Secular Sunday #488 – The decline in Catholic marriages

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The decline in Catholic marriages

Last year, for the first time ever, there were more Civil marriages than Catholic marriages in Ireland. 42.1% of marriages were Civil, compared to 34.6% that were Catholic.

This follows a trend of decline in Mass attendance, both before and during the pandemic, with some churches using confession boxes to store mops and defibrillators.

It is increasingly untenable for the Catholic Church to run 90% of our state-funded primary schools, and to use them to evangelise children of atheist and minority faith families.

As the latest example, the new Catholic sex education course ‘Flourish’ teaches children that “Puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him.”

Atheist Ireland continues to campaign for an ethical, secular State that respects everybody equally. Please join Atheist Ireland as a member and help us in 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


Civil marriages overtake Catholic marriages for the first time


Census figures released today show yet again that Ireland is no longer a Catholic country. Our laws must catch up with this reality, and stop giving privilege to the Catholic Church.
For the first time ever, in 2020, there were more Civil marriages than Catholic marriages in Ireland. 42.1% of marriages were Civil, compared to 34.6% that were Catholic.
Yet most of the children of these couples will have to attend a state-funded school run by the Catholic Church, where they will be taught Catholic doctrine about marriage, including that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Marriages by all traditional Churches, including Christian and others, are now an overall minority at 43.4%. This includes 42.1% Catholic, 1.2% Church of Ireland, and 7.6% other religions.
Of the other 14.3% of marriages, 7.8% were humanist and 6.7% were spiritualist. Legally, humanist marriages are counted as secular while spiritualist marriages are counted as religious. Read online…

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Teachers should not have to challenge Catholic school ethos to deliver objective Sex Education


The Vice Chair of the INTO, Joe McKeown, said yesterday that the INTO would take steps to make sure that teachers are not disciplined or punished for a failure to use the Catholic sex education programme Flourish in schools.
And Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said today that inclusive and age-appropriate curricula for sex education, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships, “is the Government’s policy and position, and it is what we expect to be upheld in publicly funded schools.”
However, both the INTO and the Government will have to face up to the problem that our laws allow school patrons, who are mostly Catholic Bishops, to influence the State curriculum with their own religious ethos, and to discipline teachers who do not uphold that religious ethos.
The Catholic Bishops have launched the new sex education course, which is to be taught in primary schools alongside syllabus Social, Personal and Health education (SPHE). The 1999 Primary School Framework also sanctions the integration of religion into all subjects.
The INTO Position
Joe McKeown was speaking on KCLR 96fm with Atheist Ireland’s Human Rights Officer Jane Donnelly, Paddy Monaghan from Education Equality, and presenter Eimear Ni Bhraonáin.
Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act is still in place and teachers can be disciplined for refusing to uphold the ethos of schools. Under the Education Act 1998 the ethos of schools is set by the Patron, the vast majority of Primary schools in Ireland are under the control of the Catholic Bishops. In addition Department of Education policy is to integrate religion into all subjects under the curriculum.
In response to question from Jane Donnelly about Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, Joe McKeown said:

“I can certainly say, Jane, in relation to that, that the INTO will be taking steps to make sure that teachers are not disciplined or punished for deciding not to use this programme.”

He added about the proposed course itself that:

“Groups such as ourselves will look at the resource in more detail and we will decide on a considered response… most teachers will choose not to use it, I think but that doesn’t invalidated the points made about the bigger issue, about the place of religion in our schools. ”

You can listen to that exchange here at 8.15 mins
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The Government Position
Today in the Dail Roisin Shortall TD asked the following question of the Tanaiste:

“The Tánaiste may say that Catholic schools have an ethos, but sex education needs to be fact-based. Facts do not have an ethos. Can he tell me why, in 2021, RSE for Irish children is being developed by Catholic bishops and not the National Council for Curriculum Assessment? Why has the Minister for Education remained silent on this? What is the Government going to do to ensure pluralism in our schools and that we teach our children mutual respect?”

The Tanaiste Leo Varadkar responded in part:

“The programme for Government is explicit on this and states that the Government will develop inclusive and age-appropriate curricula for RSE and social, personal and health education, SPHE, across primary and post-primary schools, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships. That is the Government’s policy and position, and it is what we expect to be upheld in publicly funded schools.
As things stand, all schools have to have an RSE policy and that has to be developed in consultation with school management, parents, teachers and students, as appropriate. A school’s programme for RSE is developed and taught in the context of the school’s RSE policy. The ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring knowledge about the issues involved, but may influence how the content is treated.”

This last phrase, about “how the content is treated” mirrors a statement made in 2018 at the Oireachtas Education Committee.
At that meeting the Department of Education acknowledged that because of the Education Act 1998 ethos can have an impact on the delivery of sex education and the resources used.
You can watch that exchange here (at 345s)

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Read more…

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Objective versus Catholic Sex Education – the Background


Atheist Ireland has been working for several years on the issue of objective versus Catholic sex education in Irish schools. If you want to understand more about the issue, you can read our submissions and articles linked below.
The Department of Education supports the integration of religion into sex education through the Framework for Primary Education 1999. In 2018 the Oireachtas Education Committee recommended that the Education Act be amended to ensure that sex education was delivered objectively. This has not happened, and now the Catholic Bishops have introduced a new course called Flourish to ensure that sex education is delivered through a Catholic ethos.
In the majority of Irish schools minorities both religion and non religious have a choice between Catholic sex education and no sex education at all. Relationship and sexuality education is part of Social, Personal and Health Education. If minorities opt out of SPHE, then they get no social education at all notwithstanding the fact that they have a right to it and the state has a duty to provide it.
Atheist Ireland will continue to work on this issue and are meeting with politicians to discuss it at present. All students have a Constitutional right to Social and Moral education and the state has a duty to provide it.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 2020
Atheist Ireland’s most recent Submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child was a joint submission with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Evangelical Alliance Ireland. You can read our Submission here.
In their List of Issues in October 2020 in relation to Sex Education the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child asked Ireland to:

1 (c) Ensure comprehensive, age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, including information on family planning, contraceptives and the risks related to early pregnancy, as well as on the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections;

 (d) Raise awareness of and foster responsible parenthood and sexual behaviour, with particular attention to boys and men;

Oireachtas Education Committee 2018
In June 2018 Atheist Ireland appeared before the Oireachtas Education Committee to give evidence on SPHE in schools. You can read about that here. It covers our opening statement and questions from TDs on the issue of sex education in schools.
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 2018
In 2018 Atheist Ireland met with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and sent in a Submission regarding sex education in schools. You can read our Submission here.
UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 2017
The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women recommended in 2017 that Ireland should integrate objective compulsory sex education into the school curriculum, and should closely monitor and evaluate its delivery by schools.
This was a result of Atheist Ireland raising this issue with the Committee. It is the first time this committee examined sex education in Irish schools. You can read our Submission here.
Atheist Ireland told the Committee that sex education is delivered according to the ethos of schools at both primary and second level. The vast majority of schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church. This means that it is Catholic sex education that is delivered in most schools.
The Recommendation from the UN Committee reads:

(c) Integrate compulsory and standardised age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights into school curricula, including comprehensive sex education for adolescent girls and boys covering responsible sexual behaviours and focused on preventing early pregnancies; and ensure that it is scientifically objective and its delivery by schools is closely monitored and evaluated;

The Committee also stated that:

The Committee further welcomes the introduction of a new short course in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for the junior cycle. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned at:
(a) Reports of stereotypes and sexism in the field of education, and at the lack of concrete measures to curb this phenomenon;
(b) The gender-approach of the apprenticeship training programme, which effectively attracts few women and girls;
(c) The narrow approach towards the provision of sexuality education due to the fact the content of the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum is left to institutions to deliver it according to the schools ethos and values and as a result it is often taught together with biology and religious courses.

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 2016
In March 2016 the Committee on the Rights of the Child questioned Ireland. Atheist Ireland participated in the session and we highlighted that the Irish delegation was misleading the Committee. You can read details about this here. In their Concluding Observations Recommended that: Read more…

Why does the state not understand the Constitutional right of parents to freedom of conscience?

The Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in schools is a sub-section of the Constitutional right to Freedom of Conscience and the free profession and practice of religion. The courts have recognised that this is not confined to those that have a religious conscience. It applies to all.

Article 44.2 states that:

1. Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.

The Right to not attend religious instruction is a sub-section of the right to freedom of conscience.

44.2.4. Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The courts have said that Article 42 must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4. Article 42 of the Constitution speaks about the inalienable rights of parents in relation to the education of their children.
The courts have also said that Article 42 must be looked at in conjunction with Article 41 which refers to the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all postive law.
It is not up to the State or the NCCA, schools, teachers or anybody else to decide for parents what is or is not against their conscience. They simply have not got the right. What is it about Articles 41, 42 and Article 44 that they do not understand?
The Irish version of the Constitution takes precedence over the english version. The words ‘teagasc credimh’ in Article 44.2.4 translates directly to ‘religous teaching’ not religious instruction. This means that parents have a Constitutional right to ensure that their children do not attend religious teaching on the basis of conscience.
This is reflected in the Education Act, where the word ‘instruction’ is used to mean teaching in any subject, not just religion. Yet the Department of Education is now trying to define ‘religious instruction’ as meaning instruction according to the rites of one religion only. By doing this, they are trying to deny parents their Constitutional right for their children to not attend what the Department calls curriculum religious education.
But the courts in Ireland have never defined religious instruction as instruction according to the rites of one religion. That analysis simply undermines the Constitutional right to freedom of conscience and the Constitutional rights of parents in relation to the religous and moral education of their children.
Despite these Constitutional rights the Irish State has decided for all parents that curriculum religious education is suitable for their children! They totally disregard the Constitutional rights of parents and undermine their right to freedom of conscience. Read more…

With the new Catholic Sex Education programme ‘Flourish’ in the news, keep in mind this article from a few years back…

6 year old Infants in Irish schools taught that ‘Mary says ‘YES’!

As part of the new Catholic religion course ‘Grow in Love’, six year old infants in Irish schools are being taught that ‘Mary says YES’! to God ‘working through her’ by making her pregnant, despite Mary being afraid, confused and not understanding what was going on.
Mary looks like a little girl in the picture that is to be displayed in all classrooms. When Mary says ‘YES’!, she is sitting on her bed looking startled, it is nighttime, and there is a little kitten with a heart on it beside her on the floor.
This is an extraordinary and dangerous message to give to young children. ‘SAY YES’!, even if you are afraid and confused. Just trust someone that comes to your bed in the night.
Of all organisations, the Catholic Church should know that we have higher standards of child protection today than were common when this myth was first invented two thousand years ago, at a time when Jewish girls were typically betrothed for marriage at about twelve years of age.
The ‘Grow in Love’ religion course is based on the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum. The Catholic Church sought and received approval from the Holy See for its use in publicly funded Irish National Schools. This approval is called a “Decree of Recognitio“.
The Religion book for Senior Infants describes this section as;

“The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary”

Young children are expected to complete a maze to help Gabriel to find his way to Mary, who is portrayed as a child in her bed at night, and then the children have to trace out the word ‘YES’. Read more…

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  $31,600 to 1097 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 1833 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 4,054 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

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Atheist Ireland Committee


Take Action




UN condemns one year detention of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala


By Emmanuel Akinwotu


The United Nations has condemned Nigerian authorities for failing to release a prominent humanist accused of blasphemy, who has been detained for a year without charge.” Read more…

After one year, international organizations call on Kano State governor to release Mubarak Bala


By Humanists International


On the one-year anniversary of the detention of Mubarak Bala – President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria – a coalition of 87 organizations and concerned individuals across the globe have published an open letter addressed to the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, seeking his immediate release.
Adding their voice to the chorus of 48 humanist organizations from across the globe – alongside notable humanist individuals based in the UK and the Netherlands –  are bastions of freedom of expression such as Index on Censorship, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, PEN International, PEN Nigeria and the African Freedom of Expression Exchange.
Arrested at his home in Kaduna state on 28 April 2020, Bala was subsequently transferred to Kano state, where a complaint had been filed based on posts Bala is alleged to have made on Facebook, which the petitioners judged to be insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
Following months of advocacy, Bala was finally granted access to his legal team in October 2020, more than five months after his initial arrest. Bala has yet to be brought before a court and charged with a crime, in violation of his rights to liberty, fair trial, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of movement. 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




New Catholic primary school sex education programme published


By Carl O’Brien


A new sex education programme for Catholic primary schools which describes sex and puberty as a “gift from God” has been released. Flourish, a relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme, has been developed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference for junior infants to sixth class. Read more…

Religious link places strong limitations on St Vincent’s


By Dr Peter Boylan

I see that a spokesperson for St Vincent’s University Hospital claims “any medical procedure which is in accordance with the laws of the land is carried out in hospitals in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, and will be carried out in the new maternity hospital” (‘New National Maternity Hospital will be free from ‘religious influence’,’ Irish Independent, April 26). Read online…


Catholic sex education won’t help children flourish


By Máire de Barra


I am a secondary school teacher of SPHE and I find myself extremely concerned about the new ‘Flourish’ programme intended to cover relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in primary schools as an accompaniment to the social, personal, and health education curriculum. Read more…

Illegal adoption investigator says she was treated ‘disrespectfully and in an unprofessional manner’ by Dept


By Christina Finn


THE INDEPENDENT REVIEWER tasked with examining Irish birth registrations as part of a probe into potentially illegal adoptions told the Department of Children that she felt she was treated “disrespectfully and in an unprofessional manner”. Read more…

Number of marriages down 53% last year under Covid effect


By Aine Kenny


There was a sharp decrease in the number of couples getting married last year, according to data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) on Friday. Religious ceremonies accounted for just half of last year’s marriages, and year-on-year they have been in decline. Read more…

New Catholic school sex education programme not in line with Government policy, says Tánaiste


By Adam Daly


THE GOVERNMENT WILL be providing an update on its plans for sex education in primary schools that is inclusive of LGBTQ relationships, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.  Varadkar said the programme for government is very explicit on the issue of providing inclusive and age-appropriate curricula for relationships and sexuality education (RSE), adding that he expects it to be upheld in publicly funded schools. Read more…

Conflicts in reproductive health in Catholic Ireland

By Don O’Leary

The contribution of religious orders to the provision of hospital services in Ireland extends back to 1834 when the Religious Sisters of Charity founded St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. Generally, the role of religious orders was seen in a positive light by Irish Catholics but over the last two decades public opinion has changed radically. Read more…


Parents’ choice is stifled due to the dominance of Catholic ethos schools


Catherine O’Mahony


“Momma, holy dog lives in the sky and looks after the dead babies”, lisped my 4-year-old as she trotted in home after her day at preschool. I groaned inwardly having thought I would have had a bit longer before intentionally talking about religion at home and having to explain our non-religious position. Read more…




Polish town withdraws anti-LGBT resolution over concern at losing Norway Grants


By Daniel Tilles


Councillors in the Polish town of Kraśnik have voted to withdraw the resolution declaring opposition to “LGBT ideology” that they introduced two years ago. The mayor had warned that not doing so would put the community at risk of losing millions of euros in grants from Norway. Read more…


FFRF: Rogue La Crosse, Wis., priest must be reined in


By Freedom From Religion Foundation


A loose cannon Catholic priest who gained notoriety last year for counseling parishioners that they would go to hell if they voted for a Democrat is again making outrageous pronouncements.Rev. James Altman has currently set his sights on Covid-19 mitigation efforts, defying local safety requirements by his own diocese and local government. Read more…

Faith groups have no business inspecting schools


By Stephen Evans


Publicly funded school inspections which enable clerics to exert undue influence should have no place in a modern education system, argues Stephen Evans.
In a 21st century school system, should faith groups have the authority to inspect schools to determine whether the education they provide is sufficiently religious?. Read more…

FFRF educates Arkansas district on science standards


By Freedom From Religion Foundation


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging an Arkansas school district to investigate claims made in the Legislature that one of its teachers has been unconstitutionally teaching creationism. During a recent Arkansas Senate Education Committee hearing on HB 1701, which would have permitted the teaching of creationism in public schools, state Sen. James Sturch, a teacher at Southside Charter High School in Batesville, Ark., said: 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.

KCLR LIVE: “Puberty is a gift from God” – We Discuss The “Flourish” Programme For Primary Schools

NewsTalk: Should the Catholic Church be involved in children’s sex ed?


Humanists UK Podcast –  What I believe Ian McEwan
National Secular Society Podcast – Challenging the Jehovah’s Witnesses

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