Celebrating 500 editions of Secular Sunday

This week sees the publication of the 500th edition of weekly newsletter Secular Sunday. To mark the occasion, here are some extracts from editions number 1, 100, 200, 300, and 400. We’re halfway to edition 1000, which will be published to celebrate the achievement of a secular state in 2031!

Secular Sunday #1 — 1 January 2012

Greetings, Fellow Atheists:

Happy New Year, and welcome to Secular Sunday, the new weekly newsletter of Atheist Ireland. It will include details of events, activities, news items and other relevant topics. This first issue is devoted to a review of our main activities during 2011 and  our plans for 2012.

In this issue:

1. Secular constitution and laws
2. Secular education system
3. Other activities
4. Our plans for 2012

Derek Walsh, Editor

1. Secular Constitution and Laws

  • We wrote to all candidates and parties in the General Election and Presidential Election asking their views on secular policy issues, and published the results to enable secular voters to take this into account when voting. We also published secular analyses of the manifestos of each political party.
  • We met with the Department of the Taoiseach to become a partner in the dialogue process with religious and philosophical groups, and specifically to discuss the impact of secular issues on laws and practices of the incoming coalition Government.
  • We made a policy submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Ireland’s human rights record with regard to secular issues. We also contributed to a joint submission made by several Irish human rights advocacy groups.
  • We attended the OSCE’s human rights implementation conference in Poland, where we spoke at the session on freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. Read Jane Donnelly’s report here.
  • We continued our campaign to have the Irish blasphemy law repealed. We welcome the commitment in the Programme for Government to include this in a review of future Constitutional changes. Read more.
  • The policy issues that we have raised generally with these various bodies include religious oaths for officeholders, religious oaths in court, the blasphemy law, legalised religious discrimination in employment and equality laws, and the right to a secular education based on international human rights law.

2. Secular education system

  • We made detailed policy submissions to, and we met with, the Department of Education’s forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary education system. This forum should by now have reported to the Minister for Education Ruari Quinn. Read more.
  • We launched a new campaign website Teach, Don’t Preach to coordinate our campaign for a secular Irish education system. This website includes information on how to opt your child out of religious education classes and other resources for parents.
  • We made comprehensive submissions on secular education to the Irish Human Rights Commission, the United Nations Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Ireland’s human rights record.
  • We highlighted the issue of discrimination against nonreligious parents who cannot opt their child out of religious instruction in Catholic primary schools, with a high profile media campaign led by Jane Donnelly and Martijn Leenheer. See them both on TV3’s Morning Ireland here.
  • We lobbied the outgoing Government against proposals for new VEC primary schools that would include faith formation within school hours. We want these schools defined as ‘organs of the State’ so that parents can challenge a board of management which chose to operate the integrated curriculum based upon a religious ethos.

3. Other activities

  • We held the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in June. Speakers included Richard Dawkins, and the new Atheist Alliance International was launched. At the convention, we and other atheists from around the world launched the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life. This covers personal freedoms, secular democracy, secular education, and one law for all.
  • We hosted AC Grayling in the first of a series of Internet-streamed talks in Ireland by prominent international atheists.
  • We ran a campaign asking people to be honest about religion in the 2011 census. We asked people to answer based on their actual beliefs about religion now, not on the basis of their childhood religion.
  • Michael Nugent wrote a series of five articles for the Irish Times Rite and Reason column, on atheism and its relationship to reality, morality, faith and Jesus.
  • We have continued to take part in public debates, media interviews, etc. on issues relevant to Atheist Ireland and our agenda.

4. Our plans for 2012

  • During 2012 we plan to continue the work that we are already doing on all of the above issues.
  • We will be writing a New Year’s letter to every TD and Senator asking them to support the Dublin Declaration on Secularism, and to support a series of five steps to a secular Ireland that will include a secular constitution, education system, lawmaking, government and courts.
  • We will be campaigning to ensure that the new Government’s proposed constitutional convention takes place on schedule, and that it focuses on the need for a secular constitution without references to gods and religious oaths.
  • We will be strengthening Atheist Ireland organisationally, including through this Secular Sunday newsletter, regular members meetings and social events, and by setting up local Atheist Ireland groups around the country.
  • Please get involved and help us to build an ethical and secular Ireland. If you would like to volunteer to spend a few hours a week helping with the above campaigns or with local events in your area, please email Any feedback or suggestions about this newsletter or the organisation in general are welcome.

Secular Sunday #100 — Evolution, Revolution— 24 November 2013

Here, as promised, is the new, improved, bigger, brighter, better Secular Sunday. This is, of course, the one hundredth issue and such an anniversary could not go unmarked, especially as it occurs on Evolution Day, and in the week that sees the fifth anniversary of the founding of Atheist Ireland. In order to increase awareness of such auspicious occasions, I have expanded the calendar section to include observances likely to be of interest to ethical atheists, and anniversaries of significant events in atheism, skepticism, science and so on. I’ve also made significant changes to the layout of the newsletter, hopefully making it easier to read and to scan. There’s a poll at the bottom so you can tell me whether it’s been a worthwhile effort.

Derek Walsh, Editor

Supplementary Submission to the Constitutional Convention

  • Atheist Ireland has already made the following submission to the Constitutional Convention: A Secular Constitution for a Pluralist People. This week, we sent a supplementary submission giving reasons why the convention should select Church and State as the final item on their agenda, ahead of the other five topics that they are considering. Read it here.

Inclusiveness in Primary Schools

  • Atheist Ireland has sent a letter to the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn about inclusiveness in primary schools, and we have copied it to the CEO of the National Parents Council Primary Aine Lynch, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority. Read it here. We have also made a detailed submission to the Department of Education on the same topic, which you can read here.

Constitutional Convention Public Meetings

  • This week the Constitutional Convention will be holding the last of the public meetings to get the views of the public on changing the Constitution. They will be in the Monaghan Institute of Further Education & Training on Monday and at The Strand Hotel in Limerick on Wednesday. Both events begin at 7:30 pm. You can give your views on the separation of Church and State to the Constitutional Convention for consideration in the next phase of the Convention’s agenda.You can find information on the work of the Constitutional Convention here.

Oxford Union Debate

  • Video of Michael Nugent’s debate at the Oxford Union on the motion “That Religion Harms Society” is now available and should appear below if your setup allows it. It is also available with a transcript here.

Secular Sunday #200 – Arbitrary Milestone Edition — 25 October 2015

Observant readers will have noticed that this is the two hundredth issue of this newsletter, and as I’m not the sort to let a round number go unremarked, it behooves me to say a few words about this milestone.

Little did I think, almost four years ago when Michael Nugent and I discussed the idea of a newsletter for Atheist Ireland that it would get to two hundred issues with me at the helm. Of course, I had suggested a monthly newsletter rather than a weekly one!

My circumstances are such that I can’t currently devote as much time as I would like to supporting Atheist Ireland’s activities, and I am grateful for the tireless efforts of my fellow committee members. Mine may be the face you see every week but it is the rest of the committee who do the work that makes having a newsletter worthwhile.

I may not be here for another two hundred issues, but I am certain that Atheist Ireland will go from strength to strength and I am glad that I have been able to play some small part in that.

Derek Walsh, Editor

Submission to Department of Justice

  • Atheist Ireland has made a submission to the Department of Justice as part of the process of Ireland being reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council next year. It includes our recommendations on freedom of religion and belief, the right to education, reproductive rights and the issue of historical abuse. The submission can be read in full here.

Educate Together

  • An Educate Together AGM motion this year called for admission policies that, if implemented, would indirectly discriminate against Catholics. Atheist Ireland opposes this. Educate Together has published a statement that attributes absurdity, dishonesty and ignorance to Atheist Ireland’s analysis of this. Read more…

Media Appearances

  • This week, Michael Nugent has been a guest on RTE Radio 1’s Leap of Faith, spoken on NEwstalk about how RTE’s new Angelus disrespects atheists, and debated the same issue on BBC Eadio Ulster’s Talkback.

Upcoming Events

  • Saturday 14 November, 11:00, Ambassador Hotel, Cork. Atheist Ireland AGM 2015. The morning session, from 11:00 am to 12.30 pm, is for members only. It will include a review of our last year’s activities, arrangements for our programme of work for the coming year, election of officers and any amendments to our constitution. The afternoon session, from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, is open to the public. A dinner at 7:00 pm will follow, location to be confirmed.
  • Friday 30 October 7:30 pm, The Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire. An Evening With Richard Dawkins (This talk is not being organised by Atheist Ireland, but we are organising post-event drinks in the Kingston Hotel Dun Laoghaire and all are welcome to come along.

Secular Sunday #300 – The Right to Privacy — 24 September 2017

Secular Sunday has reached its 300th issue. Secularism in Ireland is gaining ground. This week we have seen the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, welcome some new announcements from the Education and Training Board sector. Community National Schools are primary schools that come under the patronage of Education and Training Boards. Minister Bruton is promoting this model as the solution to many of the problems in our education system, with respect to religion in the classroom. The General Secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, Michael Moriarty, was quoted this week as saying:

“A unique feature of our model is the common belief-nurturing programme that encourages pupils to engage with their families and belief communities to learn more about their own faith or secular beliefs. What is considered a private aspect of the child’s life in some school types, is brought into the public space in a community national school.”

Here we have a statement that not only describes how the human rights of five year old children are being abused, but boasts about this abuse. Human rights courts have already established that if a person does not wish divulge their religious beliefs, that they should not be forced to do so by public bodies. The human right to privacy includes the right to keep your religious beliefs private. Michael Moriarty is the most senior figure within the ETB sector and Instead of seeking to protect the human rights of children in his schools, he is bragging about abusing those rights.

This does not provide confidence in the ETB sector as an attractive solution. This week, Atheist Ireland has written in detail about the right to privacy with regard to a person’s philosophical convictions and we will continue to campaign for other aspects of the ETB model to be brought into line with human rights standards. You can read more here.

Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Atheist Ireland at the March for Choice

  • Atheist Ireland will take part in the March for Choice organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign again this year. It is expected that 30,000 people will take to the streets on 30th September to voice their support for the removal of the 8th Amendment from the Irish Constitution.
  • We will meet a the GPO from 1pm (at the spot where we usually set up the information table) before making our way to the Garden of Remembrance for 1.30pm. If you can make it to the meeting point at the GPO that would be great, it can be next to impossible to find anyone once the crowd has gathered.
  • I hope all our pro-choice members will march behind the Atheist Ireland banner with us!
    You can read more about the March and invite your friends and family to join here

Other News

  • Michael Nugent will be speaking about religious discrimination and dying with dignity at the International Freethought Congress in Paris in September (21st to the 24th).
  • Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $20,400 to 708 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 ‘notme.ie’ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 927 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here. There have been a couple of news stories recently, which are relevant to the Right To Defect, read more here…
  • Atheist Ireland continues to run two petitions; one for a referendum to remove blasphemy from the Irish Constitution. Currently this petition is at 5,080. Help us reach our new target of 7,500. Our other petition is the Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 3,068. Help us reach its target of 5000. Please sign and share these petitions if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

Secular Sunday #400 – The Right to Opt Out of Religion Class — 25 August 2019

With children returning to school, remember that you have the right, under the Constitution and the Education Act, for your child to attend any school without attending religion class or any other class that is contrary to your conscience.

You have this right whether the school is run by a religious body or any other patron body, and you have this right whether the class is called religious instruction or religious education. The school might object, but they legally have to respect this right.

State-run ETB schools, along with TUI and the Department of Education, are trying to undermine this right by re-defining the Constitutional meanings of religious instruction, formation and education as defined by the Supreme Court in 1998.

But they cannot remove this right. You can download sample letters to your school about this on our Teach Don’t Preach website. Please contact Atheist Ireland if you have any problem opting your child out of religion class.

Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Dept of Education is trying to redefine Supreme Court judgement on religious instruction and education

  • The Department of Education and the Minister, Joe McHugh, are undermining the right of parents and their children to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. They are re-defining the Constitutional meanings of religious instruction, formation and education as defined by the Supreme Court in the case, Campaign to Separate Church and State v Minister for Education dated March 1998.
  • The recent Circular Letters issued by the Department of Education on Religion in ETBs enable religious discrimination, and undermine the rights of parents and their children under the Constitution. These Circulars are not in harmony with the Constitutional rights of parents as set out in this Supreme Court case.
  • You can find the court case judgments here (follow link to online edition):

Why is the State teaching moral education for all students through religion?

  • The NCCA Religious Education course (an exam subject) contributes to the moral education of ALL students through religion.
  • Students are not offered another subject if opted out. Some schools make the course compulsory. This is religious discrimination. Why does the state even want to contribute to the moral education of students from non-religious families through religion?
  • This State Religion course does not respect the right of non-religious families to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.
  • The NCCA Agreement for the Junior Certificate Religious Education syllabus states that: “Religious Education makes a significant contribution to a curriculum which seeks to provide for the moral development of students. It introduces a variety of ethical codes and norms for behaviour. Students are encouraged to engage critically with these moral systems in an effort to arrive at a thought – through moral stance which will serve as a foundation for the decisions they will face as adults and for the patterns of behaviour and commitment which will make how they will relate to their local communities and to the world in general.”

Opt Out info

  • As the new school year approaches keep in mind that you have the right to opt your child out of religion regardless of the ethos of the school. You can find sample letters and more information about you and your child’s rights to not do religion on our website teachdontpreach.ie

Buy our book — “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

  • 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 from our website here.

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.
Atheist Ireland