Teach Don’t Preach: Campaign for a Secular Education System

Atheist Ireland is campaigning for a secular education system based on international human rights law and in keeping with the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religion and Beliefs in Public Schools. Parents have a right to not have their children indoctrinated at school with religious beliefs contrary to those of their parents. In Ireland, in practical terms, most atheist/secular parents and many belonging to minority religions are denied this right.

The vast majority of the approximately 3,300 primary schools in the Republic of Ireland are church run, over 90% by the Catholic church. The Irish State ‘provides for’ education and nearly all schools are publicly funded but essentially private. The Irish Catholic Bishops say that “Catholic schools seek to reflect a distinctive vision of life and a corresponding philosophy of education, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Atheist Ireland believes that a secular education system is essential to the building of an ethical and secular society. One of the most powerful ways in which religion maintains its hold on society is by teaching children fantastic tales as truth when they are at an intellectually formative age.

In July 2014 the UN Human Rights Committee asked the Irish delegation about the human rights of atheist/secular parents in the education system. You can read about that here.

You can find information on our campaign for a secular education system on our website Teach, Don’t Preach and our Teach Don’t Preach Facebook Page

You can also find out how to opt out your child from religion in schools with sample letters for primary and second level here.

12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    CitizenC June 15, 2015

    “Atheist Ireland believes that a secular education system is essential to the building of an ethical and secular society.” I would like to see a real separation of church and state, but let’s not forget that Nietzche warned us that the 20th century would be the bloodiest yet as we removed God from our collective consciousness.

    I don’t yearn for a truly secular society such as Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Than Shwe’s Myanmar, Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, Mussolini’s Italy, Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Korea. If you don’t believe in external morality and think we should determine our own morality, please tell me if you lock your door at night.

    “One of the most powerful ways in which religion maintains its hold on society is by teaching children fantastic tales as truth when they are at an intellectually formative age.” And on this very page I read about “Please donate to our education fund to produce our learning about atheism curriculum for schools. “then how to find out more “About our education about atheism course”. If you were scientific in your approach, you’d be teaching logical thinking, possibly agnosticism, but not atheism.

    I take it you’d advocate a course like Dawkins’ atheist summer school so as to prevent indcotrination.

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    • Avatar
      Derek Walsh June 16, 2015

      CitizenC, none of the societies you’ve mentioned were in any way secular. They were all dictatorships where only one viewpoint was permitted. That is the opposite of what we are advocating.
      I think we should determine our own morality, based on reason and compassion. I also lock my door at night. I don’t see the connection.
      The education fund you refer to is not to teach children to be atheists, but to teach them about atheism. Even in Educate Together schools, where religions are discussed without indoctrination, atheism is largely ignored. That is what our campaign seeks to change.
      Richard Dawkins, to my knowledge, never ran a summer school. Many atheist and secular initiatives are wrongly attributed to Dawkins by people who don’t care to take the time to check their facts.

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      • Avatar
        CitizenC June 16, 2015

        Those socieities weren’t secular – I don’t think that would be possible – but while they were dictatorships, the aim of the dictators was to eradicate religion and thoughts they opposed.

        By all means, teach agnosticism or skepticism, both of which are scientifically tenable. Atheism isn’t.

        You saying that we should determine our own morality only works if everyone else is going to respect your views, and the fact that you indicate that you lock your door at night shows that you know they won’t. So, if there were no rule of law because everyone makes up their own rules, society would collapse. Dawkins has said that he wouldn’t want to live in a world where we make up our own rules.

        Basing our morality on reason and compassion hits a dead end very quickly. In some societies, they love their neighbours, in others, they eat them. Which is it? Furthermore, both reason and compassion are subjective if we’re determining them ourselves. For instance, Dawkins has said that Christians are ill, or that Christianity is a disease. So, how does he show compassion? He encourages people to mock them.

        As for the summer camps, you can read about them on his page. It’s his attempt at not indoctrinating…
        https://richarddawkins.net/2013/07/atheist-and-agnostic-summer-camp-launches-in-kansas-city/

        Reply
        • Avatar
          Derek Walsh June 16, 2015

          There’s no reason I can see why a secular society would be impossible. France, for example, seems to get by quite well. But you’re correct that those dictatorships were nothing like the secular society that we at Atheist Ireland are seeking.
          You say atheism isn’t scientifically tenable. On what do you base that? How is it that not believing in a magical invisible superbeing for which no evidence can be found is unscientific?
          I lock my door because I know some people won’t obey the rules. This is true whether I believe that the rules are the products of rational people agreeing what the best interests of society are, or that the rules were dictated by the creator of the universe.
          A society where people eat their neighbours won’t do very well, which is why such societies (all of them religious, by the way) are vanishingly rare. It is not necessary to believe that a divine being has told us not to eat our neighbours to realise it’s not a very good idea.
          Reason and compassion may be subjective, but so are any rules that claim to be the word of god(s). It is not necessarily lacking in compassion to point out that someone’s favoured ideas are wrong. Indeed, it could easily be argued that doing so is often the most compassionate option.
          Again, Richard Dawkins did not and does not run those summer camps. They merely happened to be mentioned on his website once. And again, they’re not about indoctrinating; they’re a response to the indoctrination that happens even in “non-religious” summer camps (a mostly American issue).

          Reply
  2. Avatar
    CitizenC June 15, 2015

    “Atheist Ireland believes that a secular education system is essential to the building of an ethical and secular society.” Let’s look at how that worked in the 20th century: We’ve had Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Mao’s China and Than Shwe’s Burma.

    “Donate to Atheist Ireland’s Education Fund” – Oh, the irony.

    Now, I’ve shown my comments to atheist friends of mine. If this comment is removed, they will know that you’re not open to debate and that you’re just into control. It would be pure bigotry to remove my comment. I’m not preaching, merely pointing out what has happened in a few atheistic societies. I’m not even saying that it necessarily will, just pointing out what has happened.

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    • Avatar
      Allister Graham August 02, 2015

      Hitler was a Christian.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    CitizenC June 15, 2015

    The reason I posted again is that my browser didn’t show my original comment – until I posted. Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to double-post. I’m not into dogmatically repeating myself…

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  4. Avatar
    CitizenC June 17, 2015

    It is unscientific to categorically state that something doesn’t exist just because we have no proof of its existence. To be able to logically assert that something doesn’t exist requires infinite knowledge, something you’d be trying to prove. By all means be agnostic – that’s logically tenable. But atheism isn’t.

    “rational people agreeing what the best interests of society are” – great concept. However, they won’t agree. That’s why you lock your door.

    As for your statement that all cannibalistic socities are religious: Do you have any evidence of this?

    As for the atheistic summer camps, I’ve looked at them, and some are definitely promoting atheism, not agnosticism or skepticism. As such, they’re indoctrinating.

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    • Avatar
      Derek Walsh June 17, 2015

      You seem to be confused about what atheism means. It’s not a dogmatic assertion that absolutely nothing that could be defined as a god exists. It’s a tentative conclusion that in the absence of any evidence whatsoever for such beings, the balance of probability is that none exist. I would describe myself as an agonostic atheist. I don’t believe in any gods but I can’t be 100% sure that there aren’t one or two hiding somewhere, particularly when their supposed qualities are often so ineffable. You may occasionally encounter someone who is absolutely certain that no godlike things exist anywhere in the multiverse, in which case you’d be absolutely right to declare their position logically untenable.
      People don’t always agree to behave in a way that benefits society. That is a fact regardless of whether gods exist or whether you believe in them. It’s still not clear to me what your point is.
      All cannibalistic societies I’ve ever heard of have been religious – but then religion is almost a human universal so it would be unwise to consider the link hugely significant. Except for those driven to desperation by circumstance, or individual aberrations, I’m not aware of any non-religious cannibalism. But feel free to provide examples if you’re aware of any.
      Let me accept for a moment that the summer camps you have looked at actually promote atheism. Do you consider that wrong? Is it just wrong for parents to promote atheism to their children, or to promote any belief system?

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      • Avatar
        CitizenC June 17, 2015

        If atheism isn’t a dogmatic assertion that absolutely nothing that could be defined as a god exists, why do you define yourself as an agnostic atheist rather than an atheist? Atheism is a dogmatic assertion that there is no God. At least you have the integrity to admit that you don’t know there is no God. The issue is that many societies which claim to be atheistic have tried to eradicate religion and its followers, rather than to separate it from the state.

        My point about locking your door is that without an external moral law, we’re in trouble. I believe in an external law / morality, so at least we know what’s expected, but I know others don’t. At least there are penalties.

        I note that your statement that “All cannibalistic societies I’ve ever heard of have been religious” is very different from ” your previous statement “…such societies (all of them religious, by the way)”. Otherwise, the key way to maintain your position of all that you’ve heard of being so is to be more ignorant. If you only knew of one society that was cannibalistic and religious, you’d be right.

        It’s unethical to indoctrinate a scientifically untenable and dogmatic position. It’s unethical to not teach your kids a belief system or belief systems – that’s what the job of the parents is.

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        • Avatar
          Derek Walsh June 18, 2015

          I define myself as an agnostic atheist because I am, and when I feel the need to be precise about the sort of atheist I am with respect to the degree of certainty. I can define myself as Irish, and as white Irish, as a man, and as a straight man, without any fear of contradiction, or any expectation that increasing levels of precision will be seen by rational people as a contradiction.
          You have an issue that many atheistic societies have tried to eradicate religion. We oppose such societies as strongly as we oppose those that enforce religion. I have been quite clear about this, so I’m struggling to see why you keep bringing it up.

          There are laws against burglary that most people will follow because they believe burgling a house is wrong, that some people will follow because they have no desire to burgle a house, that some people will follow from fear of the consequences and that some people will not follow no matter what. This situation is entirely independent of whether gods exist. It is entirely independent of whether people believe in gods. It is entirely independent of whether every atom of the universe contains a strict moral code, or whether morality is an entirely arbitrary invention.

          I was imprecise when I stated that all cannibalistic societies were religious, and clarified by saying that all that I had heard of were. I’m not an anthropologist and my knowledge of the world is necessarily incomplete, so all I can really say is that I am unaware of any non-religious society that practices cannibalism, but I also pointed out that this correlation is not likely to be particularly significant.

          Do you think it’s unethical for parents to teach their children (for example) that the universe was created 6,000 years ago, that a wafer can, when accompanied by suitable incantations, become the body of the creator of the universe, or that when people die an invisible conscious part of them lives on? None of these beliefs are scientifically defensible. Would you prefer that children are taught that a particular god exists or that they are not taught that and allowed to make up their own minds?

          Reply
        • Avatar
          Patricia June 23, 2016

          CitizenC “My point about locking your door is that without an external moral law, we’re in trouble. I believe in an external law / morality, so at least we know what’s expected, but I know others don’t. At least there are penalties.”

          I think what would be great to achieve would be a society where you don’t need a god to tell you not to do bad things. Paraphrasing a famous comedian, we shouldn’t need a thousand metaphors to figure out we shouldn’t we assholes.
          I received a secular education in another country, and we were taught about the history of religions and their belief system from a philosophic approach. We also studied atheism, agnosticism and many more. This is definitely not indoctrination, it is just a way to present the student all the options that there are out there.

          Reply

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