Atheist Ireland has busy week at UN in Geneva, OSCE in Warsaw, and in Ireland

Atheist Ireland has had one of our busiest and most productive weeks since we were founded. We spoke and lobbied at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the annual OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

We met with the British Human Association, the Polish atheist foundation, various civil society human rights groups from several countries, the UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the Irish and Vatican delegations at the OSCE.

We took part in the pro-choice march in Dublin and spoke at a debate in UCD and a rally against the new Polish abortion Bill in Warsaw, and we published a comprehensive statement to mark International Blasphemy Rights Day.

Other delegates at the UN and OSCE were very impressed by the efficiency of our committee members at home, with tweets being shared and videos and transcripts being made available online almost immediately after we had made them.

Friday 23 Sept — UN Human Rights Council, Geneva

Atheist Ireland told the UN Human Rights Council that Ireland needs to remove the ban on blasphemy, religious discrimination in schools, and the ban on abortion. In doing so we became the first atheist advocacy group to address the full UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Council was finalising its review of Ireland’s human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review process. We spoke as members of Atheist Alliance International, which has accredited observer status at the United Nations which enabled us to speak.

These are the points that we made to the UN Human Rights Council:

The chairs of both major UN Human Rights Committees have strongly criticised Ireland’s lack of separation of church and state. Ireland now claims that it is constitutionally obliged (not merely permitted, but obliged) to allow religious discrimination, in order to buttress religion, including in publicly funded schools. Ireland needs a Religious Equality Referendum to be able to meet its UN human rights obligations.

Ireland should urgently hold a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation seeks global laws against defamation of religion. As part of this, Pakistan at the UN has cited specific language from the Irish blasphemy law. Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, has advised us: “The major damage done by this law is international. Those countries that have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy.”

Nine different sets of United Nations and Council of Europe committees have concluded that Irish schools breach the human rights of atheist and minority faith children, families and teachers. Irish schools breach very fundamental human rights like freedom of religion and belief, freedom from discrimination, equality before the law, and no effective remedy. Ireland should oblige publicly funded schools to deliver educational services, including employment, state curriculum and enrolment, in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, and with no religious discrimination of any kind.

We support the many recommendations to strengthen women’s right to abortion in Ireland. We support the Campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, to enable the Irish Parliament to legislate for the right to abortion.

You can see video of our contribution here.

We also met with several civil society human rights groups including the British Humanist Association, with whom we intend to work more closely on international matters in future.

Saturday 24 Sep — March for Choice, Dublin

Atheist Ireland took part in the march for choice in Dublin. We are members of the Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. This is part of our ongoing work for an ethical secular Ireland, where healthcare policy is based on human rights, compassion and the medical needs of patients and not on religiously inspired arguments.

Sunday 25 Sep — Polish Atheists and Abortion Rally, Warsaw

Jane Donnelly spoke for Atheist Ireland at a large Black Protest rally in Warsaw against the new Polish abortion Bill. We also met with the KLF Polish atheist foundation, arranged future cooperation with them, and recorded a video interview for their website.

Later in the week, Nina Sankari of the KLF Polish atheist foundation spoke at a protest at the Irish Embassy in Poland in support of the Irish campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. It is great to see this solidarity between the two campaigns, and we intend it to continue.

Monday 26 Sep — OSCE Human Rights Meeting

Atheist Ireland told the annual OSCE human rights meeting that Ireland and other OSCE States must tackle prejudice-motivated crimes and religious discrimination.Here is our contribution to Monday’s session:

Atheist Ireland supports the OSCE in specifically addressing discrimination and prejudice-motivated crime against Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions. We recommend that you also specifically address such discrimination against atheists.

We further recommend that you tackle prejudice-motived crime against ex-Muslim atheists, and against Ahmadiyya Muslims. Atheist Ireland supports the new Ex-Muslims of Ireland group, one of whose members has already received an Islamist death threat for being an apostate. These are not idle threats. Recently in Scotland, a Sunni Muslim murdered an Ahmadi shopkeeper, because of his religious beliefs.

We recommend that genitally mutilating girls and forcing women to wear specific clothing be treated as prejudice-motivated crimes on the grounds of gender and religion. We should tackle bigotry against Muslims, but we should not describe it as “Islamophobia’. That word is used to conflate bigotry against people, which is bad, with criticism of religion, which is good and necessary.

We recommend that the OSCE promotes the separation of the State from either religion or atheism, as the foundation of protecting everybody’s rights equally. Atheist Ireland campaigns for this type of secularism with the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland.

But the Irish State claims that it is constitutionally obliged (not merely permitted, but obliged) to allow religious discrimination, in order to buttress religion. The chairs of both major UN Human Rights Committees have strongly criticised Ireland in this regard.

We have a law against blasphemy, which Islamic States cite at the United Nations to try to spread their laws against defamation of religion. Nine different sets of United Nations and Council of Europe committees have told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheist and minority faith children, families and teachers in the education system. We recommend that Ireland urgently ends this religious discrimination.

You can see video of our contribution here.

We also met with the Irish and Vatican State delegations to the OSCE. We discussed the need for separation of church and state in the Irish education system. We’ll report on that in more detail elsewhere.

Tuesday 27 Sep — OSCE Human Rights Meeting

Atheist Ireland told the annual OSCE human rights meeting that Ireland and other OSCE States must protect the rights to education, expression and abortion as part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. Here is our contribution to today’s session:

We recommend that Ireland stops breaching the human rights of atheists, secularists and members of minority faiths. This includes in publicly funded schools, run by the Catholic Church, that breach the human rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom from discrimination, equality before the law, and no effective remedy.

We make two recommendations to ensure that laws protect people from harm, and not ideas from criticism. You have rights, your beliefs do not. One, Ireland should urgently hold a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy. Islamic states at the UN have cited the Irish law when trying to spread global laws against defamation of religion.

Two, OSCE States should reject the use of the propaganda term ‘Islamophobia’. This word is used to conflate bigotry against People, which is bad, with criticism of Religion, which is necessary and good.

We make two recommendations to stop religious beliefs from diminishing the human rights of women and minorities. One, OSCE States should protect the right of all pregnant women to health and bodily autonomy. In particular, Ireland should repeal the religiously-motivated 8th Amendment to the Constitution, and Poland should not introduce its barbaric anti-abortion Bill. Just five minutes from this building, Polish citizens are holding black protests against this breach of human rights.

Two, OSCE States should oppose Sharia courts and tribunals that discriminate against women, as well gay people and dissident Muslims. There should be one secular law for all. Religious states promote religion. Atheist states promote atheism. We want secular states, that promote neither.

You can see video of our contribution here.

Tuesday 27 Sep — UN Special Rapporteur

Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, told Atheist Ireland at the OSCE meeting that he thought that the Irish blasphemy law had already been repealed, because the Irish Government had committed to doing so. We had to let him know that this commitment has not been kept.

Dr Bielefeldt had previously advised Atheist Ireland as part of our campaign that: “The major damage done by this law is international. Those countries that have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy.”

Tuesday 27 Sep — Holy See response to Atheist Ireland

The Holy See delegation responded to our contribution as follows:

With regard to a statement (made by Atheist Ireland) on the schools run by Catholic entities in Ireland, the Holy See wishes to note that such schools are managed by different entities inspired by Catholic faith, but in no way depending from the Holy See, while subject to Irish laws and authorities, and the right of parents to ensure that the religious and moral eduction of their children is in conformity with their own convictions, read jointly with the right to autonomy of religious communities, implies the right of religiously inspired schools to freely decide on the admission of their own students.

Atheist Ireland rejects this response by the Holy See. The Irish State has ceded control of most of our publicly funded schools to a Church that swaps at will between being a religion and being a foreign state. This foreign State claims internationally they are not responsible for the running of Catholic schools in Ireland, while at the same time claiming elsewhere that Catholic schools in Ireland come under Canon Law.

We outline in detail why the Holy See is wrong in this article.

Wednesday 28 Sep — Debate in UCD

Ashling O’Brien took part in a debate hosted by the Literary and Historical Society in University College Dublin. The motion was ‘This House Rejects the Idea of an Afterlife’.

This is the text of Ashling’s contribution to the debate.

Friday 30 Sept — International Blasphemy Rights Day

On International Blasphemy Rights Day, the eleventh anniversary of the Danish Mohammad cartoons, Atheist Ireland called for the urgent repeal of the Irish blasphemy law, and the release of all prisoners held around the world on blasphemy and related charges.

You can read our full statement here.

Saturday 1 Oct — Information Tables

Yesterday we had two successful information tables. A highlight in Dublin was being joined for a photograph by a group of nuns from Italy. In Cork, the response was fantastic, we ran out of membership leaflets.

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign to promote atheism, reason and ethical secularism in Ireland and internationally. Please join Atheist Ireland and help us in this voluntary work.

You can find details on how to join us here.

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