Using rational scientific thinking to build civil society – BenBaz Aziz writes for Atheist Ireland

BenBaz Aziz, the Egyptian atheist who is now free after a year in prison in Kuwait on blasphemy charges, writes articles about secularism, atheism, human rights and related issues for Atheist Ireland.

In this fourth article, he examines three dimensions of the relationship between scientific thinking and civil society: the historical dimension, the theoretical dimension and the practical dimension.

You can read more about BenBaz here, and you can read more by BenBaz on his Facebook Page and in Arabic on his blog.

Using rational scientific thinking to build civil society

We don’t have the concept of ‘civil society’ in our Arabic culture, but we should attempt to build the foundation for a civil Arabic society to elevate the status of the individual and his dignity, despite the traditions and rituals. Maybe building such a society may take hundreds of years, but not to try will require a lifetime.

It is possible to talk about the three dimensions of the relationship between scientific thinking and civil society: historical dimension, theoretical dimension and practical dimension. We will discuss each one separately to validate the core issue at hand, which is: “scientific thinking is a necessary condition for the establishment of a civil society.”

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Secular Sunday #121 – A Bad Weekend for Our Sins

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Approach of religious discrimination Bill is undesirable, says Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said that the approach of the current Seanad Bill allowing religious discrimination is undesirable, and may continue to leave the State exposed to a breach of its obligations under the European Employment Equality Directive 2000/78.

In a new Recommendation Paper, authored by Marguerite Bolger SC and Claire Bruton BL after examining more than sixty public submissions, the Commission also vindicates six key arguments made by Atheist Ireland to Senators last week about the Bill. These are:

  1. That the policy of the current Government is to protect both atheist and LGBT employees from discrimination, not just LGBT employees.
  2. That the European Employment Equality Directive permits, but does not oblige, Member States to make special provisions for religious institutions.
  3. That the strict restrictions on exemptions should apply to all religious bodies, not just to State-funded bodies, and not just to schools and hospitals.
  4. That any exemptions should be strictly related to objective job requirements, and should be broadly speaking similar to the wording of Article 4.2 of the European Equality Directive.
  5. That the Bill must take account of the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
  6. That it is not necessary for the constitutional recognition of freedom of religion within schools to be protected in the absolute fashion that it is by Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act.

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Secular Sunday #120 – Liberal Chaos

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Senators raise Atheist Ireland concerns and proposals about religious job discrimination law

The concerns and proposals raised by Atheist Ireland in our briefing document to Senators were raised in the Seanad today, during a Committee Stage debate on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. This is the Section that allows religious institutions, including schools and hospitals, an exemption to discriminate against employees to protect the religious ethos of their institution.

We would like to thank Senators Katherine Zappone, David Norris, Ivana Bacik, Averil Power and Trevor O Clochartaigh for raising our concerns and proposals. This means that these issues can now form the basis of formal amendments to be proposed at the next stage of the Bill.

There were no amendments voted on today, because Minister Katherine Lynch said that the Government wanted to first consider a report on Section 37 that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is preparing, and which is almost ready. Atheist Ireland also made a written submission to that report.

You can read Atheist Ireland’s briefing document to Senators here.

You can read the full Seanad debate on the Oireachtas website here.

We’ll do a more comprehensive analysis later of those of our points that were raised in the debate. Meanwhile here are some selected relevant extracts from today’s debate.

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Please ask Irish Senators today to oppose religious job discrimination in Seanad tomorrow, Wednesday 9 April

This Wednesday 9 April, Irish Senators will discuss a Bill that aims to amend Section 37 of the Irish Employment Equality Act. This is the Section that allows religious institutions, including schools and hospitals, an exemption to discriminate against employees to protect the religious ethos of their institution.

This is a link to the Bill.

Atheist Ireland has sent the following briefing document to all Senators. We are also asking you to please contact one or more Senators today, and to ask them to read our document and to amend the law to effectively remove all unjustified religious discrimination from the Act.

This is a link to email addresses of all Senators. Please email today any Senators that you feel might be supportive.

Atheist Ireland has previously made a written submission to the Equality Authority on this issue. This includes a joint submission that we made along with the National Secular Society UK to the European Commission in which we argued that the Act contravenes the European Equality Directive 2000/78.

The Bill that the Senators will be debating on Wednesday essentially amends Section 37 as follows:

  • Subsection 1(a) allows religious bodies, educational or medical institutions to discriminate on the ground of religion or belief, where it is reasonable to do so in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution (i.e. maintains the status quo).
  • Then Subsection 1(b) places further specified restrictions on such institutions where they are maintained or assisted by recurring grants provided out of public funds (i.e. cannot also be discrimination on another ground; religion or belief is required having regard to the institution’s ethos; and action must be justified by a legitimate aim and proportionate means).

The Bill therefore starts with the most conservative implementation possible of the European Equality Directive 2000/78. The State avails of an option that it may allow certain limited discrimination to continue. It then seems to follow the restrictions on such discrimination that are outlined in the Directive, but does so in a way that still discriminates disproportionately against atheists. Also, in a sleight-of-hand, it only applies the new inadequate restrictions to State-funded bodies, and allows other bodies to continue to discriminate on the basis of the existing law (which contravenes the Directive).

Atheist Ireland argues that the State should move each of these subsections a step closer to equality. State-funded institutions should not be allowed to discriminate at all. Non-State-funded institutions should be allowed very limited exemptions to allow, for example, religions to employ clerics who share their beliefs, but this should not apply to primarily secular jobs such as teacher or doctor.

This is the briefing document that we have sent all Senators.

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Secular Sunday #119 – Won’t Get Fooled Again

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The complicated relationship between science and religion – BenBaz Aziz writes for Atheist Ireland

BenBaz Aziz, the Egyptian atheist who is now free after a year in prison in Kuwait on blasphemy charges, writes articles about secularism, atheism, human rights and related issues for Atheist Ireland.

In this third article, he gives a quick overview of the historic relationship between science and religion, from Ancient Greece through Medieval times and the Renaissance to Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton and Einstein.

You can read more about BenBaz here, and you can read more by BenBaz on his Facebook Page and in Arabic on his blog.

The complicated relationship between science and religion

The roots of the historical relationship between science and religion extends to the dawn of ancient civilizations. Science came out of the womb of religion. It is known that ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonian and Egyptian, used the laws of arithmetic and geometry in the field of astronomy, but they kept the religious interpretation of those phenomena.

Gods were always providing ready-made answers by priests and clergy, and science was only a tool in the service of religion. For example arithmetic operations were used to determine the dates of religious rituals associated with the plowing and harvesting seasons.

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First responses by European Election candidates to Atheist Ireland Secular Statement

Atheist Ireland will be asking all European and Local Election candidates to sign a Secular Statement, based on the one adopted at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011. We will publish details of all responses, to enable voters to know which candidates are most and least supportive of freedom of belief and separation of church and state.

Our Cavan Monaghan branch has started that process, with branch chairperson John Hamill telling candidates that the core principle on which the statement is based is that all citizens should be facilitated in practicing their faith to the fullest extent, up until the point where they seek to infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

Two European Election candidates in the Midlands North West constituency have so far responded. Mark Deaney of the Green Party has signed an adapted version of the statement, and independent candidate Senator Ronan Mullen has refused to sign the statement.

The Northern Standard has today published the article below about these responses.

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Secular Sunday #118 – In Search of Lost Time

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