The head of the Evangelical Alliance in Ireland has written in defence of secularism in an article for the Irish Times.
In his article 'Rite & Reason: Separation of Church and State benefits all', EA executive director Nick Park says that while establishment churches have hemorrhaged numbers during the last 30 years, "counter-cultural forms of religion that demand intense, even fundamentalist, belief have continued to grow rapidly".
He says: "Nominal religion has declined, but convictional passionately-held religion has dramatically increased," adding that the same is true of atheism, which has also seen a decline since the collapse of communism.
Park says: "It appears that our increasingly secular and globalist world, while unfriendly to nominal religious and anti-religious institutions, is a fertile environment for both true believers and true unbelievers!"
He argues that secularism "seems to fit many religions very well", but distinguishes between "doctrinal secularism" that seeks to eradicate religion from the public sphere and "political securalism" that offers it a level playing field.
Park says: "I would argue strongly that a secular society, with a firm separation between Church and State, is beneficial for both society and the Church.
"History demonstrates that religions behave badly when they hold political power. Christianity began as a persecuted pacifist minority whose adherents were prepared to be killed for the sake of the Cross. Within a generation of joining forces with the Roman Empire it became a persecuting majority religion whose adherents were prepared to kill others for the sake of the Cross."
He concludes: "Religions and ideologies are at their best as part of a secular pluralist society where we can all share our faith, or lack of it, on a level playing field. I want the best for my country, and I want the best for my faith, so I thank God for secularism."