, and not an "association pledged to uphold civil and religious liberty". If it were the latter, it would support the reunification of Ireland and the extension of the Constitutional freedoms enjoyed in the south to all in the north.