Secular Sunday #493 – Ten Years since the World Atheist Convention in Dublin

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Ten Years since the World Atheist Convention in Dublin


This week we held an online social event for members to mark the tenth anniversary of the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011. At that convention ten years ago we had speakers and attendees from around the world, including Richard Dawkins, Maryam Namazie, Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and others.

Since then Atheist Ireland has had an eventful decade, including becoming the first atheist group to meet with an Irish Taoiseach. Our most notable achievement has been lobbying for the referendum to remove the blasphemy ban from the Constitution, then leading the successful Vote Yes campaign when the referendum happened.

We continue to lobby for a secular education system, and our website is a valuable resource for academics and activists alike. We have obtained a constitutional legal opinion to support our arguments, as well as support from several United Nations Human Rights Committees whose meetings we regularly attend. We also continue to lobby to remove the religious oaths from our constitution.

We have held an international conference in Dublin on Empowering Women Through Secularism, and we were part of the coalitions that won the referendums to remove the bans on same sex marriage and abortion. We work with other secular groups in Ireland and internationally, including with religious groups who support separation of church and State.

More fundamentally, we have normalised the use of the word atheism, and provided a sense of community for people who believed they were alone as atheists in Ireland. We hope to continue that community aspect when the lockdowns are properly over, and we look forward to meeting again in real life with the many people we have been proud to know and work with over the past decade.

If you would like to support our work, please join Atheist Ireland as a member. We are a voluntary group with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. Thank you to everyone who has already done so, and we remember our friends in Atheist Ireland who sadly have died during the past decade, particularly John, Grania, Joe, and Nick.

– 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


How Irish schools breach the Constitutional rights of atheist and minority faith families


In Ireland, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief means that if you belong to a religious or nonreligious minority, your rights are suspended in order to guarantee freedom of religion for the religious majority. This breaches the rights of parents and children under the Irish Constitution.
This article examines what the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 about religious discrimination under the then Employment Equality Bill; what the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 about the rights of children to attend any school in receipt of public funds without attending religious instruction at that school; religious discrimination in access to schools under the Equal Status Act; and the Constitutional duty of the State to respect the philosophical convictions of parents.
What the Supreme Court ruled in 1997
In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the then Employment Equality Bill, when it was referred to the Court under Article 26 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court found the then Bill to be unconstitutional, but it also referred to certain aspects of the Bill that could be constitutional.
One such aspect was that denominational schools could give more favourable treatment, on the religion ground, to an employee or a prospective employee “where it is reasonable to do so in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution” or to take action “which is reasonably necessary to prevent an employee or a prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution”.
In this case the Supreme Court stated that:

“This Court accepts that it is not generally permissible to make any discrimination, or even to make any distinction, between citizens on the grounds of religious profession, belief or status. This Court has also had to accept that occasions may arise when it is necessary to make distinctions in order to give life and reality to the constitutional guarantee of the free profession and practice of religion.”

But the Supreme Court added that:

“The use of the words “reasonable” and “reasonably necessary” implies that the test is to be an objective one and that the matter is to be resolved on a case to case basis.
Counsel assigned by the Court point to the use of the word “ethos” in sub-s. 1 and submit that the religious institution or denomination will state in each case what its “ethos” is and that the test will in fact become subjective. It is true that “ethos” is a vague term and is nowhere defined in the Bill. Chambers English Dictionary gives, inter alia, the following meaning to the word “the distinctive habitual character and disposition of an individual group”.
It is probably true to say that the respect for religion which the Constitution requires the State to show implies that each religious denomination should be respected when it says what its ethos is. However the final decision on this question as well as the final decision on what is reasonable or reasonably necessary to protect the ethos will rest with the court and the court in making its overall decision will be conscious of the need to reconcile the various constitutional rights involved.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that year on the constitutionality of the then Equal Status Bill. The Supreme Court also found that Bill to be unconstitutional, because of two clauses that were unrelated to religious discrimination. Because of that decision, it did not address the question of schools being permitted to discriminate against pupils on the grounds of religion.
However, if we apply the logic of the ruling on the Employment Equality Bill, it does not necessarily follow that the courts would have found that discriminating against children in access to their nearest publicly funded school is constitutionally permissible. Nor does it follow that a religious ethos or religious integrated curriculum could seek to influence minorities who have no realistic option but to attend their nearest publicly funded school.
Most parents don’t have a choice where they send their children to school. The State ‘provides for’ their education in publicly funded denominational schools (Article 42.4).  Parents are legally obliged to send their children to school. Home schooling is not a valid option for most parents, as was found by the European Court in the Louise O’Keeffe case.
Under Article 42.3.1 of the Constitution the state shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the state, or to any particular type of school designated by the State. Most parents simply have not got the skills to educate their children at home and they are left with a choice of denominational education for their children or no education at all.
The State provides for the education of minorities in schools with a religous purpose on a take it or leave it basis and disregards Article 42.3.1 of the Constitution. Read more…


Ten years since the World Atheist Convention Dublin

In 2016 Atheist Ireland addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council when it was questioning Ireland under the UPR. We raised the blasphemy law, religious discrimination in schools, religious oaths for high office, and the ban on abortion.

Atheist Ireland supports our atheist and secular colleagues in Poland, where the Catholic Church still has the influence that it used to have in Ireland. We regularly attend Poland’s annual Days of Atheism and the OSCE human rights meetings in Warsaw.

In 2016 Atheist Ireland began to work with the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland to promote secular schools and human rights. We also jointly attended the UN questioning of Pakistan on human rights abuses.

In 2017 Atheist Ireland addressed the Citizens Assembly on abortion rights. We argued that the Constitution was not the right place to deal with healthcare issues, and that pregnant women should have the right to bodily autonomy based on their own conscience.

In 2017 Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, attended the UN questioning of Pakistan in Geneva to speak on behalf of persecuted minorities there who could not speak out for themselves.

In 2017 Michael Nugent debated William Lane Craig in University College Cork on whether God exists. Michael argued that the idea of a god is incoherent, and that reality and morality look like we would expect if there was no God.

Atheist Ireland is a voluntary body with no paid staff. We don’t take state grants, in order to maintain our independence. Here is our committee from 2017.

Richard Dawkins is a wonderful populariser of science and atheism. He has made The God Delusion freely available online in Arabic. His current book of science writing is Books Do Furnish a Life.

In 2017 Atheist Ireland attended an International Conference in London on Freedom of Conscience and Expression organised by Maryam Namazie’s Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. The Conference honoured AC Grayling as a supporter.

Atheist Ireland works together with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland to promote secular education and human rights. We each have very different world views but we work together on secular and human rights issues.

Atheist Ireland attends the annual International Days of Atheism in Poland with our colleagues from around the world. In 2017 Michael Nugent was awarded International Atheist of the Year, and in 2018 Jane Donnelly was awarded International Atheist and Feminist of the Year.

Unlike the Marriage Equality and Abortion referendums, which took place during pleasant May days, the Blasphemy referendum was during wet and cold late October 2018. Here’s one of Atheist Ireland’s final street canvasses in Dublin.

In 2018 Atheist Ireland addressed the Oireachtas Education Committee on sex education. We argued that objective sex education is a human right, and the law must be changed so that schools cannot deliver sex education through Catholic religious ethos.

In 2018 we finally achieved the referendum that we had been campaigning for to remove the blasphemy law. Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University, an expert on blasphemy laws globally, worked with us on this campaign.

Atheist Ireland was part of the successful Together For Yes coalition that removed the ban on abortion from the Irish Constitution. The referendum was passed in 2018, 35 years after the abortion ban was introduced at the height of Catholic dominance of Ireland.

Before the pandemic, Atheist Ireland held regular Secular Sunday brunches and social evenings around the country. Here’s one such gathering in Cork in 2018. We look forward to being able to do this again when conditions allow.

Atheist Ireland held a tour of public meetings and street canvassing around Ireland during the blasphemy referendum campaign in 2018. This photo is from one of our information tables in Cork.

Here’s another of Atheist Ireland’s information table and street canvasses around the country during the blasphemy referendum campaign in 2018. This one is from Kerry.

26th October 2018 was the day of the Irish blasphemy referendum. This was the culmination of a decade of Atheist Ireland lobbying in Ireland and internationally to get the referendum called, then leading the Yes side of the referendum campaign itself.

At the blasphemy referendum count in 2018, Atheist Ireland met Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan, who had led the Government’s Vote Yes campaign. We were just hours away from finding out how many people supported freedom of expression in Ireland.

The blasphemy referendum count in 2018 continued after the Presidential election vote was counted and announced. As the night went on, Atheist Ireland members and the media were the only people waiting for the formal announcement of the referendum count.

On 26th October 2018 the people of Ireland voted by 65% to remove the offence of blasphemy from our constitution. Irish media could now stop self-censoring, and Islamist States at the UN could no longer use the Irish law to justify their own persecution of minorities.

Ten years since the Dublin Declaration

A decade ago, on Sunday the 5th of June 2011, the final session of the 3 day World Atheist Convention in Dublin was held.  At that session the Dublin Declaration was discussed and adopted. This addressed the role of secularism and the place of religion in public life.

Dublin Declaration

1. Personal Freedoms
(a) Freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited. Freedom to practice religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others.
(b) All people should be free to participate equally in the democratic process.
(c) Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.

2. Secular Democracy
(a) The sovereignty of the State is derived from the people and not from any god or gods.
(b) The only reference in the constitution to religion should be an assertion that the State is secular.
(c) The State should be based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Public policy should be formed by applying reason, and not religious faith, to evidence.
(d) Government should be secular. The state should be strictly neutral in matters of religion and its absence, favouring none and discriminating against none.
(e) Religions should have no special financial consideration in public life, such as tax-free status for religious activities, or grants to promote religion or run faith schools.
(f) Membership of a religion should not be a basis for appointing a person to any State position.
(g) The law should neither grant nor refuse any right, privilege, power or immunity, on the basis of faith or religion or the absence of either.

3. Secular Education
(a) State education should be secular. Religious education, if it happens, should be limited to education about religion and its absence.
(b) Children should be taught about the diversity of religious and nonreligious philosophical beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours.
(c) Children should be educated in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge. Science should be taught free from religious interference.

4. One Law For All
(a) There should be one secular law for all, democratically decided and evenly enforced, with no jurisdiction for religious courts to settle civil matters or family disputes.
(b) The law should not criminalise private conduct because the doctrine of any religion deems such conduct to be immoral, if that private conduct respects the rights and freedoms of others.
(c) Employers or social service providers with religious beliefs should not be allowed to discriminate on any grounds not essential to the job in question. Read online…

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  $32,525 to 1130 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 1842 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 4,056 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




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…



Pakistani court acquits Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy


By Agence France-Presse in Lahore


A Pakistani court has ordered the release of a Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy, lawyers said, weeks after the European parliament blasted the country over the case. Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were jailed in 2013 and convicted of sending a text message insulting the prophet Muhammad – even though both are illiterate.Read more…


Raise Awareness about 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




Most notable thing about Johnson’s Catholicism is how much it doesn’t matter


By Fintan O’Toole


I have it on good authority that the papal briefing on world events last Monday morning went something like this. Holy Father, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that Boris Johnson is a Roman Catholic and that the breach between Rome and England created by Henry VIII is now healed. Read more…

The commission and the survivors


By Catriona Crowe


Caroline O’Connor became pregnant in 1980, at the age of seventeen. Thirty-eight years later, on 25 October 2018, she gave testimony to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. Read more…

How legal threats and the Ryan Commissions legacy impacted Mother and Baby Home inquiry


By Órla Ryan


THE LEGAL APPROACH of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes appears to have been heavily influenced by the lasting impact of the Ryan Commission into child abuse, an expert has said. Máiréad Enright, a human rights lawyer, said that the threat of legal action from religious orders appears to have heavily influenced the approach of the commissioners in the more recent inquiry. Read more…

Minister pledges no religious ethos in maternity hospital governance


By Marie O’Halloran


Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has insisted that he will not tolerate governance with any religious ethos at the new national maternity hospital (NMH) being built on the St Vincent’s hospital complex in Dublin. He told the Dáil that “services will be provided in accordance with the law and national policies. That is all.”. Read more…

A Catholic ethos has no place in our new maternity hospital


By Colette Sheridan


IT’S kind of hard to believe that there will be no religious influence on the new National Maternity Hospital, given the fact that the Sisters of Charity own the south Dublin site at St Vincent’s University Hospital. It will be leased to the State for the new hospital. A subsidiary of the religious order, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG), has been given the go-ahead by the State to operate the facility. Read more…

Themes of religion and science still clashing


By TP O’Mahony


It would take the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, to make a new generation aware of one of the most controversial trials of the 20th century, and one dealing with themes of religion and science which are still relevant today. Read more…

Call to ensure new maternity hospital free of religious influence


By Jennifer Bray

Candidates in the upcoming Dublin Bay South byelection have called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to ensure that the planned new national maternity hospital (NMH) is free of all religious influence. Read more….

In Canada, like Ireland, church and state evade accountability


By Emer O’Toole


An unmarked mass grave of an estimated 215 children has been found at the former site of the Catholic-run Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia, Canada. The bodies represent just a small number of the First Nations children removed from their parents and communities who never returned home. Read more…


Mother and Baby home survivor Clodagh Finn: Stop muting our voices


By Clodagh Finn


There was a certain irony, for me at least, in the timing. Just as Prof Mary Daly, a Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation member was telling an online conference, that the testimony of 550 survivors had been dismissed because it did not “meet robust legal standards of evidence”, a copy of my birth cert plopped into my inbox. Read more…




Why it matters that 7 states still have bans on atheists holding office


By Kristina M. Lee


Tennessee’s Constitution includes a provision that bars three groups from holding office: atheists, ministers and those engaging in duels. Efforts are under way in the state legislature to remove this exclusion for ministers, but not for duelists – or atheists. Read more…

Utah gov’s call to pray for rain an insult to Utahns


By the Freedom From Religion Foundation


The Freedom From Religion Foundation excoriates Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s show of governmental piety in calling on the citizens of Utah to “pray for rain.” “We need more rain and we need it now,” Cox has remarked. “We need some divine intervention. That’s why I’m asking Utahns of all faiths to join me in a weekend of prayer June 4 through the 6th.”. Read online…

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Non-Religious Persecution in Nigeria


By Leo Igwe


All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Chair, Baroness Bakewell, Other distinguished parliamentarians, Fellow Humanists, Ladies and Gentlemen.
When our forebears enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right to freedom of religion or belief, they acknowledged the inalienability of the right to think and believe freely. They recognized that for societies to prosper and flourish, and for human beings to live in peace and harmony, governments must guarantee the equal right to freedom of thought and conscience for people of all faiths and none, in all places and at all times
. Read more…

Imran Khans Single National Curriculum: An Overdose of Religion?


By Zainab Akhter


After assuming power in August 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) promised to usher in a ‘Naya Pakistan’, one which would be corruption-free and care for the common people. Most importantly, he promised to transform Pakistan into Riyasat-e-Medina (State of Medina), based on the model of governance adopted by Prophet Muhammad during his years of migration to MedinaRead more…

Bill proposing all new Northern Ireland schools should be integrated passes first stage


By Humanists UK


A Bill that would require new schools in Northern Ireland to be integrated passed the first stage in the Assembly yesterday. Northern Ireland Humanists has campaigned for a single system of education that teaches pupils from different backgrounds together for many years. It has welcomed the news.Integrated schools try to balance the proportion of pupils from each community they admit. Read more…

Requires improvement: Ofsted review shows need for a major rethink on RE


By Alastair Lichten


A review has highlighted significant problems with the way RE is taught. Alastair Lichten argues that it shows the need to ask fundamental questions about the purpose of education about religion. 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.


*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=orD3ppIylRo]|*

Freethought Radio – Supreme Court & Abortion – Geoffrey Stone
The National Secular Society – Women Leaving Islam: the rights of those who leave religion must be protected

Humanists UK Podcast –  What I believe –  Eddie Marsan
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – Why is Willow Creek Still Defending Its Founder?

Media Watch

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