Secular Sunday #481 – The human right to be atheist and secular

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The human right to be atheist and secular


Atheist Ireland interacts regularly with international oversight bodies to protect the right to be atheist and secular. These include the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Authoritarian theocrats frequently breach this right in practice. Islamist States enforce religious dogma and persecute atheists, dissident Muslims, and religious minorities. The Vatican claims to be a State when it suits, then switches chameleon-like to claim to be a religion.

But what exactly is the human right to be atheist and secular, and where is it enshrined? We have published a comprehensive article with all of the main Treaties, Court judgments, and legal analyses of this important right which is a core part of our ongoing work.

Atheist Ireland is a voluntary group, and we depend on our membership to keep up our advocacy work. Please join Atheist Ireland as a member, and support our campaign for an ethical secular State that respects everybody equally.

– 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


The Human Right to be Atheist and Secular

There is an established internationally recognised human right to be atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist, or in any other way free from religion. This human right is part of the fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. It applies equally to all persons, including persons with non-theistic and atheistic beliefs and supporters of secularism.
In international human rights law, this right is linked to several other rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association, equality before the law, non-discrimination, and private and family law. Together this package protects all persons, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.
In 2019 the International Commission of Jurists, composed of 60 judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, published a Primer on International Human Rights Law and Standards on the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief. Its opening paragraph unambiguously states that this is a wide-ranging right:

“encompassing the right to freedom of thought and personal convictions in all matters, and protecting the profession and practice of different kinds of beliefs, whether theistic, non-theistic or atheistic, and the freedom not to disclose one’s religion or belief. International law also guarantees and protects the right not to have a religious confession.”

Authoritarian theocrats frequently breach this right in practice. Islamist States enforce religious dogma and persecute atheists, dissident Muslims, and religious minorities. The Vatican claims to be a State when it suits, then evades human rights obligations by switching chameleon-like to claim to be a religion with its own rules.
These theocrats also falsely deny that this human right exists. They try to trump human rights law with Catholic Canon Law or the Sharia-based Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. But the primacy of universal rights is enshrined in the key international human rights Treaties and associated Court judgments.
In order to protect and enforce the human right to be atheist and secular, we must counter any attempts to deny or undermine its existence. This article provides some information to do this, including about:
1. International Bodies that Atheist Ireland interacts with
2. The United Nations and its Treaties and Bodies
3. Council of Europe, European Court, and Venice Commission
4. The European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights
5. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
1. International Bodies that Atheist Ireland interacts with
Atheist Ireland interacts regularly with international oversight bodies that help us to lobby to protect and enforce this human right. These include the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This work is a core part of our ongoing campaign for ethical secularism.
For the 157 States of the United Nations, this human right is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, General Comment Number 22 on Article 18 of this Treaty, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
For the 47 States of the Council of Europe, this human right is enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg. The Venice Commission is a body within the Council of Europe that advises States on constitutional issues including human rights.
For the 27 States of the European Union, this human right is enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.
For the 57 States of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which span Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and North America, this human right is monitored by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
These Treaties and oversight bodies are the strongest mechanisms that we have to shape and regulate human rights at an international level. In practice, States can and do resist implementing their outcomes. But they provide an important framework for activists to campaign to protect and enforce the right to be atheist and secular at national level.
2. The United Nations and its Treaties and Bodies
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948 as a common international standard for achieving human rights. As a Declaration it is not legally binding, but it forms the basis for subsequent Treaties that are legally binding. Article 18 states:

“18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted in 1966, and came into force in 1976. The ICCPR is one of the legally binding Treaties that builds on the UDHR. Article 18 states:

“18.1 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) is a body of independent legal experts which oversees the ICCPR. It interprets the Treaty by publishing General Comments, and it examines how each State is complying with its obligations under the Treaty. Its General Comment Number 22 interprets Article 18 of the Treaty. It includes: Read more…

Respect our rights

In second level schools the main aim of curriculum Religious Education is to develop values in students to enable them to come to an understanding of the relevance of religion to their lives. The is not an objective course about religions and belief and as such it is indoctrination. If the main aim of any course was to enable students to develop values to come to an understanding of the relevance of atheism to their lives then we would never hear the end of it.

The state rationale for the inclusion of religious education in the curriculum is that religious education specifically enables the child to develop spiritual and moral values and come to a knowledge of god. This rationale enables the indoctrination of children into religion in publicly funded schools.

If parents exercise their constitutional right to ensure their child does not attend religious and moral teaching that is against their conscience their child is left sitting in the class and no other subject is offered. This represents a real and significant disadvantage to students that exercise their constitutional right to not attend religious and moral teaching. Children that attend religious and moral teaching get extra state resources that helps parents with their education.

At second level NCCA Religious education is an optional subject. However, nearly all schools make it a core subject and no other subject is offered if students exercise their right to not attend on the grounds of conscience. Again minorities are at a significant disadvantage for exercising their Constitutional right to not attend on the grounds of conscience.

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?”

**Schools Special Offer**

As Covid continues and schools start back online, Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book during their online school term. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…

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  $31,225 to 1082 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 1815 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 4,051 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

Pakistani Blasphemy Laws : A Human Rights Violation


By Muzna Erum


In Pakistan, a college teacher was sentenced to ten years in jail for a supposed blasphemous lecture presented in class on January 8, 2021. According to Aljazeera news, judge Raja Jawad announced the decision based on the charges filed in 2017. Another anti-terrorism court sentenced three to death for social media posts deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. In June 2020, Tahar Ahmed Naseem was shot in a courtroom hearing in Peshawar for claiming he was the Prophet, Muhammad.  Read more…

Raise awarness on blasphemy law abuse

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




Illegal adoptions: Government to consider review of St Patrick’s Guild files


By Cormac McQuinn


The Government will on Tuesday consider its response to a review of adoption files which was launched in the wake of revelations about illegal adoptions arranged by St Patrick’s Guild society. Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman is expected to bring a memo to Cabinet seeking approval for publication of a sampling review. Read more…

Illegal adoption investigator strongly objected to redaction of institution names in report


By Christina Finn


THE INDEPENDENT REVIEWER tasked with examining Irish birth registrations as part of a probe into potentially illegal adoptions strongly objected to the names of institutions being redacted from her final report.  Ahead of its publication, the author Marion Reynolds told the Department of Children she did not agree with anonymising the names of institutions involved in her sample review. Read more..

Freedom of Insincerity


By John Hamill


The Irish Freedom of Information Act obliges public bodies to disclose the records that they create during the course of their work. There are various exemptions to these legal requirements (for example, personal medical records may not be publicly disclosed) but citizens are entitled to understand how public bodies function, by accessing the documentation retained by those bodies. The money that public bodies use to operate is collected from citizens, and public bodies make decisions that can have significant impacts on the citizens that fund them. As such, FoI is a crucially important tool that citizens can use to hold public bodies to account, and to inform the public debate about issues of interest. Read more…



Major reform of teaching on religion and belief passes in Wales


By National Secular Society


Legislation which will substantially reform the teaching of religion and belief, including by requiring coverage of secularism as a key concept, has passed its final parliamentary vote in Wales. The Senedd has today voted to pass a bill which provides the legal framework to introduce a new skills-based curriculum in all schools in Wales. Read more…

This Atheist Explored Christian TikTok (and It’s Horrifying)


By Hemant Mehta


YouTuber KimblyTea has done us all a favor and broken down the various kinds of Christians on TikTok. As someone who’s not active on that platform (YET), it’s almost frightening to see the superficial ways some Christians are trying to reach younger people. Read online…

‘Violent’, ‘sexist’ Bible story video for primary schools pulled after complaints


By Humanists UK


A Bible story video featuring a violent attack on a young girl and sexualised images of women, including of a strip club, has been withdrawn after a parent – who was asked to use it with his 7-year-old daughter as part of a home learning activity in religious education – complained about its content. Read more…

EasyJet compensates woman over request to indulge religious sexism


By National Secular Society


EasyJet has paid compensation to a woman who was asked to move seats to accommodate the wishes of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, and said incidents affecting her were contrary to its policy. British-Israeli citizen Melanie Wolfson raised a claim against the airline over its response to events on two flights from Tel Aviv to London in 2019. Read more…

Data reveal millions spent on Catholic catechism classes by Polish municipalities


By Agnieszka Wądołowska


A small number of municipalities around the city of Kraków spent 12 million zloty (€2.6 million) of public money last year on Catholic catechism classes in schools. The education minister has previously revealed that, nationally, Poland spends around 1.5 billion zloty (€327 million) on such classes. Read more…

Poland must adopt clear and effective procedures for women to access lawful abortion


By Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe


The Committee of Ministers of the 47-nation Council of Europe has adopted an Interim Resolution (*) calling on Poland to adopt clear and effective procedures on steps women need to take to access lawful abortion. These procedures should ensure that no unnecessary requirements are imposed on pregnant women seeking lawful abortion by hospitals beforehand and cover abortion refusals on grounds of conscience. The authorities also should ensure that women be provided with adequate information on these procedures.The Interim Resolution relates to Poland’s implementation of three judgments from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concerning legal abortions (P. and S. and Tysiac and R.R.), which pre-date restrictions of the laws on legal abortion in Poland resulting from a judgment of the Constitutional Court of 22 October 2020. It urges the Polish authorities to ensure that lawful abortion and pre-natal examination are effectively accessible across the country without substantial regional disparities and without delay caused by the refusal to perform it due to the use of the conscience clause or to restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scotland to repeal its blasphemy law as Bill passes final hurdle


By Humanists UK


Scotland is set to repeal its blasphemy law, after the Scottish Parliament voted the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill through its final stage of debate. Humanists UK has welcomed the news as a victory for free speech of global significance, and congratulated its sister charity Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) for spearheading the successful campaign for repeal. 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.

The Comical Heathen S2 E1 (Part I): Atheist Ireland

Features my (The Comical Heathen) interview with Peter Hinchliffe and Michael Nugent from Atheist Ireland.  We discuss a controversial sketch about the arrest of God for rape by the Irish parody news group Waterford Whispers News.  The sketch was part fo RTE’s New Year’s Eve programming and garnered over 1000 complaints and was eventually removed.  We also discuss blasphemy laws and the effects of censorship on free speech. Listen here.


France24 – A tale of two Turkeys: Society torn between religion and secularism

Freethought Radio – Wayward – Alice Greczyn

Friendly Atheist Podcast – The Church Expulsion Letter

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









Secular Sunday