Secular Sunday #1 – Review of 2011 and Plans for 2012

Greetings, Fellow Atheists:

Happy New Year, and welcome to Secular Sunday, the new weekly newsletter of Atheist Ireland. It will include details of events, activities, news items and other relevant topics. This first issue is devoted to a review of our main activities during 2011 and our plans for 2012.

In this issue:

1. Secular constitution and laws
2. Secular education system
3. Other activities
4. Our plans for 2012

1. Secular Constitution and Laws

We wrote to all candidates and parties in the General Election and Presidential Election asking their views on 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.

We met with the Department of the Taoiseach to become a partner in the dialogue process with religious and philosophical groups, and specifically to discuss the impact of secular issues on laws and practices of the incoming coalition Government.

We made a policy 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.

We attended the OSCE’s human rights implementation conference in Poland, where we spoke at the session on freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. Read Jane Donnelly’s report here.

We continued our campaign to have the Irish blasphemy law repealed.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

The policy issues that we have raised generally with these various bodies include religious oaths for officeholders, religious oaths in court, the blasphemy law, legalised religious discrimination in employment and equality laws, and the right to a secular education based on international human rights law.

2. Secular education system

We made detailed policy submissions to, and we met with, the Department of Education’s forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary education system. This forum should by now have reported to the Minister for Education Ruari Quinn. Read more here.

We launched a new campaign website Teach, Don’t Preach 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 and other resources for parents.

We 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.

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. See them both on TV3’s Morning Ireland here.

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.

3. Other activities

We held the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in June. Speakers included Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, and the new Atheist Alliance International was launched. At the convention, we and other atheists from around the world launched the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life. This covers personal freedoms, secular democracy, secular education, and one law for all.

We hosted AC Grayling in the first of a series of Internet-streamed talks in Ireland by prominent international atheists.

We ran a campaign asking people to be honest about religion in the 2011 census. We asked people to answer based on their actual beliefs about religion now, not on the basis of their childhood religion.

Michael Nugent wrote a series of five articles for the Irish Times Rite and Reason column, on atheism and its relationship to reality, morality, faith and Jesus. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

We have continued to take part in public debates, media interviews, etc. on issues relevant to Atheist Ireland and our agenda.

4. Our plans for 2012

During 2012 we plan to continue the work that we are already doing on all of the above issues.

We will be writing a New Year’s letter to every TD and Senator asking them to support the Dublin Declaration on Secularism, and to support a series of five steps to a secular Ireland that will include a secular constitution, education system, lawmaking, government and courts.

We will be campaigning to ensure that the new Government’s proposed constitutional convention takes place on schedule, and that it focuses on the need for a secular constitution without references to gods and religious oaths.

We will be strengthening Atheist Ireland organisationally, including through this Secular Sunday newsletter, regular members meetings and social events, and by setting up local Atheist Ireland groups around the country.

Please get involved and help us to build an ethical and secular Ireland. If you would like to volunteer to spend a few hours a week helping with the above campaigns or with local events in your area, please email us at the address below. Any feedback or suggestions about this newsletter or the organisation in general are welcome.

Until next Sunday, be good and be godless.

Derek Walsh
Editor, Secular Sunday
Atheist Ireland
Email secularsunday@atheist.ie

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Nicola McPherson January 01, 2012

    A newsletter is a great idea to build more support. Best wishes for 2012

  2. Avatar
    Helen January 04, 2012

    Good article Derek well done. It will be good to have weekly updates. CU next Sunday ;-).