Constitutional references to God
Several national constitutions make reference to God, most often in the preamble. Such invocationes or nominationes dei are found notably in several European constitutional traditions (reflecting the strong position of established churches in these countries and the tradition of invoking God in legal documents) and in the constitutions of Islamic countries.
In constitutional revisions, the inclusion or exclusion of a reference to God is frequently a point of great contention between believers and supporters of a laicist or secular state.
A reference to God in a legal text is called invocatio dei ("call on God") if the text itself is proclaimed in the name of the deity. A reference to God in another context is called nominatio dei, or "naming of God".
Invocationes dei have a long tradition in European legal history outside national constitutions. In ancient times and the Middle Ages, gods or God were normally invoked in contracts to guarantee the agreements made, and formulas such as "In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" were used at the beginning of legal documents to emphasize the fairness and justness of the created norms. Treaties between Christian nations customarily began with an invocation of God up until the late nineteenth century.
When written constitutions became the norm for modern states in the nineteenth century, several European states carried this tradition over to their founding documents and retained it since, while others – notably laicist France and states influenced by it – did not do so, so as to preserve the state's religious neutrality. European countries whose constitutions do not make reference to God include Norway (1814), Luxembourg (1868/1972), Iceland(1944/68), Italy (1947), Portugal (1976) and Spain (1978); some of those who do are listed below. In the United States, the federal constitution makes no reference to God, but the constitutions of the states of California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, Iowa, Texas, and Massachusetts, and the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, do. They generally use an invocatio of "God the Almighty" or the "Supreme Ruler of the Universe".
When the newly independent nations of Eastern Europe and Asia adopted new democratic constitutions in the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union, they took a variety of approaches to the issue of mentioning God:
- The great majority of the new constitutions, including those of all ex-Soviet republics except Ukraine, make no mention of the supernatural in the preamble (Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro), including those rooted in a Muslim background (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), or have no preamble at all (Romania, Latvia, Albania, Armenia and Azerbaijan). Instead, they make reference to secular values such as "liberty, justice and law” (Estonia) or "the generally accepted principles in the modern world" (Croatia).
- The preambles to the Constitution of the Czech Republic and Constitution of Slovakia do not mention God directly, but refer to the country's "spiritual wealth" (Czech Republic) or to "the spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius" (Slovakia).
- Poland's and Ukraine's constitutional preambles contain a nominatio dei (see the list below).
Most recently, the inclusion of a nominatio dei was hotly debated in the preparation of the preamble to the proposed European Constitution. The governments of the member states eventually failed to reach consensus for a reference to Christianity. (See: History of the European Constitution.)
Invocationes and nominationes dei in constitutions are attributed a number of purposes:
- Legitimizing the state: An invocation of God can have the purpose of legitimizing governmental power by declaring it to be exercised according to the will of God rather than, or in addition to, the will of the people. Expressing the divine right of kings was a principal function of invocationes dei in early 19th century monarchic national constitutions, but is no longer an overt purpose of references to God in modern democratic constitutions.
- Expressing governmental support for a specific religion: Some authors have nonetheless expressed the view that the nominatio dei in the republican German constitution of 1949 represents the establishment of a specifically Christian state, a "theonomic summit" of the constitution that commits the state to active support of Christian teachings such as in public education. This view is rejected in German constitutional practice.
- Challenging the state through reference to suprapositive law and common values: References to a power transcending human authority are seen as a reference to the concept of suprapositive law – that is, norms above and beyond those made by humans ("positive law"), such as divine law or natural law. This is perceived as an acknowledgment of inherent limitations of human law and power, as expressed in Radbruch's formula concerning the relationship between law and justice, or as a rejection of legal positivism altogether. A commitment to inherent limitations of the power of the state over its subjects is also perceived as reflecting a shared commitment to shared values such as human dignity that a state must presuppose rather than establish. Understood in this sense, a reference to God challenges, rather than supports and legitimizes, secular authority.
- Anchoring the state in history and tradition: In countries with a long constitutional history and a heritage of shared religious faith, references to God in an otherwise secular constitution have been interpreted as serving a historical function by perpetuating the tradition of invocationes dei of older constitutions and by establishing the general conception of statehood (for instance, Western and Christian) underlying the constitution.
The invocation of God and Jesus in the Preamble of the Constitution of Ireland has been cited in Supreme Court rulings. The concept of natural law has been used to elucidate unenumerated rights. In 1983, Chief Justice Tom O'Higgins, in rejecting David Norris' appeal against the criminalization of buggery in the Offences against the Person Act 1861, stated "It cannot be doubted that the people, so asserting and acknowledging their obligations to our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, were proclaiming a deep religious conviction and faith and an intention to adopt a Constitution consistent with that conviction and faith and with Christian beliefs." The report of the 1996 Constitutional Review Group recommended amending the preamble to a simple enactment in the name of the people, which would not be cognisable by the courts.
Conversely, in Canada the mention of God in the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has not had much effect. In considering the legal implications of the preamble in the 1999 case R. v. Sharpe, the British Columbia Court of Appeal referred to it as a "dead letter" which the BC justices had "no authority to breathe life" into.
|Country||Enactment date||Type of reference||English text or translation||Original text (if not in English)||Notes|
|Algeria||1976||Invocatio||"In the Name of God the Merciful and the Compassionate"|
|Antigua and Barbuda||1981||Nominatio||"WHEREAS the People of Antigua and Barbuda – 1. proclaim that they are a sovereign nation founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of the human person, the entitlement of all persons to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, the position of the family in a society of free men and women and free institutions; (...) NOW, THEREFORE, the following provisions shall have effect as the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda:"|
|Albania||1998||Nominatio||"We, the people of Albania, proud and aware of our history, with responsibility for the future, and with faith in God and/or other universal values, ... We establish this Constitution:"|
|Australia||1900||Nominatio||"Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown ... Be it therefore enacted ... as follows:"||Western Australia is not mentioned even though it became one of the original states of the Commonwealth of Australia because at the time the Constitution Act was drafted it was not certain whether WA would join the Australian Commonwealth or not.|
|Argentina||1853||Nominatio||"We, the representatives of the people of the Argentine Nation, ... invoking the protection of God, source of all reason and justice: do ordain, decree, and establish this Constitution for the Argentine Nation."||(Spanish) "Nos los representantes del pueblo de la Nación Argentina, reunidos en Congreso General Constituyente por voluntad y elección de las provincias que la componen, en cumplimiento de pactos preexistentes, con el objeto de constituir la unión nacional, afianzar la justicia, consolidar la paz interior, proveer la defensa común, promover el bienestar general, y asegurar los beneficios de la libertad, para nosotros, para nuestra posteridad, y para todos los hombres del mundo que quieran habitar en el suelo argentino: invocando la protección de Dios, fuente de toda razón y justicia: ordenamos, decretamos y establecemos esta Constitución, para la Nación Argentina."|
|Bahamas||1973||Nominatio||"Whereas Four hundred and eighty-one years ago the rediscovery of this Family of Islands, Rocks and Cays heralded the rebirth of the New World; And Whereas the People of this Family of Islands recognizing that the preservation of their Freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law; Now Know Ye Therefore: We the Inheritors of and Successors to this Family of Islands, recognizing the Supremacy of God and believing in the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, Do Hereby Proclaim in Solemn Praise the Establishment of a Free and Democratic Sovereign Nation founded on Spiritual Values and in which no Man, Woman or Child shall ever be Slave or Bondsman to anyone or their Labour exploited or their Lives frustrated by deprivation, and do Hereby Provide by these Articles for the indivisible Unity and Creation under God of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas."|
|Bahrain||2002||Invocatio||"In the name of God on high, and with His blessing, and with His help, we Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sovereign of the Kingdom of Bahrain, in line with our determination, certainty, faith, and awareness of our national, pan-Arab and international responsibilities; and in acknowledgment of our obligations to God, our obligations to the homeland and the citizens, and our commitment to fundamental principles and our responsibility to Mankind, ... we have amended the existing Constitution"|
|Brazil||1988||Nominatio||"We, the representatives of the Brazilian People, ... promulgate, under the protection of God, this CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERATIVE REPUBLIC OF BRAZIL."||(Portuguese) "Nós, representantes do povo brasileiro, ... promulgamos, sob a proteção de Deus, a seguinte CONSTITUIÇÃO DA REPÚBLICA FEDERATIVA DO BRASIL."|
|Canada||1982||Nominatio||"Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law"|
|Fiji||1988||Nominatio||"WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE FIJI ISLANDS, SEEKING the blessing of God who has always watched over these islands: RECALLING the events in our history that have made us what we are, especially the settlement of these islands by the ancestors of the indigenous Fijian and Rotuman people; the arrival of forebears of subsequent settlers, including Pacific Islanders, Europeans, Indians and Chinese; the conversion of the indigenous inhabitants of these islands from heathenism to Christianity through the power of the name of Jesus Christ; the enduring influence of Christianity in these islands and its contribution, along with that of other faiths, to the spiritual life of Fiji: ... WITH GOD AS OUR WITNESS, GIVE OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION"|
|Germany||1949||Nominatio||"Conscious of their responsibility before God and man, (...) the German people, in the exercise of their constituent power, have adopted this Basic Law."||(German) "Im Bewußtsein seiner Verantwortung vor Gott und den Menschen (...) hat sich das Deutsche Volk kraft seiner verfassungsgebenden Gewalt dieses Grundgesetz gegeben."|
|Greece||1975||Invocatio||"In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity."||(Greek) "Εν ονόματι της Αγίας και Ομοουσίου και Αδιαιρέτου Τριάδος."||The preamble dates back to the first Greek constitution, adopted in 1822 during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.|
|Indonesia||1945||Invocatio||"... By the grace of God Almighty and urged by the lofty aspiration to exist as a free nation, Now therefore, the people of Indonesia declare herewith their independence, ..."
"... which is to be established as the State of the Republic of Indonesia with sovereignty of the people and based on the belief in the One and Only God, ..."
|"... Atas berkat rahmat Allah Yang Maha Kuasa, dan dengan didorongkan oleh keinginan luhur supaya berkehidupan kebangsaan yang bebas, maka rakyat Indonesia menyatakan dengan ini kemerdekaannya, ..."
"... yang terbentuk dalam suatu susunan Negara Republik Indonesia yang berkedaulatan rakyat dengan berdasarkan kepada, Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa,..."
|Iran||1979||Nominatio||"The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran advances the cultural, social, political, and economic institutions of Iranian society based on Islamic principles and norms, which represent an honest aspiration of the Islamic Ummah."
||The preamble goes on to outline the Islamic nature of the Republic at great length with numerous references to God, and the constitutional text establishes the state as "a system based on belief in the One God".|
|Ireland||1937||Invocatio||"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 must be referred, We, the people of Éire, humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial, (...) do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution."||(Irish)"In Ainm na Tríonóide Ró-Naofa is tobar don uile údarás agus gur chuici, ós í is críoch dheireanach dúinn, is dírithe ní amháin gníomhartha daoine ach gníomhartha Stát, Ar mbeith dúinne, muintir na hÉireann, ag admháil go huiríseal a mhéid atáimid faoi chomaoin ag Íosa Críost, ár dTiarna Dia, a thug comhfhurtacht dár sinsir i ngach cruatan ina rabhadar ar feadh na gcéadta bliain, (...) Atáimid leis seo ag gabháil an Bhunreachta seo chugainn, agus á achtú agus á thíolacadh dúinn féin."||Articles referring to God are: 6.1 (" All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people"); 44.1 ("The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion."); and the oaths prescribed for the President (12.8), the Council of State (31.4), and the Judiciary (34.5.1).|
|Kuwait||1962||Invocatio||"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, We, Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah, ... do hereby approve this Constitution and promulgate it."|
|Liberia||1986||Nominatio||"We the People of the Republic of Liberia: Acknowledging our devout gratitude to God for our existence as a Free, Sovereign and Independent State, and relying on His Divine Guidance for our survival as a Nation; ... Do hereby solemnly make, establish, proclaim, and publish this Constitution for the governance of the Republic of Liberia."|
|Madagascar||1992||Nominatio||"The sovereign Malagasy people, profoundly attached to their cultural and spiritual values, especially to the basis of national unity; affirming their belief in God the Creator; ... declares: ..."|
|Mauritania||1991||Nominatio||"Trusting in the omnipotence of Allah, the Mauritanian people proclaims ..."|
|Norway||1814||"Our values remain from our Christian and humanist heritage..."||"Verdigrunnlaget forblir vår kristne og humanistiske arv."||§2|
|Pakistan||1973||"Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust"|
|Papua New Guinea||1975||Preamble||WE, THE PEOPLE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA —
united in one nation, pay homage to the memory of our ancestors — the source of our strength and origin of our combined heritage - acknowledge the worthy customs and traditional wisdoms of our people — which have come down to us from generation to generation pledge ourselves to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now. By authority of our inherent right as ancient, free and independent peoples
WE, THE PEOPLE, do now establish this sovereign nation and declare ourselves, under the guiding hand of God, to be the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.
|Paraguay||1992||Invocatio||"The Paraguayan people, through their legitimate representatives convening at the National Constituent Assembly, pleading to God, ... hereby approve and promulgate this Constitution."||(Spanish) "El pueblo paraguayo, por medio de sus legítimos representantes reunidos en Convención Nacional Constituyente, invocando Dios, ... SANCIONA Y PROMULGA esta Constitución."|
|Peru||1993||Invocatio||"The Democratic Constituent Congress invoking Almighty God, ... has resolved to enact the following Constitution:"||(Spanish) "El Congreso Constituyente Democrático, invocando a Dios Todopoderoso, ... ha resuelto dar la siguiente Constitución:"|
|Philippines||1987||Invocatio||We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, ... do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.|
|Poland||1997||Nominatio||"We, the Polish Nation – all citizens of the Republic, both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources, (...) beholden to our ancestors (...) for our culture rooted in the Christian heritage of the Nation and in universal human values, (...) recognizing our responsibility before God or our own consciences, hereby establish this Constitution of the Republic of Poland"||(Polish) "My, Naród Polski - wszyscy obywatele Rzeczypospolitej, zarówno wierzący w Boga będącego źródłem prawdy, sprawiedliwości, dobra i piękna, jak i nie podzielający tej wiary, a te uniwersalne wartości wywodzący z innych źródeł, (...) w poczuciu odpowiedzialności przed Bogiem lub przed własnym sumieniem, ustanawiamy Konstytucję Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej"||The preamble's juxtaposition of a nominatio dei with an evocation of humanist values emerged as an attempt to compromise between the Catholic Church's demand for a strong invocatio dei and opposition by Left and liberal circles who feared the establishment of a confessional state.|
|Rwanda||1991||Nominatio||"The National Council for Development, meeting as Constituent Assembly on 30 May 1991; Trusting in God Almighty; ... Does establish and adopt this Constitution for the Republic of Rwanda"|
|South Africa||1996||Nominatio||"May God protect our people.
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika.
God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika."
|This multi-lingual evocation, set at the end of the preamble, has been called a "rhetorical petition prayer".|
|Switzerland||1999||Invocatio||"In the name of Almighty God! The Swiss People and the Cantons (...) adopt the following Constitution:"||(German) "Im Namen Gottes des Allmächtigen! Das Schweizervolk und die Kantone (...) geben sich folgende Verfassung:"
(French) "Au nom de Dieu Tout-Puissant ! Le peuple et les cantons suisses (...) arrêtent la Constitution que voici:"
|The invocation of God is a Swiss constitutional tradition going back to the Federal Charter of 1291.|
|Tunisia||1959||Invocatio||"In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful ... We, the representatives of the Tunisian people, free and sovereign, proclaim, by the Grace of God, the present Constitution."|
|Ukraine||1996||Nominatio||"The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, (...) aware of our responsibility before God, our own conscience, past, present and future generations, (...) adopts this Constitution"||Ukraine is the only former Soviet republic to mention God in its post-Soviet constitution, even though a majority of the population is nonreligious. The clause has been interpreted as having the purpose of emphasizing national independence by stressing a dissimilarity to Russia and the officially atheist Soviet Union.|
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