Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life

On Sunday 5 June 2011, the World Atheist Convention in Dublin discussed and adopted the following declaration on secularism and the place of religion in public life. Please discuss and promote it with your friends and colleagues, and if you are a a member of an atheist, humanist or secular group, please discuss and promote it with your fellow members, and with the media and politicians.

1. Personal Freedoms

(a) Freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited. Freedom to practice religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others.
(b) All people should be free to participate equally in the democratic process.
(c) Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.

2. Secular Democracy

(a) The sovereignty of the State is derived from the people and not from any god or gods.
(b) The only reference in the constitution to religion should be an assertion that the State is secular.
(c) The State should be based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Public policy should be formed by applying reason, and not religious faith, to evidence.
(d) Government should be secular. The state should be strictly neutral in matters of religion and its absence, favouring none and discriminating against none.
(e) 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.
(f) Membership of a religion should not be a basis for appointing a person to any State position.
(g) The law should neither grant nor refuse any right, privilege, power or immunity, on the basis of faith or religion or the absence of either.

3. Secular Education

(a) State education should be secular. Religious education, if it happens, should be limited to education about religion and its absence.
(b) Children should be taught about the diversity of religious and nonreligious philosophical beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours.
(c) 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 secular 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 criminalise private conduct because the doctrine of any religion deems such conduct to be immoral, if that private conduct respects the rights and freedoms of others.
(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.

Michael Nugent


  1. Avatar
    Donal O'Callaghan June 08, 2011

    *There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law*

    I’m confused – do we mean ‘There should be no ‘right to be offended’ in law?

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    Donal O'Callaghan June 08, 2011

    previous comment withdrawn!

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    Peter Bilbrough June 08, 2011

    Neither should religion be allowed to hijack important moments in a nation’s calendar to suggest that in some way god has approved such moments. I am thinking here of things like Remembrance Day in the UK where the church is heavily involved in the commemoration of the war dead

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    Randall "Doc" Fleck June 08, 2011

    This is a very good backbone for building a working secular society.

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    George June 09, 2011

    The last section 4c should apply to all employers not just those with religious beliefs. Otherwise you imply that atheists can discriminate all they want. It’s only fair to include yourselves in this restriction.

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    Francis O'Brien June 10, 2011

    I must say how pleased I am to read of such a movement and support for atheists in Ireland. I was taught at the Patrician Brothers in Ireland as a child, it was a time of almost brutality by the “brothers” in handing out punishment. But it did help steer me into the path of atheistic tendencies… for which I am grateful.
    Today the enemy is more fundamentalist in outlook and a potential danger to our hard won freedom of expression.

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    Paul Knowles June 10, 2011

    This stuff should take the form of a ‘Note’ (and a letter to every cretinous, wet-blanket MP in the land), since it makes so much sense and should always exist as a reminder of how far off we still are from adhering to its sound and irrefutable premises. Cameron’s gonna keep sucking up to bishops and throwing money at ‘faith initiatives’, that much is obvious. I’m no humanist and I don’t like the term Atheist as it implies that I don’t believe in the non-existant.. I’m just a rational person with moral self interest.

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    paul knowles June 10, 2011

    @Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.

    Why was my reasonable post not published then? practice what you preach!

  9. Avatar
    paul knowles June 10, 2011

    Sorry.. you did post it.. Dont I feel the jerk?

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    Teg June 12, 2011

    I was pleased that this convention took place in Ireland, a country where atheists are a small but growing minority. Wish I could have been there!

    I hope that in the future there will be one here in the USA, another nation where atheists don’t have enough visibility and where we need to stand up for our rights. A lot of religious people are really bigoted against rational people, and we need to send the message that this is not okay. I am as patriotic as the next person, but I consider it a major embarrassment that this is considered one of the most religious developed countries in the world. (OTOH, to the best of my knowledge the US was the first secular nation. Alas, many of today’s politicians, and even judges, are openly promoting theocracy and trying to come up with excuses to circumvent or just plain ignore the Establishment Clause.)

    I’m surprised that it didn’t mention the extremely common abuse of nonprofit status by churches. In the US, religions are presumed to be nonprofit and therefore are tax-exempt. Personally I think that only real charities — orgs that do something of actual benefit to society, as opposed to religions, which promote ideologies combined with superstition — should be tax-exempt, but of course that’s not politically viable at present (maybe the French could pull it off). (If a religion wants to do charitable work, it’s easy to form a separate secular nonprofit; lots of lobbying orgs and the like also have a nonprofit wing for charitable activities. I just don’t think religion should receive a special subsidy for worshipping their guy-in-the-sky and proselytising.) When they abuse this status (by, for example, telling their members how to vote, or threatening elected officials or judges with excommunication or the like against if they don’t support a particular policy), though, the IRS seldom actually intervenes to take away their tax exemption. (Congress recently formed a committee to supposedly look into this issue, but I’m sceptical that it will actually do anything, as all the members are evangelical Christians. If anything, they’ll probably make things even worse, go after liberal Christian churches, or claim that mosques are promoting terrorism.) Also, religious orgs automatically are granted nonprofit status, while secular charities have to prove that they are nonprofit. (One exception is $cientology, which harassed the IRS into giving it a religious tax exemption, despite the fact that it’s blatantly a for-profit business, not to mention a cult, and is certainly anything but a charity.)

    Another issue that wasn’t mentioned (although it’s sort of covered by 2(e) and 2(g), and 4(c)) is “conscience clauses,” where religious hospitals or individual health professionals are allowed to deny people health care because of religious beliefs. (Mainly this affects abortions (even medically necessary ones) and emergency contraception (even for rape victims). Religious leaders have been spreading the patently false claim that EC is an “abortion drug.” I guess it’s easy for them since they’re so used to lying — after all, they’re basically professional liars.)

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    Dan June 22, 2011

    “The last section 4c should apply to all employers not just those with religious beliefs. Otherwise you imply that atheists can discriminate all they want. It’s only fair to include yourselves in this restriction.”

    What happens with a business owner, who doesn’t receive any money from the government, wanting to only employ people of religious or non-religious beliefs?

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    Richard Hunt June 26, 2011

    Just great! One day maybe the UN will adopt such a policy – let’s hope.

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    Declan Staunton July 15, 2011

    I find it somewhat simplistic that there seems to be only two stances when it comes to ones views on religious thought – ie “religious” as belonging to a religious sect or school of thought and unsubstantiated beliefs on spiritualism and the existence of “God”, and “atheistic” as denying the possibility of any form of supernatural existence. There is also a school of thought (ie agnostic) which discards all religious teaching and belief as unproven (ie imaginary) but does not discard the possibility of the existence of some of supernatural power governing the constant and unchanging laws of nature and science, such as gravity. How would the Atheist philosophy view this and why?

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      nozzferrahhtoo July 15, 2011

      If you think all atheists “deny the possibility” then you need to read again about what atheism means. Very few deny the possibility any more than they deny the possibility that 20 people might win the lotto on the same day next week. They are open to the possibility, they just recognise that the chances of it happening or being true are so small that there is no reason to consider it for long, no reason to expect it, and no reason to establish their life, morality, laws, or civilisation around it. Of course “god” is possible, but given the entire lack of even the smallest amount of evidence that there is one…. there is no reason to have it in our halls of power, education or science. The idea simply must be discarded until such time as there is even an iota of evidence to lend it credence.

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    africangenesis July 17, 2011

    Was 4b really intended to be as libertarian as it sounds? Because I would sure like to privately decide for myself which drugs to take and not be subjected to the monopoly on the prescription pad that governments grant to doctors or to the murderous delays in life saving drug approvals by government agencies.

    “The law should not criminalise private conduct because the doctrine of any religion deems such conduct to be immoral, if that private conduct respects the rights and freedoms of others.”

    Or is this just one of the libertine homosexual and recreational drug freedom come-ons that progressives use to seduce the young into their hyper regulatory centrally planned philosophy?

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    Michael Nugent July 17, 2011

    Declan, atheism and theism are about claims of belief. Agnosticism is about claims of knowledge. If you believe there are no gods, but do not claim to know that there are no gods, you can be both atheist and agnostic.

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    Michael Nugent July 17, 2011

    Africangenesis, what that is intended to convey is that the doctrine of a religion should not be a factor in the question of whether to criminalise private conduct that respects the rights of others. It could probably have been phrased more clearly. I’ve no idea what you mean by your last question. Can you clarify?

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    africangenesis July 18, 2011

    As chemo-electrical beings, isn’t criminalizing the taking chemicals for health or recreational reasons a private matter that respects the rights of others? Why does religion inspired motivation make the same coercive intrusion into our lives any worse that secularly inspired motivation of the same or worse intrusions?

    In United States politics the progressive left usually favors legalization of recreational drugs (at least when running for office) and legalization of homosexual marriage, yet hypocritically favors increased regulation neutriceuticals and the far more important prescription drugs. They claim the position of being socially “liberal” or in favor of personal freedom, while in fact intending to regulate and suppress personal freedom in all but the least important recreational area. In the business world this is considered a come-on or deceptive loss leader, i.e., “We will give up regulation in recreational drugs and a fringe behavioral phenotype in order to disguise our attempt to acquire the power to regulate everything else.”

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    africangenesis July 18, 2011

    To make the point clearer, I should have pointed out that it is the libertarians who truly favor less government intrusion into private non-coercive decision making, without the hypocritical and contrary intent seen in the progressive left.

    Some strong atheists claim that all attempts at moral justification of intrusion into other peoples lives are religiously or faith based, even if the claim is that they are purely secular, because there is no rigorous justification of the right to intrude, just the belief in such a right, much like a faith based belief.