Welcome to the Atheist Ireland Student Society Guide. This guide is a work in progress, and will be added to on a continual basis.
Standing in the crowded ballroom of Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin at the inaugural AGM of Atheist Ireland, the overwhelming feeling one couldn’t help but be struck by was of catharsis: here was a remarkably varied group of individuals unified in drive and determination, and carrying a single message – enough was enough. Healthy disputes about tactics nothwithstanding, the essential, unspoken motivation each person there had in common was the apprehension that the church, and religion generally, was undeserving of its hitherto assured place at the table in every mode of Irish social dialogue.
We live in a country in which 97% of all primary schools are owned and operated by private religious institutions. Despite the fact that the State funds the salaries of all employees at such schools, the religious curricula (designated less teaching time in the classroom only than English and Mathematics) are set by the individual steering committees. In the face of a gradual secularising of our society over the last several decades, it has been the Irish way to tolerate the retention of such influence by the religious orders, in line with a general feeling that their contribution to childhood development is positive (or at least not negative).
On the contrary, as a Department of Education report on a North Dublin “Muslim” national school in Cabra showed, such influence is inevitably impeding. Students were compelled to devote so much of their day to ritual prayer and recitation of the Koran that other curricula were found to have been severely neglected. In certain areas, such as the Relationships and Sexuality Education programme, management outright refused to implement their teaching on religious grounds. Similarly, very many of us who attended Catholic-run primary schools can attest that the religious influence unequivocally retarded, rather than aided, pupil education.
It doesn’t stop at the education system either; the Irish constitution bears the glaring scars of having been developed in a monotheistic state, and is riddled with references to the Christian god – significant when fundamental rights are being considered and interpreted in our courts of law. There was some refreshing controversy at the revival of the supposed crime of blasphemy by the (religious) Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern. Yet the legislation was approved; the offence is still listed in Article 40, now prosecutable in a real sense, and will remain as such until a referendum is held on its removal.
At Atheist Ireland, we are committed to working together, as our constitution describes, to “build a rational, ethical and secular society free from superstition and supernaturalism”. The student movement is an absolutely integral part of this process; it is ultimately our aim to help establish groups at every third-level institution in the country. I am confident that there is a dormant secular lobby that can be motivated nationwide, given the necessary support structures and shared dialogue. This guide will hopefully be of service to those of you interested in playing an active role in the setting up and development of any such group.
If there is a small band of you ready to set up your own society, but would like to raise awareness of your presence to make the whole process easier; or if you are ready and willing to start one but struggling to find others to help at your college, be sure to get directly in contact with us via our website, www.atheist.ie, which has an active discussion forum, including a section specifically for students. We also have a facebook page, where you can start such discussions. Currently established groups can also share tips there, and chat about any issues you may have as the year progresses.
Inaugural Student Officer,