Author Archives: Grania

Teaching about Religions and Beliefs

by Jane Donnelly

 

The Mater Dei Institute is at it again.

Link to the pdf of their Submission to the Forum on Education

In their Submission to the Forum on Education they again recommend the Toledo Guiding Principles but state that this education cannot be adequately described by the use of the terms such as “objective”.

These people even quote from the Toledo Guiding Principles but conveniently leave out Page 68 – State neutrality and opt out rights.

“Under International Standards, states have considerable latitude with respect to providing religious education but may not seek to indoctrinate pupils in a particular worldview through the educational system against the wishes of the pupils’ parents. The European Court of human Rights has made clear that:-

The State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The state is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might not be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions. This is the limit that must not be exceeded.

The State may satisfy this duty of neutrality either by designing a curriculum that is itself sufficiently impartial and balanced or, in those instances in which the state provides instruction in a particular religion or belief, by granting rights to opt out on the ground of conscientious objection. This right must be realizable in practice, and not a mere theoretical possibility. Moreover, the requisite neutrality would be compromised if pupils were subjected to any disadvantage discrimination or stigma on account of the exercise of this right to be exempted from such classes, or elements of classes.”

What do they not understand about the words ‘objective’ and this is the limit that must not be exceeded. This is something that we must be very careful about as Atheist Ireland supports the Toledo Guiding Principles. We need to ensure that if the Toledo Guiding Principles are introduced it is not the Toledo Guiding Principles according to the Mater Dei Institute which is a foundation of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

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Blog Round-up after the Conference

Here’s a round-up of some of the thoughts on the conference from various people around the web.

UPDATE:

A Gloriously Godless Weekend (Part 1 )from Adventures of a Middle-Aged Boy is up: “The weekend began – as all weekends should – on Thursday.”
Part 2 is here
and Part 3 is here

Over on Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne asks: Are there too many atheist meetings?

Maryam Namazie has written The Islamic Inquisition. She gave a truly rousing and memorable speech on the politicisation of Islam and its consequences for ordinary Muslims.

Over on RichardDawkins.net you can read Bulletins from the Dublin Atheist Conference.

Also, don’t miss this entertaining moment from the Conference where Richard Dawkins was challenged by a Muslim Creationist.

P.Z. Myers has written various pieces about it over on Pharyngula.

Furious Purpose has written an analysis of a number of the panels as has Consider The Teacosy with an especially interesting piece called “Conference musings: Atheists, non-atheists, and the Four Horsemen. ”

Atheist Alliance International President Tanya Smith has written about it too and makes particular mention of non-Western members of A.A.I. and some of the unique troubles faced by them.

It has also been reported on in the Irish Times by Patsy McGarry “Dawkins urges constitutional reform to remove church role” and Róisín Ingle in “Our 256,000 (and counting) atheists, agnostics, humanists and non-religious“.

You can also see numerous photographs and video clips up on our Facebook page and keep an eye on our Youtube channel for more videos still to come.

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World Atheist Conference is now sold out!

In spite of the impending Rapture, tickets to the World Atheist Conference are now sold out.
We’re looking forward to meeting you all  in Dublin on the 3rd of June.





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Aron-Ra and D.P.R. Jones join our line-up

Atheist Ireland is delighted to announce that influential internet activists Aron-Ra and D.P.R. Jones have joined our exciting line-up.



D.P.R. Jones is well known for his videos on religion, science and philosophy and is host of The Magic Sandwich Show.






Aron-Ra is a passionate advocate of rationalism in science education, and is a regular co-host of the Magic Sandwich Show on BlogTV.


Update:
Mpagi Michael Kirumira of the Atheist Association of Uganda will be joining us as well. His organisation challenges religious superstition and prejudice, promotes the scientific method and upholds the constitutional separation of church and state in Ugandan society.

They join our excellent line-up of international speakers:

  • Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist)
  • Lone Frank (neurobiologist, science writer, Denmark)
  • Michael Nugent (chairperson Atheist Ireland)
  • Paula Kirby (secular consultant, activist UK)
  • PZ Myers (author science blog Pharyngula, USA)
  • Jane Donnelly (Education officer Atheist Ireland)
  • Dan Barker (Freedom from Religion Foundation, USA)
  • Rebecca Watson (Skepchick blogger, podcaster)
  • David Nash (professor, expert on blasphemy, UK)
  • Ivana Bacik (Irish Senator in 30th Oireachtas)
  • Mpagi Michael Kirumira  (Atheist Association of Uganda)
  • Aroup Chaterjee (author, UK)
  • Annie Laurie Gaylor USA (Freedom from Religion Foundation)
  • Mark Embleton UK (President Atheism UK)
  • Thomas Prosser (Trinity College, Dublin)
  • Nick Lee (Freethinkers Association of Central Texas)
  • Tanya Smith (Atheist Alliance International; Atheist Foundation of Australia)
  • Bobbie Kirkhart (Author and Activist, USA)
  • Tom Melchiorre (Editor, Secular World, USA)
  • Phillipe Besson (ILCAF, France)
  • Richard Green (Atheism UK)
  • Rene Hartmann (Int. League of Non-religious & Atheists, Germany)
  • Maryam Namazie (British Council of Ex-Muslims)
  • Roger Lepeix (ILCAF, France)

There are only a few tickets left. If you would like one, you can click through on this link.

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Parents talk about the obstacles in obtaining a secular education for their child in Ireland

Alex Meehan of the Sunday Business Post interviewed some parents recently who have persevered in trying to get a secular education for their children.  Although parents have the right to ask for their children to be exempted from religious classes at school in Ireland, those who opt for this meet with varying degrees of accommodation from schools and communities alike. Some are indifferent, others very accommodating, and a few even hostile.

One father, whose young child has been shunned by his local community, had this to say:

“People seem to think that I was motivated by wanting to cause trouble, but they have no idea of the lengths I went to to try to solve the problem before going public with it. They don’t know the full story, and they don’t seem to want to find out. It’s very strange that over a difference in opinion, a child gets punished. I’m very surprised by that. I thought we could all just agree to differ and move on, but apparently not.”

Read the whole article here.

Parents interested in finding out more about this issue and their rights can do so by emailing us here, joining our forums or finding us on Facebook.

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Secular analysis of the Fine Gael manifesto

Written by Dr. Conor McGrath

The main election manifesto of Fine Gael – titled ‘Let’s Get Ireland Working – can be found at http://www.finegael.ie/upload/docs/Manifesto.pdf.

The document is lengthy and detailed, covering the whole range of government Departments and public sector activity. As the title indicates, there is a strong concentration on economic recovery. However, some elements of the document will be of particular interest to those with a secular perspective.

On education, Fine Gael makes clear its commitment to examining the schools patronage system (p. 34): “Fine Gael will give parents a real say in how schools are governed. We believe the current situation with over 90% of primary schools under Church patronage is not reflective of the needs of a modern Irish school system. We will hold a National Forum on Education to allow all stakeholders, including parents to engage in an open debate on a change of patronage in communities where it is appropriate and necessary.”

One aspect of the party’s health proposals could potentially have implications for the religious ethos of hospitals. Fine Gael states (p. 50) that it will implement “legislation to provide for recognition of Advance Care Directives” under which patients could indicate their personal wishes as regards end-of-life and palliative care treatment.

In common with the other major parties, Fine Gael’s manifesto includes a section on political reform. However, the party does not commit itself to a comprehensive review of the Constitution. Fine Gael does intend to hold a number of referenda within 12 months of taking office, on what it terms ‘Constitution Day’. Among the questions which would be posed on that day are the abolition of the Seanad, and changes to the Dail, presidency, government and judiciary. These could include: the investigative powers of Dail committees; judges’ salaries; judicial misconduct; changing the term of office of the presidency from 7 to 5 years; the creation of a Civil Court of Appeal and a system of family courts; and the electoral system.  Fine Gael goes on to explicitly assert, though, that: “This referendum will not address the articles dealing with rights/social policy as we want the focus to stay on political reform” (p. 62). Thus, for Fine Gael issues about the reframing of the Constitution in secular rather than religious terms are not an immediate priority (although the party has indicated that it would be willing to consider such issues at a later stage).

Overall, then, while the Fine Gael manifesto raises the future possibility of some significant advances, it is less clear in terms of setting out what the precise policy outcomes would be in these areas.

We will be publishing an analysis of each party’s manifesto as they become available.

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Secular analysis of the Workers’ Party manifesto

Written by Dr Conor McGrath

The main election manifesto of the Workers’ Party can be found at http://www.workerspartyireland.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/wpmanifesto.pdf.

The document is fairly brief, and concentrates very heavily on economic policy. However, one section will be of interest to those with a secular perspective.

Part of the discussion on political reform includes the following statement: “In the long term the Workers Party reiterates its view, outlined on many previous occasions, that this state needs a completely new constitution. The 1937 constitution, based as it is on Victorian property values, catholic morality, and vatican corporatist principles, is no longer fit for purpose. Pending that new secular constitution we believe that there are certain steps which can be immediately taken.”

Overall, then, while the bulk of the Workers’ Party manifesto is cleared focused on presenting a clear ideological approach to economic recovery, secularists can certainly welcome the commitment to redrafting an entirely new Constitution.

We will be publishing an analysis of each party’s manifesto as they become available.

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Secular analysis of the Green Party manifesto

Written by Dr Conor McGrath

The main Green Party manifesto – titled ‘Renewing Ireland’ – is available at http://vote.greenparty.ie/downloads/manifesto.pdf.

The document covers the full range of government Departments, though doesn’t get into a huge amount of detail in many areas – banking reform, for instance, is dealt with in 5 sentences. Economic recovery is one of the main areas of the manifesto, and there is naturally some focus on the ‘green economy’.

Only two elements of the Green Party manifesto relate to the secular public policy agenda. In common with all the other main parties, the Green Party would initiate a review of the Constitution. They would hold a referendum later this year on the establishment of a 40 members Citizens Assembly (to then be elected) to draft within 18 months a new Constitution – which would then itself be the subject of another referendum (p. 13). There is no real detail here on what aspects of the existing Constitution the Green Party would particularly wish to see changed.

On education policy, the Green Party would: “Review the Education Act to look at issues such as Boards of Management, patronage and enrolment” (p. 21). Again, the manifesto does not provide any additional information on what precise aspects of school patronage would be examined.

Overall then, the Green Party manifesto – while full of (usually uncosted) proposals by which to integrate environmental concerns with wider policy on economics, agriculture, transport, and so on – has very little to say (and then only in quite vague terms) on the policy issues of relevance to the secular perspective.


We will be publishing an analysis of each party’s manifesto as they become available.

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Secular analysis of the Labour Party manifesto

Written by Dr Conor McGrath

The main Labour Party manifesto – titled ‘One Ireland: Jobs, Reform, Fairness’ – is available at their website here.

This is a lengthy and detailed manifesto, which covers the whole range of policy areas and government activity. It proposes many specific actions on economic recovery, employment and the public sector, across all Departments.

From a secular perspective, a number of the sections are of particular interest. On political reform, for instance, Labour would establish a Constitutional Convention with “an open mandate … to review the Constitution and draft a reformed one within a year” (p. 46). Of the 90 members of this body, 30 would come from the Oireachtas, 30 from ordinary citizens chosen at random, and 30 from “members of civil society organisations and other people with relevant legal or academic expertise” (p. 46). This latter section raises the possibility of achieving a representative of the secular perspective as a member of the Convention.

A new Oireachtas Investigations, Oversight and Petitions Committee would be established to examine “matters of national concern” and to receive submissions from “individuals and groups in the community seeking the redress of grievances connected with the public services of the State and with the public administration generally” (p. 47). This may provide a new avenue for raising particular concerns about the relationship between church and state.

The education section in the Labour Party manifesto has a strong focus on issues around around the patronage of schools. The existing Vocational Educational Committees are to be developed into Local Education Boards (p. 61). There is a detailed statement on the question of primary school patronage: “Labour wants to reform our education system so that it is more democratic, and recognises the diversity of ethos within modern Irish society. Labour will initiate a time-limited Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector. This national Forum would be open to participation from all the stakeholders in the education sector. The Forum will have concise terms of reference and sit for a maximum of 12 months. The recommendations of the Forum will be drawn up into a White Paper for consideration and implementation by the Government to ensure that our education system can provide a sufficiently diverse number of schools which cater for all religions and none. As part of this process, parents and the local community should also have a say in the patronage of existing and future schools, for example by direct ballot. Labour in government will ensure Educate Together is recognized as a patron at second level by the Department of Education and Skills” (pp. 61-62).

The document also refers to schools which will move from religious to public ownership (p. 63): “Labour in government will negotiate the transfer of school infrastructure currently owned by the 18 religious orders cited in the Ryan Report, at no extra cost, to the State. The existing patronage and activities of these schools will remain unchanged.”

As part of its Fairness agenda, the Labour Party makes a particular commitment to: “ensure the five teaching colleges introduce a Freedom of Conscience clause so that trainee teachers no longer are obliged to undergo compulsory religious education” (p. 78). While Labour will amend the employment equality legislation to prevent schools from discriminating against teachers on the grounds of their sexuality, there is no similar pledge as regards discrimination on the basis of religious belief/non-belief.

Overall then, the Labour Party manifesto is detailed and specific. While some issues on the secular agenda are not addresses in the document, there are a number of important and constructive reforms promised which can certainly be welcomed.

We will be publishing an analysis of each party’s manifesto as they become available.

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Secular analysis of the Sinn Féin manifesto

Written by Dr Conor McGrath

The main Sinn Féin manifesto – titled ‘There Is A Better Way’ – is available at http://www.sinnfein.ie/files/SF_GeneralElectionManifesto2011.pdf.

The document is relatively short, concentrates heavily on economic recovery and public services, and lists a large number of (often uncosted) priorities without offering a huge amount of detail on each.

However, it does contain some commitments of interest from a secular perspective. It includes, for instance, a pledge (p. 28) to “Recognise and resource Educate Together and other non-denominational schools at primary and secondary level where there is demand for them.”

In the section on political reform, Sinn Féin promises the creation of an all-Ireland Constitutional Forum, which would be tasked with drafting a new Constitution (p. 33), “fully reflective of the values and aspirations of the Irish people today, soundly based on democratic principles and international human rights standards.” No particular mention is made in this regard of the values and rights of the non-religious, but nonetheless the establishment of a body with those terms of reference would certainly provide opportunities for the case to be made that the Constitution should be reframed in a secular way.

There is in the manifesto a noticeable emphasis on equality and human rights – again, not specifically as regards a secular perspective, but this overall framework suggests that Sinn Féin would be open to addressing issues on the secular agenda. For instance, the party commits itself explicitly (p. 35) to, “Build an Ireland of Equals where everyone’s rights are guaranteed, free of divisions caused by partition, sectarianism, racism, and other forms of discrimination”. It would develop an Equality Strategy, “that draws together previously fragmented strategies to eliminate discrimination and introduce real equality and establish an Oireachtas Committee on Equality and Human Rights to monitor implementation of our new equality and human rights laws” (p. 35). Sinn Féin would require that all “law and policy including budgets” would be subject to a form of equality-proofing such that equality measures here would be “at least equivalent” to those which are in effect in Northern Ireland (p. 36).

Finally, given Atheist Ireland’s role as an advocacy group, Sinn Féin’s commitment to “protect the community and voluntary sectors right to engage in advocacy” (p. 36) is of interest.

Overall then, the Sinn Féin manifesto is full of promises, and suggests that the party may be receptive to many of Atheist Ireland’s key policy concerns, but much would depend on how the promises develop as more layers of detail are built up around them.

We will be publishing an analysis of each party’s manifesto as they become available.

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