Secular Sunday #482 – Religious Discrimination in the Defence Forces

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Religious Discrimination in the Defence Forces


Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, have made a joint submission to the Public Consultation Commission on the Irish Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces discriminate on religious grounds by failing to put the position of Chaplain out to tender. The position is just given, almost always, to a nominee of a Bishop of the Catholic Church, because they are the majority religion in the country.

The Chaplaincy service privileges religion over atheism. For example, its website links military situational awareness with ‘deepening awareness of the role of faith’ and is illustrated by a Christian Bible passage from Exodus.

It also privileges Catholicism over other religions. There are Catholic Mass times, a section devoted to an international military pilgrimage to Lourdes, and a section on Marriage Preparation that refers people to the Catholic ACCORD service.

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


Religious discrimination in the Irish Defence Forces

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, have made the following joint submission to the Public Consultation Commission on the Defence Forces.

1. Introduction
2. Overview
3. Population Demographics
4. Catholic Culture in the Defence Forces
5. What the Defence Forces Website says
6. What the Chaplaincy Website says
7. Legal and Human Rights Arguments

1. Introduction
Irish Atheists, Evangelicals and Ahmadiyya Muslims are united in a campaign for Secularism and Human Rights. While we have different world views, and different emphases in policies, we all agree that each person should be treated with respect, our right to hold our beliefs should be treated with respect, States should treat us all equally before the law by remaining neutral between religious and nonreligious beliefs.
Parts of our campaign are:

  • We will promote the fundamental human rights of freedom of conscience, religion and belief, equality before the law, and freedom from discrimination for all.
  • We will promote these human rights within Irish society and Irish political institutions, and at the United Nations and other international human rights regulatory bodies.

In support of these aims we are making this Submission to outline religious discrimination in the Defence Forces and how the Defence Forces breach Constitutional and Human Rights as well as the EU Employment Equality Directive.
2. Overview
The Defence Forces discriminate on religious grounds by failing to put the position of Chaplain out to tender. The position is just given, almost always, to a nominee of a Bishop of the Catholic Church, because they are the majority religion in the country.
The only other Church allowed to nominate Chaplains (known as Official Sending Churches) is the Church of Ireland. There are no Chaplains or nonreligious equivalents for Defence Force members with no religion or who are of minority faiths including Evangelicals and Muslims.
Catholicism is part of the culture of the Defence Forces. A commitment to pluralism, diversity and inclusion is not part of the culture notwithstanding the fact that Ireland is pluralist country with different religions and nonreligious beliefs.
In times past and also today Defence Force personnel are coerced to take part in Catholic or Catholic-led religious ceremonies without any effort made to put in place rules/guidelines to ensure that they need not participate on the grounds of conscience.
That behaviour was and is unconstitutional. Regardless it is still is part of the culture of the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces have never apologised or even acknowledge that this behaviour breaches the rights of all and undermines our Constitution and human rights law.
The Defence Forces is a microcosm of society and should have a clear neutral policy on religion and belief. It should not be seen as promoting a particular religious belief or obliging personnel to participate in religious rites by including religious services in military events.
3. Population Demographics
About 9% of Defence Forces personnel are non-Christian or have no religion, yet all Chaplains are either Roman Catholic (the majority) or Church of Ireland. When we sought a wider breakdown of religious or nonreligious affiliations of personnel and Chaplains, we were told we would have to request this under the Freedom of Information Act. We believe that this information should be available without having to use the FOI Act, but we have sought it as advised. We will send on our analysis if we obtain it under FOI after the closing date for submissions. For this submission we will approximate trends by looking at census and marriage figures.
3.1 Census Figures
In 2016 the CSO figures under the religion category were:

Read more…

The Courts again uphold the rights of parents and children in the education system

In a recent case at the Court of Appeal, the courts have again upheld the rights of parents and children in the education system. The reasoning of the judgment also strengthens the arguments of atheist and secular parents to have their rights respected in Irish schools.
The case (Burke v the Minister for Education 09.03.21) was in relation to home-schooling and the Leaving Certificate scheme in 2020. The Minister Norma Foley had failed to include home-schooled children in the scheme.
There is a Constitutional right to home-school your children if that is what you want to do on the grounds of conscience. But Minister Norma Foley completely disregarded this Constitutional right when the scheme to replace the Leaving Certificate was put together last year.
The Court of Appeal said of the Minister:

“266 – Accordingly, we are of the view that the Minister took into account an irrelevant consideration when she considered that making provision for the respondents would lead to dissatisfaction among the in-school students and that far from being a valid justification for what was done, it was contrary to reason and common sense in the Keegan sense.”

The Court of Appeal also stated:

“193 – As the State has a duty to respect the right of parents to provide for education through home-schooling, we consider that there is a concomitant duty on the State when formulating education policies for children to take reasonable account of those who are being home-schooled. By virtue of the interwoven rights set out in the Constitution as regards the rights of the child, this in turn creates a concomitant right of the home-schooled child to have reasonable account take of his or her situation when education policies are being implemented by the State, That right can be expressed also as a duty on the State not to disadvantage a child who is home-schooled where it is reasonably possible to avoid that outcome.”

Implications for non-religious families
The Court of Appeal has upheld the right of minorities in the education system, and this case will support the rights of nonreligious families. The Minister for Education Norma Foley takes no account, never mind reasonable account, of children whose parents on the grounds of conscience do not accept the type of religious and moral education on offer in publicly funded schools.
It is the Constitutional duty of the Minister to ensure that our children do ‘not attend‘ religious instruction. The State has failed to put in place any guidelines to ensure that that right is upheld by schools. This means that there is no practical application given to it on the ground. Instead children are just left sitting in the class where religious instruction takes place, and no other subject is offered.
At second level our children are just enrolled in the State Religious Education course. The main aim of this course is to develop values to enable students to see the relevance of religion to their lives. If families do manage to opt their children out, no other subject is offered.
Schools with a Catholic ethos integrate Catholic faith formation into NCCA curriculum religion and just enrol students into it without any regard for Article 42 of the Constitution (Guidelines for the faith formation and development of Catholic students.)
The Department of Education has told ETB schools to no longer integrate catholic faith formation in the NCCA religion course, but they have put in place no follow up or guidelines to ensure that this has happened. That policy is a total disregard for the Constitutional rights of parents.
The Minister simply ignores her Constitutional duty to protect the right to ‘not attend’ religious teaching under Article 44.2.4 in conjunction with Article 42 of the Constitution.
The Minister must take reasonable account of minorities when formulating education policies
The Court of Appeal in the Burke case said that the State when formulating education policies for children had to take reasonable account of minorities.
When will Minister Norma Foley take account of the rights of minorities to ensure that their children do not attend religious instruction?
It is not for schools to decide how and if parents can exercise that right, it is the duty of the Minister. Neither has the Minister the right to decide for parents if a particular type of religous or moral education is suitable for their children.
Parents are not aware of where religion is being integrated into curriculum subjects as schools are not obliged to inform them. Again the Minister has taken no account of the rights of minorities in publicly funded schools.
The Minister leaves it up to each school how they implement the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction. She has failed to take reasonable account of minorities with this policy, as we know that children are left sitting in the class where religious instruction takes place. Schools simply ignore the right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction and that is the responsibility of the Minister. She has failed in her Constitutional duty. Read more…


Vatican’s anti-gay-union dogma is part of the ethos of Irish schools

The Vatican has repeated its policy that it will not bless same sex unions. This should not be a surprise for anybody who is following the changing demographics of the Catholic Church, and the leadership of the theologically conservative Pope Francis, who started his papacy by endorsing an organisation of exorcists at the Vatican.
Two thirds of Roman Catholics now live in the global south (Subsaharan Africa, South east Asia, Central and South America) where Catholics are more conservative on sexual issues as well as more theologically superstitious.
That is the direction that the Catholic Church is going in and because of this it will continue to appear more irrelevant in the global north.  There is a consistent pattern of people becoming more secular as they move away from survival values and towards self expression values. This is a consistent pattern around the world.
If it was only the internal policies of a particular church, that would not be such a problem. But this church also runs the vast majority of our state funded schools and is legally allowed to deliver the state curriculum through its religous ethos.
This Response of the Vatican regarding same sex unions also reiterates its teaching on sex before marriage and contraception. It states that:-

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex. The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”

The Catholic Church is the Patron of the majority of schools at primary and second level. This means that their teaching on Relaionship and sexuality education can be integrated into the state curriculum on sex education.
Their is a right under the European Social Charter to objective Relationship and Sexuality education. In addition Article 42.3.2 of the Irish Constitution obliges the state to ensure that all children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social. Social education includes health education and relationship and sexuality education is part of that. For most children in Ireland it is catholic sex education or no sex education at all.  As there is no access to objective Relationship and sexuality education, children are at a disadvantage and cannot access RSE without it being delivered according to the ethos of the Catholic Church. The state has given no consideration to the right of all children to RSE in publicly funded schools.
When this issue was discussed at the Oireachtas Education Committee the Department of Education stated that schools and teachers could not change the content of the state curriculum on RSE. However because of Section 15 of the Education Act 1998 it could effect what students ‘hear’ and the resources used. It was pointed out by members of the Oireachtas Education Committee that what students ‘hear’ is what they are taught. The Oireachtas Education Committee made a Recommendation to amend Section 15 of the Education Act 1998 to ensure that the updated RSE curriculum was delivered in an objective manner by teachers.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is updating curriculum Relationship and Sexuality Education. They have not recommended any change to Section 15 of the Education Act. This means that any updated RSE curriculum can be delivered according to the ethos of the school. Schools can and do have Religious education policies which outline how their religious ethos must be integrated in curriculum subjects.
Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act is still in place and this puts teachers in the position that they are legally obliged to uphold the ethos of the patron. The rights of students in the education system to objective relationship and sexuality education is never taken on board. Read more…

Respect our rights

In the recent Burke case at the Court of Appeal the court found that the combined effects of Article 41 and 42 of the constitution created an interwoven set of duties and rights in which primacy was given to parental choice in the education of their children.
If this is the case why has the state put in place a religious education course that seeks to develop in children from non religious backgrounds values to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives. Why does the Department of Education and the Minister claim that this course is suitable for all including those those students from atheist backgrounds.
What part of the Constitution does the Minister not understand?

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=w5hWYMgDpF4]|*


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  $31,300 to 1085 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 1824 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 4,052 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

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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:

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You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support


Atheist Ireland Committee



Take Action


Liberian humanists condemn expulsion of six-year old student for ‘witchcraft’


By Humanists International


A primary school in Liberia has accused and expelled a six-year old student for reportedly being a ‘witch’ and for engaging in witchcraft activities. Our Associate Humanists Liberia intervened in the case thanks to the support of Advocacy for Alleged Witches.
Catherine Karma is a six-year old student who lives right outside Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. On 16 March, Catherine Karma was expelled from the TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation School after being accused of having “the power of the ‘dark world’ and the ability to initiate other students”.The administration of the school has not shown any proof or direct involvement of Catherine Karma performing witchcraft activities and as of 17 March has not made any public comment on this decision. Read more…

Humanists International at UN: justice for Asad Noor and Ashraf Fayadh is long overdue

By Humanists International


Humanists International took the virtual floor during a General Debate at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council to remind Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia of their moral and legal obligation to uphold the rights of human rights defenders.
Responding to the thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Humanists International’s Advocacy Officer, Lillie Ashworth, gave a statement highlighting the plight of humanist human rights defenders, who “speak out against injustice and advocate for secularism, democracy and freedom from religious dogma, often from within the confines of an ultra-conservative society.”
She raised the case of Bangladeshi secular blogger Asad Noor, who was forced into hiding after being accused under Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA) for ‘defaming Islam’ in a Facebook video. Noor has received death threats, and members of the police have detained his family, in an attempt to silence him. Read more…

Humanists UK at UN tells the Maldives to end the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy

By Humanists UK

In an intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has called upon the Maldivian Government to repeal criminal sanctions imposed for apostasy and blasphemy and release those detained for these crimes.
In an intervention made by video during the debate on the Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives’ human rights record, Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson stated,
‘Resolution 36/17 [of the UN Human Rights Council] explicitly condemns “the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy [and] blasphemy”. This reaffirms the commitments outlined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all have the freedom to leave a religion, or positively hold non-religious beliefs. Read more…

Raise awarness on blasphemy law abuse



RTE are conducting a survey with the closing date today. Please consider taking the survey to get the non religous voice heard. Have your say about RTÉ

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




Children’s minister urges GSK to compensate vaccine trial victims


By Stephen O’Brien


Roderic O’Gorman, the minister for children, has asked GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the pharmaceutical firm, to consider making “reparations” to the former residents of mother and baby homes where vaccine trials were conducted in the Sixties and Seventies. Read more…

The battle for Irish babies’ souls: ‘It ruined two lives, hers and mine’


By Jennifer O’Connell


Generations of people who were put through Ireland’s murky adoption system for children of unmarried mothers continue to battle for their identity. here, four adoptees share their stories. Read more…

AAI President Throws Down The Gauntlet




Recently, the Board of AAI has made some allegations of criminal conduct against IAA. In fact, the President of AAI has now confirmed to The Free Thought Prophet that he has made a formal complaint to the Attorney General of California about these supposed crimes. Here at The Free Thought Prophet, we have responded to this by highlighting how the Board of AAI has themselves engaged in much worse conduct than that which they have made criminal complaints about.

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

We Have The Receipts




In 2018, a small cabal of individuals including Howard Burman, Bill Flavell and Gail Miller, illegitimately appropriated all of the assets within Atheist Alliance International under their own personal control. These assets (including a bank account containing tens of thousands of dollars) had been under the democratic control of the 36 national member organisations that comprised AAI. The most worrying implication of this illegitimate takeover by a small cabal of individuals, has been the resulting lack of competent representation for atheist perspectives within international bodies, which already include professional representation for religious views (such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe). Read more…

NSS urges repeal of Northern Ireland blasphemy laws


By the National Secular Society


The National Secular Society has called on the Northern Ireland executive to repeal its “archaic” blasphemy laws. In a letter to NI’s Justice Minister, Naomi Long, the NSS said it was a matter of “deep shame” that blasphemy and blasphemous libel continue to be offences under Northern Ireland’s common law and called for their repeal to “uphold freedom of expression”. Read more…




Number of people leaving Catholic church more than trebles in Kraków in 2020


By Ben Koschalka


The number of people formally leaving the Catholic church in the archdiocese of Poland’s second largest city, Kraków, in 2020 was over three times higher than the previous year. The 2019 figure was itself more than double the recent annual average. Read more…


Should Poland abolish its blasphemy law? Five expert views


By Agnieszka Wądołowska


In Poland, “offending religious feelings” is a criminal offence – one that can land you in jail for up to two years. It is one of a wide range of “insult laws” in the country’s legal system. A recent OSCE study found that, among nine types of such laws, Poland has the joint most and, unlike many other countries, imposes custodial sentences for all of them. Read more…

Atheists Warn TN School District to Stop Promoting Christianity at Graduation


By Hemant Mehta


It’s bad enough when public high schools try to sneak prayer into graduation ceremonies, but the administrators of the Bledsoe County Schools in Pikeville, Tennessee aren’t even trying to hide it.. Read online…

I will be ticking ‘no religion’ in the census – there is so much more at stake than you might think


By Shappi Khorsandi


Filling in the census form is very grown up. “Here is my existence. This is my life.” Count me in! But as with all form filling, it’s also completely boring and so I leave it until the very last minute before I’m fined for not letting the state know that I live in a terraced house.. Read more…


Less than half of Britons expected to tick ‘Christian’ in UK census


By Harriet Sherwood


The “post-Christian era” in the UK will be cemented by data emerging from Sunday’s census which is expected to show further generational disengagement from organised religion, according to a leading academic. The once-a-decade snapshot of the country has included a voluntary question about religion since 2001. In 2011, returns across England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland showed 59.3% ticking Christianity, a fall from 71.6% a decade earlier. Read more…

Ending compulsory worship in schools should be next on the agenda for Wales


By Alastair Lichten


Last week the Welsh parliament passed the most comprehensive education reform in its history. Children across Wales will now have access to a more balanced religion and belief curriculum. And the introduction of statutory relationships and sexuality education represents a significant step forward for children’s rights. But amid the laudable overhaul, one reform was conspicuous by its absence. Read more…

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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.


BBC Video – ‘The Gospel Truth?’ Covid-19 vaccines and the danger of religious misinformation

Freethought Radio – Thoughts and Prayers – Maddy Zeigler, David Speed

Friendly Atheist Podcast – The Charlie Kirk “Think Tank” Has Tanked
National Secular Society – The Scottish Hate Crime Bill

Media Watch

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




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