Secular Sunday #489 – Civil marriages and Catholic sex education

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Civil marriages and Catholic sex education

Last year civil marriages had overtaken Catholic marriages in Ireland for the first time ever. This news came as the Catholic Bishops are pushing a new Sex Education course teaching primary school children that they are perfectly formed to procreate with God, and that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Programme for Government commits to make legislative changes, if necessary, to ensure inclusive Relationship and Sexuality Education in schools. These legislative changes are now clearly necessary, in light of the publication of the Flourish Sex Education course.

They include amending the Education Act to ensure that religious ethos cannot influence children’s right to objective sex education, and amending the Employment Equality Act to protect teachers from being disciplined for not upholding the religious ethos of schools.

Atheist Ireland has met online with several TDs and Senators, and has written to all Government Ministers, reminding them of this commitment in the Programme for Government. Please contact your own TD or Senator and ask them to support legislation for objective sex education.

Atheist Ireland continues to lobby for a secular education system that treats all children, parents, and teachers, equally, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs. Please join Atheist Ireland 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


Jennifer Carroll McNeill TD says sex education should be objective and fact-based


The new RSE programme for Catholic primary schools highlights the impact religion has on State education as a result of our current school patronage model, according to Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD of Fine Gael.
Flourish, the relationships and sexuality education programme for junior infants to sixth class, has been developed for use in State schools under Catholic patronage.
Deputy Carroll MacNeill says: “The patronage of a school defines its ethos, and the Flourish programme highlights the challenges that our current school patronage model can present. The programme outlines it’s vision that “there is no such thing as an ‘ethos free’ approach to RSE since it must be rooted in a particular value system.”
She has already received multiple communications from parents who are not religious themselves, and do not wish for their children’s education to be rooted in exclusively Catholic values, particularly those aspects that relate to sexual education.
With a significant majority of State schools under the patronage of the Catholic church, parents are often left with no choice but to send their children to publicly funded Catholic schools.
“Some parents may have no religious beliefs, whilst many may also come from different religious backgrounds. Our current model of patronage and education leaves little room for choice for this growing number of families,” Deputy Carroll McNeill says. “In particular when it comes to relationship and sexual education, we need to ensure that our children are receiving a fact-based, pluralist education.”
“We already know that not everyone in our school communities feels supported and accepted. We recently heard from the INTO of thousands of LGBT teachers who are hiding their sexuality due to the fear that some school patron bodies believe their sexuality is “intrinsically disordered.”
“The Flourish programme refers to “the Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman”, which does not take into account the diversity of relationships and families the Irish state legally recognises and protects. It is anachronistic that education in State schools would be behind or set against the reality of the laws of the State. We need to create space in society for every person of every faith and background, but State services should be secular.
“During his time as Minister for Education, Richard Bruton announced a major review of the RSE curriculum in primary and secondary schools. He called on the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) to give particular consideration to a number of issues including consent, healthy and positive sexual expression and relationships, and LGBTQ+ matters,” concludes Deputy Carroll MacNeill.
“This announcement was back in 2018, and we are still awaiting the NCCA’s redevelopment of the RSE curriculum. In July 2020, I received a PQ reply from Minister Foley which stated the NCCA was to begin its work on a single integrated curriculum for RSE and SPHE early in the 2020/21 school year. We are yet to see the publication of this new curriculum and I would ask that Minister Foley work with the NCCA to expedite the process.” Read online…

Catholic Bishop asks if Church should stop trying to convert secular society. They could start with schools.


Atheist Ireland welcomes the Pastoral Reflection by the Bishop of Clonfert, Michael Duignan, about changes in the Catholic Church, which Patsy McGarry reports on in today’s Irish Times.
Bishop Duignan says that in the past, the Church tried to “engage with and convert secular society” but perhaps it was now time to “seriously engage with and convert ourselves and the way we live as a Christian community within that secular society”.
He adds that the church should “muster the courage to free ourselves from many of the things we are currently doing that are no longer fruitful and that are, at times, counterproductive”.
One way of moving forward would be for Church and State to stop teaching the children of atheists and secularists to develop values to enable them to come to an understanding of religion to their lives and to become aware of different understanding of the divine.
Atheists don’t believe there is such a thing as the divine. This Religious Education course is an exam subject at Junior and Leaving Certificate level. Church and state claim it is suitable for all religions and none.
If your aim is to convert the children from atheist and secular families, then of course you would believe that such a course was suitable for their children.
The main aim of second level Religious Education is:
“Religious Education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world.”
If the main aim of any course was to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of atheism and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world, then it would immediately be seen as trying to convert children to atheism.
If the Catholic Church does decide to stop trying to convert atheists and secularists, then a good start would be to let their children opt out of attending Religious Education in schools that they currently run, and offer them another subject instead. Read online…


Parents in Cork want objective sex education, not the Catholic Flourish course


A group of parents in Cork are organising to challenge the Catholic Bishops sex education course ‘Flourish’ in their children’s Primary schools.
The Catholic Bishops plan to teach their new course alongside syllabus Social, Personal and Health education in schools.
The parents say:

“We’re a group of concerned parents in Cork city and county and are not affiliated with any organization/ political party. We are deeply upset about the potential and lasting impact the Flourish programme may have on our children’s wellbeing.
Please joinus in contacting TDs, School principals and local media to voice concerns about the Flourish programme. Please also sign and share our petition to Minister Norma Foley regarding the implementation of the Objective Education bill.
Please sign our Petition here for Norma Foley to Guarantee factual and objective Relationships and Sexuality Education in Irish schools.”

Read online and watch below…

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=XG6eBHGQKj4]|*

Atheist Ireland asks Government to legislate for objective sex education

Atheist Ireland has written the following letter to all Government Ministers, TDs and Senators. Please contact your own TD or Senator and ask them to support legislation for objective sex education.

Dear Minister, TD, Senator,

The Programme for Government commits to make legislative changes, if necessary, to ensure inclusive Relationship and Sexuality Education in schools. These legislative changes are now clearly necessary, in light of the publication of the Flourish RSE course by the Catholic Bishops, and for other reasons that we outline here.

These legislative changes were recommended by the Oireachtas Joint Education Committee and other bodies. They involve amending the Education Act to ensure that religious ethos cannot influence children’s right to objective sex education, and amending the Employment Equality Act to protect teachers from being disciplined for not upholding the religious ethos of schools.

We ask the Government to do this, and we ask TDs and Senators to support this.

Contents of this document

1. Overview
2. The Current Position
3. The Flourish Course
4. Why Legislative Changes are Necessary
5. What Legislative Changes are Necessary

We look forward to hearing your views on this.

1. Overview

The commitment on page 95 of the Programme for Government is to:

“Develop inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and SPHE curricula across primary and post-primary levels, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary.”

On 29 April 2021, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, responding to a question from Roisin Shortall, told the Dail:

“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.”

The first paragraph of the Tanaiste’s statement outlines the Government’s commitment as described in the Programme for Government, although it omits the part about “making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary.”

The second paragraph (which begins with “As things stand…”) outlines the current position in schools, which includes that the ethos of the school should not influence the content of the course, “but may influence how the content is treated.”

The current position (“As things stand…”) in the second paragraph does not allow the Government’s commitment in the first paragraph to be implemented. If school ethos can influence how the content is treated, then children will not get inclusive sex education.

That is why the legislative changes are necessary. This was already the case, but it is even more clear in light of the publication of the Flourish RSE course by the Catholic Bishops.

2. The Current Position

The current position that the Tanaiste describes (“As things stand…”) is the policy of the Department of Education, as reflected in the following.

Section 9(d) of the Education Act states that:

“9. A recognised school … shall use its available resources to (d) promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and provide health education for them, in consultation with their parents, having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school.”

The purpose of Circular Letter 0037/2010 issued by the Department of Education in 2010 was to remind schools to develop a school policy in regard to RSE. The Circular quotes Section 9(d) though it inaccurately refers to it as Section 9(e). It also states that:

“2.2 The RSE policy should reflect the core values and ethos of the school as outlined in the school’s mission statement. Spiritual, moral and ethical issues may arise when teaching RSE. The school’s RSE policy should guide teachers in the treatment of such issues, in accordance with the ethos of the school.”

The Department of Education Resource Materials for Relationship and Sexuality Education 1998 states that: 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  $31,625 to 1098 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 1834 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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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




Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare

Please contact your TDs over the National Maternity Hospital.


 Dear Deputy 

 I am writing to you as a constituent. We urgently need your support.

The Religious Sisters of Charity takeover bid for the new maternity hospital must be stopped now before it is too late.  The contracts drawn up between the nuns’ company, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, Holles Street Hospital and the State are almost ready to go to government.

We do not want to see the operations of the new maternity hospital in private ownership, nor should it be ruled by church teaching. 

Holles Street Hospital is to be stripped of its independence. The nuns have ensured that the new maternity hospital will be run on their terms, and that it will only provide reproductive health services that comply with their congregational code.

The new hospital––that we are funding––must provide a full range of reproductive health services. We still remember the shocking circumstances under which Savita Halapannavar lost her life. We cannot have a situation where more lives will be lost during a wanted pregnancy, as hers was.

The Religious Sisters of Charity own the freehold of the hospital site. They plan to grant a lease to government to build the new facility. This lease will allow the State to build the hospital on condition that exclusive operating rights are given, by way of licence, to a company to be owned by the nuns’ new entity, St Vincent’s Holdings. 

This is an arrangement that leaves the State powerless. The State cannot compel a private Catholic hospital to provide services, such as IVF, contraception, abortions or intentional sterilisations, that are contrary to its ethos.

Yet we are expected to pay for this.

The State is to have no involvement in St Vincent’s Holdings. Our only role is to pay: the building costs alone are currently estimated at €500 million. After the hospital is built, we, the taxpayers, will be funding all maintenance and running costs in perpetuity.

This is not good enough in 2021. If we pay, we own. The National Maternity Hospital needs to be taken into public ownership.

Kind regards, 


Follow the campaign here.


Guarantee factual and objective Relationships and Sexuality Education in Irish schools


By Concerned Irish parents

Young people, teachers and parents are faced with an education system that puts the ethos of schools, largely religious, ahead of the needs of young people.
While the Department requires that topics such as contraception, LGBTQ and STIs are covered in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), there is no requirement for this to be done in a factual and objective manner
. Read more and Sign here…


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




We cannot have proper sex education while Catholic Church controls schools


By Fintan O’Toole


We need to have that little chat. The one about the birds and the bees. Specifically, we need to talk about sex education and who gets to control it. I know it’s awkward and a little embarrassing. But it’s time. Funny changes have been going on in the body politic and we can’t ignore them anymore. Read online…


Government TDs join group to lobby for full state ownership of national maternity hospital


By Justine McCarthy


Three government TDs have joined a cross-party Oireachtas group set up to lobby the health minister Stephen Donnelly to secure state ownership of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) from the Religious Sisters of Charity. Read online…

Fresh thinking on National Maternity Hospital impasse vital


By Peter Boylan


It is eight years since the project to co-locate the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at the Elm Park campus of St Vincent’s hospital was announced. Four years ago, a wave of public outrage followed the realisation, after years of dispute and mediation, that the new NMH would be owned 100 per cent by the Religious Sisters of Charity, then and still today the sole shareholders of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). Read more…

Government prepared to legislate to ensure children get proper sex education in schools


By Jess Casey


The Government is prepared to make legislative changes to ensure students get an inclusive sex education programme, according to Education Minister Norma Foley.
The current relationship and sexuality education (RSE) curriculum, first published in the late 1990s, is currently being overhauled by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Read more…

Land of Taints and Squalors: The 5 Deprived Stages in the Life Cycle of an Irish Catholic


By Conor Walsh


In light of living in the age of convenience, conformity and consumption, subscriptions have switched from paper and tape to digital format. By todays standards, an online subscription is a digital allowance of an insurmountable amount of media for seekers of either entertainment, information or pleasure. Read more…

Earth calling Edwin Poots – we have a problem


By Fintan O’Toole

To have a decent society, we have to respect what people believe about the spiritual world. To have decent politics, we have to respect the facts of the physical world. As a religious believer, Edwin Poots is entitled to his own faith. As a prospective first minister of Northern Ireland, he is not entitled to his own facts. Read more…



Voters in West Bengal have rejected religion-based politics


By Nantoo Banerjee


The most important lesson from the results of the West Bengal Assembly election is that the state is not prepared to accept religion-based politics. The state would rather suffer inadequate economic development, lack of industry, large unemployment and extortion than surrender to a political rule compromised on religion. Read more…


Poland asked Czech government to prevent “abortion tourism” by Polish women


By Daniel Tilles


The Polish embassy in Prague requested that the Czech government intervene to prevent legislation that would make it easier for women from Poland to obtain abortions in the neighbouring country. Read more…

The DfE must show leadership when religious hardliners turn on schools


By Stephen Evans


A few weeks ago, Batley Grammar School suspended a teacher who had showed a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad in a lesson, as protesters gathered outside its gates. The teacher was forced into hiding, and the case generated widespread publicity. Read more…

Video sharing rules risk encroaching on free speech, says NSS


By National Secular Society


Proposed rules which would protect users from material “likely to incite hatred” on video sharing platforms (VSPs) risk unduly encroaching on freedom of expression, the National Secular Society has 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.

Newstalk Radio – Government TDs join cross-party group to secure state ownership of National Maternity Hospital


*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=DK7v4JNvU-0]|*

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=HX0gcpc354Q]|*

Freethought Radio – COVID and Hindu Nationalism – Margaret Downey; Amit Pal
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – What Did Josh Duggar Do Now?

Humanists UK Podcast –  What I believe Isaac Hempstead Wright

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