Secular Sunday #513 – The positive right to hold atheist beliefs

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The positive right to hold atheist beliefs


Atheist Ireland made a submission this week to the Department of Justice’s review of the Equality Acts. We want the category of ‘religion’ under the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act to be amended to ‘religion or beliefs.’ We made a similar submission to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for their new strategy statement.

The Venice Commission has explained the significance of this change. It says that the ‘belief’ aspect of ‘religion or belief’ typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world. Thus atheism is held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs.

Article 44.2.1 of the Irish Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience. The courts have never said that this is just confined to those with a religious conscience. But our Equality laws do not reflect this, and they should be amended as should the Charities Act, the Civil Registration Act, the Electoral Act, and the laws governing our education and health systems.

You can read our full submission here. Please help Atheist Ireland to highlight issues like this, and support our ongoing work promoting secular education and secular laws in Ireland, by joining Atheist Ireland as a member. We are a voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join here

– 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


Atheist Ireland asks Government to amend the Equality Acts to protect nonreligious beliefs


Atheist Ireland has made the following submission to the Department of Justice’s consultation on the review of the Equality Acts. You can make a submission yourself, before 29th November, after reading the details on the Department’s website. Please feel free to include points that we have made in our submission.

1. Amending the category of ‘Religion’ to ‘Religion or Belief’
1.1 Overview
1.2 Constitutional Obligations
1.3 International Obligations
1.4 The current situation
2. Constitutional Obligations
2.1. Conscience and Abortion
2.2 The Burke Case
2.3 The Campaign to Separate Church and State Case
2.4 Religious and Moral Education
2.5 The Constitutional Review Group Report
2.6 Mulloy v Minister for Education
2.7 Temple Street -v- D. & Anor
2.8 Article 26 and the Employment Equality Bill
3. International Obligations
3.1 The EU Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC)
3.2 The EU Race Directive (2000/43/EC)
3.3 The Charter of Fundamental Rights.
3.4 The European Convention on Human Rights
3.5 The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights
3.6 The Belfast Agreement (Comparable Steps by the Irish Government)
4. Implications for Law and Practice
4.1 Laws
4.2 Education System
4.3 Health System
1. Amending the category of ‘Religion’ to ‘Religion or Belief’
1.1 Overview
Atheist Ireland recommends amending the category of ‘religion’ under the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act (and any other relevant Acts) to ‘religion or beliefs,’ and clarifying that beliefs include positive philosophical convictions that are not based on religion.
Currently these Acts refer only to ‘religion’ and not to ‘religion or belief.’ The definitions include “…or one has a religious belief, background or outlook and the other has not.”
This discrimination undermines the right to freedom of conscience, as those of us with nonreligious beliefs or philosophical convictions are not treated equally.
Those of us with beliefs or philosophical convictions are defined in relation to ‘religion,’ and specifically as not having a religion, which puts us in a subordinate position. We are deprived of an equal position and equal protection, as people with positive philosophical convictions of our own, alongside those in the category of ‘religion.’
In the Venice Commission Guidelines for Legislative Reviews of Laws Affecting Religion or Belief includes it states that:

“3. Religion or belief.
International standards do not speak of religion in an isolated sense, but of “religion or belief.” The “belief” aspect typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world. Thus atheism and agnosticism, for example, are generally held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs. It is very common for legislation not to protect adequately (or to not refer at all) to rights of non-believers. Although not all beliefs are entitled to equal protection, legislation should be reviewed for discrimination against non-believers.”

This submission addresses two categories of argument:
1.2 Constitutional Obligations
The Equal Status Act and the Employment Acts do not reflect the Irish Constitution because the Constitution also protects those with beliefs based on their conscience and is not confined to religious beliefs. Article 44.2.1 of the Irish Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience. The courts have never said that this is just confined to those with a religious conscience.
The Supreme Court looked at this issue (Re Article 26 and the Employment Equality Bill 1996) before the EU Employment Equality Directive and the EU Race Directive were issued. There is nothing in those EU Directives or the Constitution that permits the state to ignore the equal status of beliefs/philosophical convictions alongside religious beliefs in legislation.
1.3 International Obligations
As well as the Irish Constitution, this discrimination in our Equality Acts does not reflect the following legal instruments:

  • The EU Employment Equality Directive (Council Directive 2000/78/EC)
  • The EU Race Directive (Council Directive 2000/43/EC)
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights.
  • The European Convention on Human Rights
  • The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights
  • The Belfast Agreement (Comparable Steps by the Irish Government)

Read more…

Know your rights

The courts in Ireland have said that the state cannot discriminate between religious and lay people. The main aim of curriculum Religious Education is the develop values in all students to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives and relationships. The Department of Education, the Minister Norma Foley, schools and teachers claim that curriculum RE is inclusive for all religions and none.
If the main aim of any curriculum course was to develop values in students to enable them to see the relevance of atheism to their lives and relationships then it would be seen for what it was, religious discrimination on behalf of the state. The Dept of Education, schools and teachers discriminate against non religious families on religious grounds and breach their Constitutional rights.

Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution guarantees the right to not attend Religious Instruction. The Irish version of the Constitution (which takes precedence) translates directly into not attending ‘religious teaching’. The Supreme Court has said that the rights of parents in relation to the religious education of their children must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction/teaching.
Parents have an absolute right to ensure their children do not attend any type of religious teaching. It is not up to the Department of Education, schools or teachers to decide for parents what is or is not suitable religious education or teaching for their children.

In 1996 the High Court said that parents in Ireland had more rights under the Irish Constitution than under human rights law. They said that the Constitution had imposed obligations on the state in relation to those rights.
In 2011 the High Court again recognised that parents had absolute rights in relation to the education of their children, this included philosophical convictions.
Despite the above recognition of the rights of parents under the Constitution the Department of Education claims that curriculum Religious Education that seeks to develop values in students to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives and relationships is suitable for children from non religious and secular backgrounds. This is religious discrimination and breaches the rights of parents under the constitution.

The Supreme Court (Campaign case) has sanctioned the payment of Chaplains in Community and Comprehensive schools on the basis of Article 42 and Article 44 of the Constitution. This is a positive constitutional right for mainly catholic parents in relation to the religious education and religious formation of their children Article 42 and also their religious freedom under Article 44. Promoting a pluralist approach to Religious Education goes against the catholic philosophy of education. The Catholic Church objected to a proposed course in primary schools on education about religions, beliefs and ethics and the course was scrapped. The course was a recommendation of the Forum on Patronage and a pluralism.

Curriculum religious education at second level and the Goodness Me Goodness You course in Community National Schools are not objective course on religions, beliefs and ethics because if they were the catholic church would have objected and they would be scrapped. This is the power and control that the Catholic Church still has over the Irish Education system.

The Supreme Court sanctioned the payment of Chaplains in order to help parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children in the general atmosphere of the school outside the religious instruction class (Art 44.2.4). Article 42.1 and Article 42.4 of the Constitution also refers to moral education and moral formation. Article 44 also refers to freedom of conscience as well as freedom of religion.

The Department of Education does not recognise that children have a right to moral education/ formation outside of religion despite the fact that the constitution does recognise that right.

In fact the Department of Education claims that developing values in children (from non religious backgrounds) to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives and relationships is suitable education despite the fact that their parents object on conscientious grounds to that education. The Department are constitutionally obliged to have due regard to the rights of parents in relation to the moral education of their children (Article 42.4).

The Department of Education and the NCCA have completely disregarded the constitutional rights of non religious and parents with philosophical convictions that are not based on a religious understanding of the world. They have also ignored the findings of the Supreme Court in relation to the rights of parents.

They also fail to protect the positive right of students to ‘not attend’ religious instruction on the basis of their constitutional right under Art 44.2.4 (sub section of Art 44) read in conjunction with Article 42.1 and Article 42.4.

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the constitutional rights of parents and students in the education system.


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**
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. 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  $34,475 to 1194 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 1881 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 4,086 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


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





Irish Teacher: Why  schools must address sex and pornography at primary level

By Jennifer Horgan


During an interview in New York, Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain commented that she both loved and hated Ireland. I feel the same. I love Ireland for many reasons. I love how we collectively mourn the deaths of our poets and musicians, how we laugh a lot, cry a lot too. I hate Ireland for one reason. I hate the way it hates women, and again and again and again the ways in which it fails to protect them. Read more…

Repeal of Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws delayed until next Assembly session

By Humanists UK


Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws are unlikely to be repealed within the current session of the Assembly. Northern Ireland Humanists has been working with the relevant Ministers to bring forward repeal. The Department of Justice hoped to do so as part of a wider criminal law reform bill. But the Department of Justice has been unable to get Executive sign-off in enough time to proceed before the end of the Assembly term. Read more…

Anti-abortion protesters could face jail under new laws

By Beau Donelly


Anti-abortion protesters who harass women outside hospitals and clinics could be fined or jailed under a proposed new law. Paul Gavan, the Sinn Féin senator, introduced the safe access zones bill to the Seanad yesterday. The legislation would set a 100m buffer zone around premises providing pregnancy terminations.  Read more…


Fresh proposals on control of the new NMH site smoke and mirrors, campaign group says

By Jane Moore


A GROUP CAMPAIGNING for the independent ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) has said that the fresh proposals for extending the lease of the site are a “smoke and mirrors exercise”. The Campaign Against Church Ownership Of Women’s Healthcare said the proposals were aimed to deflect from “legitimate concerns” around the ownership of the site, and the “intransigence of an organisation determined to hold on to a valuable asset”. Read more…

State has ‘capitulated’ to Church over new National Maternity Hospital site, says doctor

By Newstalk Newsroom


The Government has “capitulated” to the Catholic Church over the issue of ownership of the site of the new National Maternity Hospital, a former master of the hospital has said.  The hospital is due to be built on the site of St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin’s Elm Park. The land is currently owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity order, who are gifting the land to the state for the development.  Read online…



Less religious teens, but why?

By This is Local London News Reporter


What precisely is that is prompting Generation Z to lose faith? Generation Z has persistently been the least religious generation throughout modern years. In recent years, Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2015) has gained attention as a brave, educated, and passionate generation with a strong identity. One of their different perspectives on religion and faith is one of their significant differences. Read more…

Legal abortions drop 65% in year since Poland’s near-total ban but abortion tourism booms

By Daniel Tilles


In the year since Poland’s constitutional court introduced a near-total ban on abortion, the number of legally conducted terminations has fallen by an estimated 65%. Meanwhile, there has been a boom in “abortion tourism”, with women seeking to obtain abortions abroad. Read more…


Man detained for offending religious feelings by chopping down cross in Poland

By Daniel Tilles


A man has been detained by police in Poland on suspicion of “offending religious feelings”, a crime that carries a potential prison sentence of up to two years. He is alleged to be the person responsible for this week’s destruction of a roadside cross in the city of Zielona Góra. The incident took place on Monday, and drew widespread attention after images of the damage were posted on social media followed by a video showing a man chopping down the cross with an electric saw. Read more…

Cypriot artist angers church and government with protest paintings

By Reuters


NICOSIA, Oct 19 (Reuters) – Cypriot artist George Gavriel almost lost his job as a high school headmaster after his works depicting Jesus in unconventional settings and also taking a swipe at politicians drew the wrath of religious and government leaders. Gavriel, 62, uses his art as a protest medium to take aim at what he considers the ills of society. Read more…

Why is the Catholic church allowed to hinder secondary school choice?

By Alastair Lichten


A case in Leicestershire shows the mess faith groups make of admissions and why secular accountability is necessary, argues Alastair Lichten. The practice of state funded faith schools discriminating in favour of prospective pupils on the basis of their parents’ religion is well known. ‘On your knees, avoid the fees’ has become common parlance in conversations about religiously selective state schools. Read more…

Peers back new assisted dying law

By Humanists UK


Plans to allow doctors to help terminally ill adults end their lives moved closer to becoming law today, after a new Assisted Dying Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords. Humanists UK, which campaigns to legalise assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering, has praised today’s debate for its in-depth and sensitive discussion of the issue. 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=Zw-nBXz1aLg]|*

Freethought Radio – Pack the Court
National Secular Society Podcast – The advancement of religion
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – Interview with Dr. Randall Balmer, Author of “Bad Faith”

Media Watch

News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement. 




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