Secular Sunday #486 – Military chaplains are responsible to Catholic Bishops

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Military chaplains are responsible to Catholic Bishops


Chaplains in the Irish Defence Forces are responsible to the Bishop of their Dioceses for the moral welfare of military personnel, according to a Defence Forces report from 2014 that Atheist Ireland obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

We have sent our analysis of the report to the Public Consultation Commission on the Defence Forces, along with our colleagues in the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland.

The report privileges religion over atheism, saying that “a spiritual framework is vital to create the sort of ethos the Defence Forces want.” It attacks secularism, saying that “there is always the danger of an empty secularism falling prey to dominant market and commercial interests or pernicious ideologies.”

The report also privileges Catholicism over other religions. It says of ceremonies that include a Mass that: “It is essential that such customs and traditions are recognised and such events should continue,” while members of other religion should merely have their contributions to the unit recognised.

Atheist Ireland will continue to promote an ethical, secular, Ireland that gives no privilege to either religious people or atheists, and that treats everybody equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs. Please join us as a member and help us to continue this important work.

– 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 Part 2


Last month Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, made a joint submission to the Public Consultation Commission on the Defence Forces. You can read that here.
We argued that Roman Catholicism is part of the culture of the Defence Forces, and that in particular the Defence Forces discriminate on religious grounds by failing to put the position of Chaplain out to tender.
We noted in that submission that we had sought details on the religious and nonreligious belief breakdown of Defence Force personnel and Chaplains, and a copy of the 2014 working group report called ‘Defence Forces Response to Religious Diversity.’ You can read this report here or at the end of this article.
We were advised to seek this under the Freedom of Information Act. We said that we would forward our analysis of that information when we obtained it, and we have now done so in the following supplemental submission.
Privilege for Religion over Atheism
The ‘Response to Religious Diversity’ report privileges religion over atheism.
Definitions of Religion and Belief
Everything in the document ‘Defence Forces Response to Religious Diversity’ flows from the definition that the Working group uses for the phrase ‘Religion and Belief.’.

“9. Religion is defined as belief in a god or gods with the notion of ‘bond between humans and gods.’ Belief (which includes non-belief) is defined as a feeling of certainty or acceptance that something exists, is true, or is good.”
“10. The defence Forces, Ireland, understands religion and belief as: A way of encountering God and/or awakening to spiritual values which help find meaning and purpose in life.”

These may well be the understandings arrived at by a well-intentioned Working Group that included three religious Chaplains and five senior male officers, but they are not consistent with atheistic philosophical convictions, the Constitution, or human rights law.
Philosophically, atheists can find meaning and purpose in life without either ‘encountering God’ or ‘awakening to spiritual values.’ You cannot automatically apply principles that are typically valid for religious people to atheists.
Constitutionally, the document acknowledges that:

“2(e) In the context of Article 44.2.3, the courts have found that the ‘religious profession, belief or status’ mentioned also includes non-belief.”

Under human rights law, the Venice Commission has stated about religion and belief that:

“A common definitional mistake is to require that a belief in God be necessary for something to be considered a religion. The most obvious counterexamples are classical Buddhism, which is not theistic, and Hinduism (which is polytheistic)… To the extent that laws include definitions, the text should be reviewed carefully to ensure that they are not discriminatory or that they prejudice some religions or fundamental beliefs at the expense of others…
“International standards do not speak of religion in an isolated sense, but of ‘religion or belief.’ The ‘belief’ aspect typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world. Thus atheism and agnosticism, for example, are generally held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs. It is very common for legislation not to protect adequately (or to not refer at all) to rights of non-believers. Although not all beliefs are entitled to equal protection, legislation should be reviewed for discrimination against non-believers.”

Application of these definitions
The document repeatedly gives privilege to religious beliefs over non-religious beliefs, either directly or through reference to spirituality.
Here are sample statements in the document that are mostly accurate but selective:

“6. The various religious traditions have important moral resources that can contribute to the health and ethical vitality of civil society.”
“6. Religious insights have much to contribute and religion for many soldiers plays a significant and legitimate role in their moral formation and consequent leadership abilities.”
“7. For young soldiers, religion can offer a moral compass and opportunity for moral formation.”
“7. A moral and spiritual framework is vital to create the sort of ethos the Defence Forces want — an ethos grounded in values of loyalty, duty, dignity, respect, integrity, and honour.”

The first three statements are equally true about atheistic philosophical convictions. The final statement is simply not true. A “spiritual framework” is not vital to create an ethos grounded in values of loyalty, duty, dignity, respect, integrity, and honour.
In reality there are morally good religious beliefs, morally bad religious beliefs, morally good atheistic beliefs, and morally bad atheistic beliefs.
It is discrimination to imply that religious or spiritual beliefs have a monopoly on positive values, just as it would be discrimination to imply that atheistic beliefs have such a moral monopoly.
There is also an inappropriate ideological attack on secularism, with reference to economic theories which have nothing to do with either secularism or the role of the Defence Forces:

“6. Secularism can be informed by a wholesome humanism, but there is always the danger of an empty secularism falling prey to corrosive influences such as dominant market and commercial interests or pernicious ideologies.”

In the context of the document, the clear implication is that these ‘pernicious ideologies’ are deemed to be nonreligious in nature. But pernicious ideologies can equally be grounded in religious beliefs, as is clear from the many places around the world where the Defence Forces serve, and also in Ireland with its many religious scandals.. Read more…

Respect our Rights: Schools

There are no non denominational schools in Ireland. At primary level the vast majority are catholic. At second level the majority are catholic or Christian (interdenominational).
The Catholic Church still has power and control over the Irish education system. The church is still campaigning to ensure that students who exercise their constitution right to not attend religious instruction are not offered another subject. If they control how the opt out is managed on the ground in schools then they can stem the flow of students opting out. The church has told schools what to out in their Admission policies regarding the opt out.

Respect our Rights: Religious educaton syllabus

The Minister for Education has no right to claim that syllabus religious education is suitable for all religions and none because clearly that decision belongs to parents under the constitution.


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  $31,350 to 1087 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 1831 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

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




Algeria: drop charges against humanist academic on trial for alleged ‘blasphemy’


By Humanists International


Humanists International is deeply concerned by the ongoing prosecution of Algerian academic and humanist Said Djabelkhir, a leading expert on Sufism, who is currently standing trial for ‘blasphemy.’ Said Djabelkhir is a leading expert on Sufism, and the founder of Cercle des Lumières pour la pensée libre (Circle of Enlightenment for Free Thought) an association for thinkers and academics who are advocating a progressive Islam. Read more…


“Atheists in Lebanon are harshly discriminated against”, a new report shows


By Humanists International


Freethought Lebanon, an Associate of Humanists International, has just published a new report called “Atheists in Lebanon – Human Rights Violations Report”, highlighting the extent of discrimination faced by the non-religious in the country in law, the media, and society at large.

Lebanon is a country marked by sectarian tensions between its numerous and diverse ethnic and religious groups – the three main religious groups are Sunni Muslims (28.7%), Shia Muslims (28.4%), and Christians (36.2%). Atheists are a small and discriminated minority, and a new report published by Freethought Lebanon sheds light on this harsh discrimination against them in the country.
The report consists of four parts:

  • A Legal Report that shows the paradoxes and oddities of the Lebanese law i.e. how four articles of the Lebanese Penal Code are used to arrest and silence atheists, or how Lebanese Law (which does not directly punish atheism) treats atheists as second class citizens, who are deprived of many of their rights;
  • A Media Analysis of 14 talk shows which found that 80% of the assessed material was biased against atheism and atheists;
  • A series of 40 case studies comprised of interviews conducted with victims of discrimination against atheism. All interviewed victims faced serious forms of abuse, which included (but were not limited to) physical violence, psychological violence, forced veiling, death and violence threats, illegal detention, discrimination at the workplace, restricted access to education and social services, and restrictions on expressing personal beliefs;


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



Segregated education in North can no longer be justified, says President


By Ronan McGreevy


President Michael D Higgins has stated that the teaching of children in Northern Ireland separately can no longer be justified. Mr Higgins told The Late Late Show that segregating children in the North according to their religious denominations is “abandoning them to parcels of hate and memory that others are manipulating”. Read more…

UN asked to intervene over Ireland’s response to ‘systemic racism’ in mother and baby homes


By Órla Ryan


THE ASSOCIATION OF Mixed Race Irish (AMRI) has written to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) calling for the Expert Group on People of African Descent to visit Ireland and investigate institutional racism. AMRI’s invitation was sent in response to the “failure” of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to “thoroughly investigate racial discrimination”. Read more…

Mother and baby homes: Government wants swift redress from churches


By Arthur Beesley


A tense negotiation is in prospect as the Government seeks a significant financial contribution from Catholic and Church of Ireland leaders for a new redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes. With the handover of Catholic properties still not complete almost two decades after the original 2002 residential institutions indemnity agreement with church orders, the Government is trying to come up with a mechanism in any new redress deal to ensure swift transfers of money or property. Read more…

Chris Lyttle launches consultation to include teachers in fair employment legislation


By Simon Doyle


THE chairman of the assembly education committee is seeking views on laws that allow schools to discriminate on the grounds of religion when appointing teachers. An exception to the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (FETO) means schools can use religious belief to discriminate between candidates for posts. Read online …



Yoga can leave you injured, psychotic and a Hindu, Christian groups claim


By Ed Pilkington


Jeremy Gray, a state lawmaker in Alabama, has been practicing yoga for years, initially as a workout after college football matches and later as a means of instilling in himself the virtues of focus and patience. Now the Democrat from Opelika needs all the patience he can get as he seeks to overturn a 28-year yoga ban in Alabama public schools. Read more…

Polish bishops express “serious moral objection” to AstraZeneca and J&J Covid vaccines


By Daniel Tilles


The Catholic church in Poland has expressed “serious moral objection” to the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines, due to the fact that they were produced using material derived from aborted foetuses. It has called on the faithful to avoid using those vaccines if possible, but says that they can be taken if no other choice is available. Read more…

Could public money finance private-school discrimination, religion and fake history?


By Derek W. Black and Rebecca Holcombe


If states can’t control what’s taught with taxpayer money, the upshot could be ending charter schools and public funds for private tuition altogether. With bills pending in more than 20 state legislatures to expand private school voucher programs, this spring could usher in the biggest transfer in funds from public schools to private schools in our nation’s history. Read more…

The Legal Oppression Of Nonbelievers Will Escalate The More Religion Declines


By Tyler Broker


I should not have to care whether my religious beliefs conflict with the majority of those in any branch of our government. The Constitution — as enumerated in Article VI Section 3 and the First Amendment — is supposed to guarantee that government should not care that for the first time ever the number of Americans who belong to a church has fallen below a majority. Unfortunately, a lot of people do care. Read more…

Women Leaving Islam: the rights of those who leave religion must be protected


By Helen Nicholls


The film Women Leaving Islam shows the risks facing those who stand up for the fundamental right to leave religion and the ongoing neglect of minorities within minorities in public life, says Helen Nicholls. Read more…

Regressive religious demands shouldn’t hold sway over political decisions


By Stephen Evans


Much of a pre-election letter from Scotland’s Catholic bishops highlights the risks of allowing religious dogma to dictate public policy, says Stephen Evans. With the Scottish parliamentary election approaching, Scotland’s Catholic bishops have urged the faithful to play their part “in putting human life and the inviolable dignity of the human person at the centre of Scotland’s political discourse”. 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.


Freethought Radio – Freedom Dues – Indra Zuno
Friendly Atheist Podcast – The Bible is Just a Collection of Florida Man Stories
Humanists UK Podcast – What I Believe – Helen Czerski
National Secular Society Podcast – Blasphemy in the classroom – The Batley Grammar case

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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