Dublin Declaration on Religion in Public Life – opinions welcome

This weekend, June 3-5, the World Atheist Convention will take place in Dublin. On Sunday we will discuss and adopt the Dublin Declaration on Religion in Public Life. This will be a follow-up to the Copenhagen Declaration that was adopted at last year’s convention in Denmark.

We will discuss two alternative formats for the Dublin Declaration. The first is an adaptation of the Copenhagen Declaration that addresses some ambiguities that existed within it, and the second is a rewrite from scratch proposed by Richard Green of Atheism UK.

Whether or not you are attending the Convention, we would be happy to hear your opinions on this, including suggestions for improving either version. If you comment on this post, we will try to incorporate your comments into the discussion of the Declaration.

Draft Declaration A

1. Personal Freedoms

(a) Freedom of conscience, religion and belief are unlimited. Freedom to practice religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.

(b) All people should be free to participate equally in public life, and should be treated equally before the law and in the democratic process.

(c) Freedom of expression should be limited only as prescribed in international law. All blasphemy laws should be repealed.

2. Secular Democracy

(a) Society should be based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Public policy should be formed by applying reason to evidence.

(b) Government should be secular. The state should be strictly neutral in matters of religion, favoring none and discriminating against none.

(c) Religions should have no special financial consideration in public life, such as tax-free status for religious activities, or grants to promote religion or run faith schools.

3. Secular Education

(a) State education should be secular. Children should be taught about the diversity of religious beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours.

(b) Children should be educated in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge. Science should be taught free from religious interference.

4. One Law For All

(a) There should be one law for all, democratically decided and evenly enforced, with no jurisdiction for religious courts to settle civil matters or family disputes.

(b) The law should not criminalize private conduct that respects the rights of others because the doctrine of any religion deems such conduct to be immoral.

(c) Employers or social service providers with religious beliefs should not be allowed to discriminate on any grounds not essential to the job in question.

Draft Declaration B

1. No Divine Right

The sovereignty of the State is not derived from any God.

2. Secular State

(1) The Constitution must not contain any direct or indirect reference to any God, Faith or Religion.

(2) The Constitution and/or State Action must neither require nor prohibit Faith, Religion or the Manifestation of Religion.

(3) State Institutions must not include members of any Religion because of their membership of it.

(4) State Action must not be based upon any God, Faith or Religion.

(5) State Money must not be applied, directly or indirectly, to support, further, promote or advocate any Religion or the Manifestation of Religion as such.

(6) Faith or the Manifestation of Religion must not form any part of the Law.

(7) The Law must neither grant nor refuse any right, privilege, power or immunity, on the basis of Faith or Religion or the lack of either.

3. Education

(1) The Law must not require a State School to provide Religious Education.

(2) If a State School provides Religious Education, it must be Balanced Religious Education.

(3) A State School must not provide the Manifestation of Religion.

4. Blasphemy

The Law must not prohibit the denial (in whatever manner) of Faith or of the Manifestation of Religion.

5. Religious Codes

The Law must not recognise and State Institutions must not enforce any Religious Code.

6. Definitions

In this Declaration:-

“Balanced Religious Education” means Religious Education:-
(1) the subject matter of which is:-
(a) God, Faith or Religion in general; and
(b) the lack of Faith and Religion;
(2) which includes specific Gods or Religions only by way of example;
(3) which does not promote one God or Religion over another;
(4) which does not promote Faith or Religion over the lack of either.

“Constitution” means a State’s constitution, whether codified or not, and includes:-
(1) the constitutions of State Institutions;
(2) provisions as to the relationship between:-
(a) State Institutions;
(b) a State Institution and an individual,
including provisions for State Actions;

“Faith” means belief that God exists;

“God” means a super-empirical object or process;

“Law” means the law embodied in:-
(1) the Constitution;
(2) primary and secondary legislative acts; and
(3) judicial decisions;

“Manifestation of Religion” means the worship, teaching, practice or observance of any Religion;

“Religion” means a social system the members of which exhibit Faith;

“Religious Education” means education (whether by way of a discrete subject or as part of any other subject), the subject matter of which is God, Faith or Religion.

“Religious Code” means any code of which Faith or the Manifestation of Religion forms part;

“State” includes a supra-national organization;

“State Actions” includes:-
(1) primary and secondary legislative acts;
(2) judicial decisions; and
(3) administrative acts;

“State Institution” means the institutions comprising the State, including:-
(1) the head of state;
(2) the judiciary;
(3) the legislature;
(4) the executive; and
(5) institutions within or under them;

“State Money” means money which is the subject of the revenue and expenditure of the State;

“State School” means any school which is:-
(1) a State Institution;
(2) maintained by the State; or
(3) otherwise funded, wholly or partly, by State Money.

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Michael Nugent

20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Chris Morris June 01, 2011

    Hlo Michael,
    I tend to define atheism as an anti-THEISTIC stance, i.e. opposed to the three theistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – which claim that a supernatural, all-perfect [i.e. all-powerful, all-good, all- knowing] Being is personally interested in and loves each of us; life after death, resurrection etc etc. This defines what an atheist does NOT believe in, but nothing else; whereas an agnostic is an atheist who is still asking questions but doubts if there are answers accessible to human reason. Are these definitions too black-and-white ? DISCUSS [as they say in examination papers!]
    See you at the Conference; delighted it’s a sell-out ! I hope to interview you about it when you’re available. Chris Morris

    • Avatar
      Grania June 01, 2011

      Hi Chris
      Agnosticism isn’t necessarily about atheism at all and it’s not really a “middle-ground” position either. It simply means that the person identifying as such admits that they do not know for certain that their position is correct.

      A theist can be an agnostic by admitting they have no definitive proof for their belief; just as much as an atheist may readily admit that there is no “proof” of the non-existence of supernatural beings. Admitting agnosticism also doesn’t necessarily suggest that you think that it is likely that your position is incorrect either.

  2. Avatar
    Derek Walsh June 01, 2011

    I strongly prefer Declaration A as it’s more positive and less divisive.
    Even though they’re largely saying the same things, Declaration B reads like it’s all about restricting religions, whereas Declaration A is more about the freedoms and rights of all people, religious and non-religious.
    Declaration A seems pretty good to me as it is. Perhaps something could be added about laws and constitutions being religiously neutral and only mentioning religion to ensure the rights of people of all religions and of none.
    Also,I think section 4(c) should be rephrased slightly, to something more like:

    (c) Employers or social service providers should not be allowed to discriminate on any grounds not essential to the job in question, including those related to religious beliefs.

  3. Avatar
    Nicholas Huebner June 02, 2011

    Looking at the two drafts, I generally prefer the tone of the first; however, I do like the some of the clarity and definitions in the second.

  4. Avatar
    Rogier van Vugt June 02, 2011

    “Manifestation of Religion” means the worship, teaching, practice or observance of any Religion;

    I have a problem with this. Practice of religion is a very broad category, and could include human sacrifice of the aztecs, animal cruelty under the guise of halal or kosjer food, or really anything people can dream up for their religion.

    Practice of religion should really always be subject to law, and such laws would then violate point 2-2 of declaration B.

    I would propose to rewrite 2-2 by using ‘ or adherance to a religion’ in stead of ‘Religion or the Manifestation of Religion’.

    People should not be able to claim they are above the law because X is part of their religion.

  5. Avatar
    Seamus McKenna June 02, 2011

    Declaration A is far preferable. Declaration B is too legalistic in tone, and it mentions the constitution. A clear plain English statement, as in declaration A, is what ordinary people will respond to. The problem with mentioning the constitution is that even talking about possible changes to it can be an emotive and divisive issue in Ireland (I appreciate that the declaration is for international use but Ireland is one of the more sectarian countries in the western world). If we are to have a secular society we will have to bring the people who are now conditioned into a “religion right or wrong” mindset with us. They cannot be coerced. The time to think about the constitution is when progress has been made and it is realised by the majority that the religious provisions it contains are archaic.

  6. Avatar
    Christopher Mc Camle June 04, 2011

    You guys are a good laugh. An atheistic declaration that declares sovereignty doesn’t come from God – surely you’re not supposed to believe in God – how come you mention Him first thing in declaration B.

    And your so called definition “God” means a super-empirical object or process. If God doesn’t exist how can you define Him. It’s certainly not a definition any believer would exist – so you defined a God not to believe in Who no one believes in anyway. God is not an object or a process but Love. You don’t believe in love?

  7. Avatar
    Isaac June 04, 2011

    I prefer declaration A. It’s simpler and represents correctly the spirit of what we want from this declaration. Declaration B gets into too many details and splits most of the content into a ‘definitions’ section, making it harder to read.

  8. Avatar
    Feardorcha June 05, 2011

    A is clear and well-written and strikes a better tone than the ‘must be’ of B.

    “God is not an object or a process but Love. You don’t believe in love?” – Christopher (above).

    But love is what people make on Saturday nights after the disco (hopefully with condoms). Changing meanings of words doesn’t change concepts. Personally I prefer to call nuclear weapons ‘bread and jam’ because everyone loves bread and jam.

  9. Avatar
    Jane Travers June 05, 2011

    I much prefer Declaration A for its clarity and overall positivity of tone. It focuses more on what secularism is rather than what atheism isn’t and states its points clearly.

    However, Declaration B does expound well on the subject of secular vs religious schools; perhaps some of that could be incorporated into Declaration A?

  10. Avatar
    Issa June 05, 2011

    U Atheist seem 2 forgotten abt ‘HumanRight’

  11. Avatar
    Dieter Kaiser June 06, 2011

    I prefer Declaration A. I hope that the combined power and influence of all non-believers, atheists, humanists etc. will very soon enforce this declaration in public life in many countries, if not all.

  12. Avatar
    Eoin O'Mahony June 07, 2011

    “Faith” means belief that God exists – glad you have been able to do what has evaded philosophers for about 3,500 years. As for defining the word Law with the word law in it, give me strength.

  13. Avatar
    Jack Butler June 11, 2011

    Eoin,
    I’m Assuming that your second comment refers to the definition section and the sentence;“Law” means the law embodied in:-
    Any reasonable person reading, would be aware of the general meaning of the word “Law”.
    Perhaps you wish more to find fault with the statement’s syntax than with the core points it makes?
    If so, feel free to so do. However it contributes little to the debate.
    Do you intend to continue to attack the messenger rather than the issue?
    What’s your agenda?
    Is your intention

  14. Avatar
    Daniel June 12, 2011

    Eoin,

    He’s not actually defining law, he is simply saying that when he says law, he refers to the law as embodied in those three points he mentiones, as opposed to, for instance, religious law.

  15. Avatar
    Andrew June 13, 2011

    @Christopher McCamle,

    Perhaps to avoid confusing idiots like you, the beginning of Declaration B should not have used the capitalized version of “God” since it implies a specific Judeo-Christian example of a more general term, “god”. It is the general term that can be defined as “a super-empirical object or process”, and the specific Judeo-Christan notion of “God” fits into that category. As does Zeus. As does Thor. As does an invisible flying spaghetti monster. None of these things are “real,” but they can still be defined as concepts.

    I’m sure you’d agree with us atheists that “The sovereignty of the State is not derived from an invisible flying spaghetti monster.” How do you base this conclusion? Because there is no empirical evidence for an invisible flying spaghetti monster impacting any part of our reality let alone deriving our nation’s sovereignty. Atheists are using the same logic here and extending it from specific examples of “God” or “Zeus” or “an invisible flying spaghetti monster” to the more encompassing definition of “a super-empirical object or process”.

    In fact, why abstract a term at all – especially one that will be contentious to idiots who can’t see beyond their own notion of “God” or “god”? Why not just state plainly, “The sovereignty of the State is not derived from any super-empirical object or process.”

    I like Declaration A better anyway.

  16. Avatar
    Stephen Daly June 20, 2011

    I much prefer A over B.

    Also, don’t be fooled. Eoin is right. Syntax is very important in this. It’s what it’s all about.

    One very small thing… Why has “god” got a capital “g” in Declaration B? I never thought she deserved it.

  17. Avatar
    Michael Nugent June 20, 2011

    Stephen, on the specific point of why the word God is capitalised in Declaration B, it is because any word or phrase in that declaration that is defined in the definitions section is capitalised in the body of the declaration.

  18. Avatar
    Gabriel Alexe June 23, 2011

    Ceausescu would be very happy to contribute to your work. He liked very much to speak in the Communist Party’s Congresses about fighting against superstition, obscurantism, mysticism and so on. Perhaps you (should) read his magistral work to create a better world for all the nations, free of supernaturalism, where all human beings of all races are happy and equal.

    Christ is risen!
    Gabriel