Atheist Ireland review of busy year’s activity for 2011 AGM

Atheist Ireland’s third Annual General meeting will take place this weekend, on Saturday 9 April 2011, in the Gresham Metropole Hotel in Cork. Here is a review of the work that we have done since our second AGM in July 2010.

1. Secular Irish Constitution and laws
2. Secular Irish education system
3. Other secular issues
4. International Issues
5. Debates and social events
6. Internet presence
7. Really Truly True Believer of the Month awards
8. Next year’s activities

1. Secular Irish Constitution and laws

In February we wrote to all candidates and parties in the General Election asking their views on six secular policy issues, and published the results to enable secular voters to take this into account when voting. We also published secular analyses of the manifestos of each political party.

In March we wrote to the Programme for Government negotiating teams, and have since written to all new Government Ministers seeking meetings to discuss the impact of secular issues on laws and practices conducted through their Departments.

Also in March we made a submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Ireland’s human rights record with regard to secular issues. We also contributed to a joint submission made by several Irish human rights advocacy groups.

The issues that we have highlighted in these submissions include religious oaths for officeholders, religious oaths in court, the blasphemy law, legalised religious discrimination in employment and equality laws, access to schools, the integrated curriculum, the operation of the opt out clause, and teacher training.

We have continued our campaign to have the blasphemy law repealed. We welcome the commitment in the new Programme for Government to include this in a review of future Constitutional changes.

2. Secular Irish education system

In January we launched a new campaign website at http://teachdontpreach.ie to coordinate our campaign for a secular Irish education system. This website includes information on how to opt your child out of religious education classes, including sample letters to send to the school principal.

We have made comprehensive submissions on secular education to the Irish Human Rights Commission, the United Nations Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Ireland’s human rights record.

In January and February we highlighted the issue of discrimination against nonreligious parents who cannot opt their child out of religious instruction in Catholic primary schools, with a high profile media campaign led by Jane Donnelly and Martijn Leenheer.

We lobbied the outgoing Government against proposals for new VEC primary schools that would include faith formation within school hours. We want these schools defined as ‘organs of the State’ so that parents can challenge a board of management which chose to operate the integrated curriculum based upon a religious ethos.

In March we responded to the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the display of crucifixes in classrooms in Italian State schools.

3. Other secular issues

We have been organising the World Atheist Convention 2011, which will be held in the Alexander Hotel in Dublin on 3-5 June. Speakers will include Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, and the new Atheist Alliance International will be launched. Stephen Duggan and Grania Spingies are coordinating this.

In January, we launched a campaign asking people to be honest about religion in the Irish Census on Sunday April 10. we asked people to answer based on their actual beliefs about religion now, not on the basis of their childhood religion.

In October, Michael Nugent wrote an article for the Irish Times, titled ‘Give us a State that’s not religious nor atheist, but secular’, that outlined the advantages of atheism over religious faith and the need for a secular Irish Constitution and laws.

In September, we highlighted the plan by Minister for Science Conor Lenihan to launch a book declaring evolution to be a hoax. The Minister withdrew from the launch.

Also in September, when the Pope visited Britain, we highlighted his attempt to blame atheism for the crimes of Nazi Germany, and his inference that, if you do not want God or religion in public life, you also do not want virtue in public life.

In August, on the 60th anniversary of the Angelus on RTE, we had a high profile media campaign on the need to remove the Angelus. We have since entered into correspondence with the new Director General of RTE on this issue.

We have met with the Humanist Association of Ireland to discuss common aims and potential common campaigns.

4. International issues

In October, we met in Brussels with the Presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council as part of the dialogue process under the Lisbon Treaty with religious and philosophical organisations. We were the first Irish philosophical organisation, and the only European atheist advocacy group, to take part in this dialogue.

In August, we met in Paris with European Freethought groups to discuss international cooperation. This led to Atheist Ireland, along with the German, Danish and Australian atheist groups, proposing a restructuring of Atheist Alliance International.

As a result of this, in October, Atheist Alliance International voted to expand into two separate organisations. One will conduct atheist advocacy at a national level within the USA, and one will conduct atheist advocacy at an international level.

Also in October, Conor McGrath of Atheist Ireland was elected as Vice President of Atheist Alliance International. Since then Conor has been overseeing the transition to the new Atheist Alliance International, which will be launched in Dublin in June.

In November, Jane Donnelly wrote an article about secular education for La Raison, the magazine of the French National federation of Freethinkers, la Libre Pensée.

5. Debates and social events

Michael Nugent has taken part in several debates, including with Hamza Tzortzis in Galway and Dublin on atheism and Islam; with Kevin Annett and Jack Valro of Opus Dei in Cork on arresting the Pope; a debate on the afterlife in Galway and on the existence of God in UCD.

Ciaran Mac Aoidh spoke at the launch of a blasphemy exhibition in Leitrim, and Jane Donnelly took part in a radio debate about secular education with Father Michael Drumm of the Catholic Schools Partnership.

We have held monthly social get-togethers in Dublin with guest speakers including Mike Garde of Dialogue Ireland, professor Helena Sheehan of DCU and professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University.

In February we co-sponsored, with the Irish Skeptics, a gig by George Hrab in the Exchange in Temple Bar.

In September, Derek Walsh reviewed the launch of the anti-evolution book that Ireland’s Minister for Science had planned to formally launch.

6. Internet presence

We now have the following main internet presences:

7. Really Truly True Believer of the Month

And finally, each month we have had a poll on our website for the Really Truly True Believer of the Month coordinated by nozzferrahhtoo.

  • The July winner was the Vatican for equating child abuse with the attempted ordination of women in its list of most serious crimes.
  • The August winner was the Massachusetts Bible School where God was telephoning children to talk to them personally.
  • The September winner was Minister for Science Conor Lenihan for his plan to launch a book describing evolution as a hoax.
  • The October winner was Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed of the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain, who said that men who rape their wives should not be prosecuted.
  • The November winner was Minister Eamon O’Cuiv for suggesting that what the Irish economy needed for recovery was prayers.
  • The December winner was a tie between Danish pastor who symbolically executed a Christmas elf, and Virginia politician Eugene Delgaudio who said that airport security pat-downs were part of the homosexual agenda.
  • The January winner was Orthodox archpriest Vsevold Chaplin for suggesting that drunk women wearing miniskirts should not be surprised if they are raped.
  • The February winner was the South Dakota legislators who want to make preventing harm to a fetus a “justifiable homicide” in many cases, thus allowing people to kill doctors who perform abortions.

8. Next year’s activities

Next year we hope to do even more to advance the causes of atheism, reason and secularism in Ireland. To do this, we need your help.

Please join Atheist Ireland and help us build an ethical and secular society.

Michael Nugent
Atheist Ireland