Secular Sunday #469 – Free Speech and hate speech

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Free Speech and hate speech


The Department of Justice has released a report on its public consultation about hate speech. It tries to strike a balance, but it could result in disproportionate infringements on free expression. You can read it here.

Atheist Ireland made a submission to this process last year. You can read our submission here.

We recommend that the State should tackle prejudice against groups through education, and tackle prejudice-motivated crime through the law, while protecting the right to freedom of expression, based on human rights principles and standards.

Because religion is one of the characteristics that is protected under the law, there is a danger that hate speech laws might evolve into becoming a blasphemy law by another name. The law should take into account the same principles that led to the law against blasphemy being removed from the Constitution, and soon to be repealed from our statute law.

Those principles are that the law should protect people from harm, but that the law should not protect ideas or beliefs from criticism, including harsh or unreasonable criticism, or even ridicule. We will continue to lobby for that as the Department’s report feeds into forthcoming legislation.

– Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach


Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:

  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News

Atheist Ireland made a submission to the Department of Justice’s consultation on hate crime and hate speech laws. The department has released their report this week. Here is our submission from last year.  

Tackling prejudice-motivated crime and protecting freedom of expression

[David Kaye is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression. His recommendations form part of this document]
Atheist Ireland has made the following submission to the Department of Justice’s consultation on hate crime and hate speech laws. We recommend that the State should:

  • Tackle prejudice against groups through education,
  • and tackle prejudice-motivated crime through the law,
  • while protecting the right to freedom of expression,
  • based on human rights principles and standards.

Contents of this Submission
1. Introduction to Atheist Ireland
2. The Law Should Say ‘Prejudice-Motivated Crime’ Not ‘Hate Crime’
3. The Law Must Not Become a Blasphemy Law by Another Name
4. Tackle Prejudice with Education, Tackle Crime with the Law
5. Tackling Prejudice against Groups through Education and Leadership
6. The Law Should be Based on Human Rights Principles
7. The Rabat Plan of Action
8. Recent UN Special Rapporteur Report on:
(a) Application of Human Rights Law to ‘Hate Speech’
(b) Application of Human Rights Law to Online ‘Hate Speech’
(c) Recommendations for States
(d) Recommendations for Online Companies
9. Police Operational Guidelines in the United Kingdom
10. Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989
11. Conclusion
1. Introduction to Atheist Ireland
Atheist Ireland is an Irish advocacy group. We promote atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism, and we promote an ethical, secular society where the State does not support or finance or give special treatment to any religion.
Since being formed in late 2008, we have campaigned for a secular Irish Constitution, parliament, laws, government, and education and healthcare systems. We are part of the dialogue process between the Government and religious and nonreligious philosophical bodies.
We base our policies on human rights standards. We have made submissions to and attended meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Committees and Council, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and various Government Departments and consultation processes.
As atheists, we empathise with members of other groups who face prejudice and discrimination in Ireland, because we have first-hand experience of it. We also recognise that members of other groups face more frightening hostility in Ireland, including overt harassment, intimidation and violence. We should all stand together to challenge prejudice and hostility against any and all of us, and to protect the values of Western liberal democracy that enable us to do so.
This submission relates both to the review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 and to any new legislation that may be developed on what is often described as hate crime.
2. The Law Should Say ‘Prejudice-Motivated Crime’ Not ‘Hate Crime’
Laws should be accurate, understandable, and enforceable. Their words and definitions should be coherent, universal and inclusive, with clear and justified boundaries, and free from ideological assumptions. A person should be able to know whether or not they are breaking it.
Laws based on ambiguous or emotive words cannot do this. ‘Hate crime’ laws are not about hate. They are fundamentally about prejudice and bias on the basis of being a member of a group with common characteristics. Here are several examples of this concern being raised by experts:

“Reflecting academic suggestions that hate crimes commonly involve bias or prejudice (rather than hate), ODIHR uses the term ‘bias’ in defining the hate crime motivation, rather than the more extreme emotion of ‘hate’. Similarly, Sweden’s National Council for Crime Prevention includes ‘fear, hostility or hate’ in its definition of motivations behind hate crimes, while in the UK the College of Policing’s hate crime guidance, which applies to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, similarly does not use ‘hate’ as its definition but rather the lesser emotions of ‘hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people’.”
— Defining Hate Crime Internationally, Jon Garland and Corinne Funnell, Globalisation of Hate, Oxford University Press, p22
“According to Hannah Arendt, ‘words can be relied on only if their function is to reveal and not to conceal’ (1996:66). In that case, the pairing of the two words ‘hate’ and ‘crime’ is notoriously unreliable. There are crimes motivated by genuine hatreds that would never be prosecuted as hate crimes, and the term ‘hate crime’ can cover forms of bias that would never qualify as hatred on any conventional use of the term. However, the ambiguity of ‘hate’ is only one of several forms of confusion about the meaning of ‘hate crime’. Describing it has been described as ‘notoriously difficult’ (Hall 2013:1) and like entering a ‘conceptual swamp’ (Berk, Boyd, and Hammer 2003:51). Definitions abound and consensus seems both improbable and to some degree undesirable.”
— Conceptualising Hatred Globally, Thomas Brudholm, Globalisation of Hate, Oxford University Press, p33
“And what does ‘hate’ signify in this context? Is it an emotion, an attitude, a disposition, or something other? There are some reasons to prefer the terms ‘bias’ and ‘prejudice’ to ‘hate’—they conceptually imply that the attitude is at fault, and they are attitudes connected to groups, not individuals.”
— Hate Crime Concepts and their Moral Foundations, David Brax, Globalisation of Hate, Oxford University Press, p54
“Hate speech constitutes a growing phenomenon around the globe. In order to better address problems linked to hate speech, such as discrimination and the commission of physical hate crimes, policy and lawmakers have tried, unsuccessfully, to define it.”
— How Should We Legislate Against Hate Speech? Viera Pejchal and Kimberley Brayson, Globalisation of Hate, Oxford University Press, p247

Such laws often add to this confusion, by including definitions of ‘hate’ that are clearly not definitions of hate. As two practical examples, the Leicester Hate Crime Project 2014 (Britain’s biggest study of hate crime victimisation), and the ODIHR (which guides OSCE States) use the following definitions: Read more…


Sex Education and Ethos

Teachers deliver sex education through the religious ethos of the school.
The teacher teaches curriculum sex education through the religious ethos of the school while facilitating students in discussing a range of views. This is part of the RSE policy of schools.
That is not objective sex education, it is indoctrination.

In Irish schools Catholic sex education is integrated into the State Curriculum on Relationship and sexuality education.
Because of Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act teachers are obliged to deliver the state curriculum on RSE through the religious ethos of the school. Many schools have RSE policies that state clearly that RSE is to be delivered through the ethos of the school.
For the majority of students in Ireland it is Catholic sex education or no sex education at all.
The Church has set out what children are to be taught through the integrated curriculum in RSE. Catholic sex education is not confined to the religion class.

Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at


List of Atheist Ireland Submissions



Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.


Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans here



Be Good without Gods


Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $30,975 to 1079 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland’s ‘‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1730 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here.

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,042 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

Tell us what you think

Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at

Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:

  • You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
  • You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
  • You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
  • You will have access to our members only Facebook group
  • Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.

You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support


Atheist Ireland Committee



Take Action

Supporting individuals at risk


By Humanists International


Each month, we receive, on average, 13 requests for help from individuals across the globe who are at direct threat for and/or unable to live in accordance with their humanist values. Typically, humanists at risk across the globe report that they have rejected religion and all the associated traditional/conservative norms which have placed constraints on their personal lives, education, or career prospects; they feel trapped by circumstance owing in part to the conservative religious values that they reject. They report having received abuse or been threatened for their beliefs, many have faced ostracism or difficulty in securing employment. To read more about the challenges faced by the humanist community internationally, read our Humanists at Risk: Action Report 2020, which examines the experiences of non-theists in eight countries. Read more…

Raise awarness on blasphemy law abuse



Watch the Winter Solstice live online tomorow and Tuesday (21st and 22nd of December) from 8.45 am.

January 2021


International Perihelion Party

One of our members asked us to share the following event
Title: International Perihelion Party
Time: Saturday 2nd January 2021, 13:30
Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 875 6720 4529
Passcode: OurStar

Secular AA Ireland

Here is some information on a new Alcoholics Anonymous group ‘Secular AA Ireland’ that are currently holding meetings online. Email Helen at in confidence if you would like your details passed on to this group in order to get more information.
SAAI meetings are being held on Zoom on: Wednesdays @ 19.30 and Fridays @ 17.30
Both meetings run for 70 minutes, with extra time at the end for a chat.


Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.


Blogs & Opinions



Radical change needed in assessing child sex abuse complaints


By Noel Baker


The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has recommended expanding the role of the National Vetting Bureau and using data protection laws so Tusla can assess complaints of child sexual abuse without risking re-traumatising survivors because of the need to inform an alleged perpetrator that an allegation has been made against them. Read more…

Legislating for Hate Speech and Hate Crime in Ireland Report


By Department of Justice


What is Hate Crime?
Hate crimes are signal crimes. They send a message to the victim, and to other people like them, that they are not safe, not wanted, or somehow not a real member of Irish society who is entitled to the same protections or the same freedoms as other people. Victims of hate crime are made to feel afraid for the future, not just for themselves but for their friends, their loved ones and their children. This type of fear can lead to anger, and ultimately to a more divided society where whole communities can feel unsafe. Read the report…


Ideas can be tolerated without being respected. The distinction is key


By Kenan Malik


Should Cambridge University academics and students “tolerate” or “respect” the views of others with which they might disagree? Should we tolerate Millwall fans booing players taking the knee? Should gender-critical feminists who argue for the importance of female biology and reproduction in defining a “woman” be tolerated, or are such views themselves intolerant of trans women? Read more…

Just a reminder: 8 U.S. state constitutions still ban atheist candidates


By Rick Snedeker


The constitutions of eight American states still include language that prohibits atheists from holding public office — 59 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously (in 1961) that the federal Constitutional prohibition against states having a “religious test” for public office also encompasses discrimination against atheists. Read more…

Polish church must return land illegally taken from Jewish owner after justice minister’s appeal fails


By Daniel Tilles


A church in the city of Tarnów is built on land unlawfully taken from its rightful Jewish owner, a Holocaust survivor, Poland’s Supreme Court has effectively confirmed. The judgement was issued after the Polish justice minister himself intervened, launching an extraordinary appeal to overturn a previous ruling against the church. Read more…

EU Court backs ban on animal slaughter without stunning


By BBC News


A Belgian ban on kosher and halal slaughter of animals without being stunned has been backed by the European Court of Justice, which rejected objections by religious groups. The EU’s highest court backed a Flemish decision to require the use of stunning for livestock on animal rights grounds. The animal is not killed in the stunning process. Read more…

Poles losing faith in Catholic Church, survey shows


By AFP reporters


WARSAW (AFP) – Devout Catholic Poles are losing their faith in the Church, a survey published on Thursday (Dec 17) suggested, following sex scandals and protests against a near-total abortion ban backed by the institution. Some 41 per cent of Poles view the Church favourably down from 49 in September, according to a survey by the CBOS institute, quoted by the Polish news agency PAP. Read online…

Should Atheists Tell Their Kids About Santa Claus?


By Hemant Mehta


Should atheists tell their children Santa is real because it’s fun and harmless… or should we avoid the lie because it’s a low-key form of promoting religious ideology?

I talk about all that in this video:

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=fg7iU-q-Zcc]|*

Read/watch online…

Curriculum Bill passes stage one in Senedd


By Humanists UK


A Bill that will make religious education in Wales fully inclusive of humanism has passed the first stage before becoming law. Wales Humanists – which has long campaigned for this change – has strongly welcomed the news, saying the Bill will make Wales ‘a world-leader in inclusive education’.Following a debate, Senedd members today voted in favour of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill.  Read more…

Children’s rights experts tell UK to repeal compulsory collective worship laws


By Humanists UK


Governments across the UK should repeal compulsory collective worship, children’s rights bodies from all four nations have told the United Nations.Humanists UK, Wales Humanists, and Northern Ireland Humanists all contributed evidence to national reports compiled by key children’s rights bodies in each country, with partner organisation Humanist Society Scotland contributing to a similar report in Scotland. Read more…

The Catholic Church’s dogma shouldn’t undermine sex education


By Neil Barber


The local council in the Outer Hebrides has endorsed Catholic Church resources on sex and relationships – with some demanding they’re used “exclusively”. Neil Barber says this is a misguided decision. There has been a bit of a stooshie in The Comhairle. The Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is the local government council for the area of Scotland comprising the Outer Hebrides. It is based in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Read more…

All I want for Christmas is freedom of and from religion


By Stephen Evans


Opponents often erect a straw man of secularism to justify demands for religious privilege. But freedom of religion must come with freedom from religion, says Stephen Evans. There was little sign of Christmas spirit in my inbox the other day when a Christian gentleman got in touch to accuse me of being a “Devil’s advocate who wants to turn off the light of God’s Son Christ message”. What had I done to provoke his wrath? Read more…

If you are a blogger or vlogger writing or talking about atheism, secularism, ethics, skepticism, human rights etc. and would like us to include your work here please email the link to


Podcasts, Videos and Interviews


Do you host an Irish-based podcast on atheism, secularism, science, skepticism, human rights etc.? Let us know and we will link to it here.


*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=qb164eTnLxY]|*

Freethought Radio – Winter Solstice 2020 – Liz Cavell; Doug Marshall

Friendly Atheist Podcast – Why Does Joel Osteen’s Church Need PPP Loans?
Humanists UK Podcast – What I believe Stephanie Merritt

Media Watch

News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement. 




Please consider joining Atheist Ireland and support our continued work








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