Secular Sunday #529 – Defences Forces Chaplains and the Burke case judgment

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Defences Forces Chaplains and the Burke case judgment


This week a Defence Forces Commission recommended updating their Chaplaincy service to better reflect wider religious and non‐religious affiliations, and ending the convening of a Roman Catholic mass as part of induction ceremonies.

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland had made these recommendations in a joint submission to the Commission last year.

We said that these practices breach the Constitutional Rights of minorities in relation to Freedom of conscience, religion and belief; the Defence Forces’ Public Service Duty under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act; and the EU Equality Directive and International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, both of which forbid discrimination on religious grounds.

Atheist Ireland also sent a letter this week to the Comptroller and Auditor General following up on our complaint about the misuse of funding with regard to the right to not attend religious instruction in schools. In this letter we outlined the impact of the recent Burke case judgment in the Supreme Court about home schooling and the leaving certificate during the pandemic.

Based on the Burke judgment, the Department has a duty to put in place an administrative scheme that respects Constitutional rights, and it cannot go outside that jurisdiction. However, in the case of our complaint, the Department has put in place no guidelines or regulations to do this, and leaves it up to schools to decide for themselves how they administer the rights on which their funding depends.

If you support this work, and other secular policies that we campaign on, please join 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


Defence Forces report calls for updating Chaplaincy and ending Catholic masses at induction

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland welcome that the Report of the Commission of the Defence Forces, published yesterday, has recommended that:

  • A number of outdated practices should be discontinued, including but not limited to the convening of a Roman Catholic mass associated with an induction ceremony; and
  • The Defence Forces’ Chaplaincy service needs to be adjusted in line with international best practice to better reflect the religious/non‐religious affiliations of younger Irish people today.

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, made a joint submission to the Commission calling for these changes. In our submission we said that:

  • Defence Force personnel have been coerced to take part in Catholic or Catholic-led religious ceremonies without any effort made to put in place rules/guidelines to ensure that they need not participate on the grounds of conscience.
  • The Defence Forces discriminate on religious grounds by failing to put the position of Chaplain out to tender. The position is just given, almost always, to a nominee of a Bishop of the Catholic Church.
  • The only other Church allowed to nominate Chaplains is the Church of Ireland. There are no Chaplains or nonreligious equivalents for members with no religion or who are of minority faiths including Evangelicals and Muslims.

We said that these practices breach:

  • The Constitutional Rights of minorities in relation to Freedom of conscience, religion and belief, including Article 44.2.3 which states “The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.”
  • The Defence Forces’ Public Service Duty under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act, which the Defence Forces accept that they are subject to. It also has implications on the gender ground as the Catholic Chaplains are male priests.
  • The EU Equality Directive which forbids discrimination on religious grounds. The Defence Forces does not have a religious ethos but regardless the position of Chaplains is mainly offered to Catholics and one Church of Ireland Chaplain.
  • Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination.

Here are the relevant sections of the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces published yesterday:

“Moreover, the Commission has also noted a number of examples of outdated practices which should be discontinued. These include, but are not limited to, the convening of a Roman Catholic mass associated with an induction ceremony; treatment of pregnancy/childbirth as an irregular absence from duty; and not permitting certain styles of facial hair, such as beards. These and all other exclusionary practices should be removed. In addition, the Defence Forces’ Chaplaincy service needs to be adjusted in line with international best practice to better reflect the religious/non‐religious affiliations of younger Irish people today.” (p 97)
“Should the Government decide to accept and implement the vision and recommendations proposed in this report it will result in the Defence Forces of 2030+ being a more modern, diverse organisation, with a coherent structure…. On foot of this transformation… The Defence Forces’ culture will reflect the diverse nature of modern Irish society, and embrace contemporary work practices that enhance the experience and performance of all personnel.” (p 145)

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**
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  $35,600 to 1237 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 1904 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 4,109 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

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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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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




Just one school to leave Catholic ethos in 2022 — Government targets in doubt


By Jess Casey


Just one primary school is set to divest from the Catholic Church this year, prompting calls for “clear targets” to be set to achieve 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030. There are 164 multi-denominational schools in the country compared with 2,750 Catholic primary schools. Read more…


Do differences in Christian doctrine or dogma matter anymore?


By Mike Jennings


My mother was very virtuous. She prayed every day and attended Mass at least once a week. But was she a Catholic? I had better explain why I ask.One day I sat Mary Jennings down and quizzed her about her faith. “You know,” I said, “when you receive Holy Communion every Sunday, is that actually the body of Jesus Christ or does it just represent the body of Jesus?” Read more…

Irish schools should not be run by the Catholic Church


By Michael O’Dowd


Last week the annual celebration of Catholic schools took place around the country when schools and parishes participated in a series of events reflecting on their contribution to society. It was also a time when questions were raised, in particular by those who see publicly funded denominational schools as an anomaly in a culturally diverse society, especially in the Republic where the Catholic Church has a practical monopoly on primary school ownership. Read more…

The National Maternity Hospital – an expensive power grab – Letter to the Irish Times


By Dr Peter Boylan


Sir, – You report on new proposals aimed at advancing the stalled €800 million National Maternity Hospital (NMH) relocation project (News, February 10th). The latest version of the HSE licence for the new hospital will apparently “include legal measures requiring it to provide all medical procedures allowed under Irish law”. At first glance this might appear to be an historic breakthrough: are the intended future owners of the new NMH – the Vatican-approved St Vincent’s Holdings, successors to the Religious Sisters of Charity – now committing explicitly to guaranteeing the provision of abortion, sterilisation, IVF, etc, in the new hospital?  Read more…




After moving out of their comfort zone, atheists in Kenya gain visibility


By Fredrick Nzwili


NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — A small atheist organization in Kenya is gaining ground in this largely Christian nation as it tackles political ideologies and human rights matters, wading into debates outside its usual critiques of religion. While the group has kept up its calls for reforms of church regulation and religious education, it has also gotten attention for plans to distribute personal hygiene supplies in Kenya’s slums and for supporting a needy schoolboy — the kind of charity that is mostly the province of church groups here. Read more…

Poland ranked as worst country in Europe for contraception


By Daniel Tilles


Poland has Europe’s worst contraception policies, according to a new ranking by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. The country is the only one on the continent categorised as having “exceptionally poor” policies. Read more…

New York State Must Hold Nonpublic Schools Accountable on Secular Education


By Michael Sussman


Governor Hochul’s Fiscal Year 2023 executive budget allocates a whopping $295 million for nonpublic schools. Despite this investment, New York State has very little oversight of nonpublic schools and the quality of their education. There is a common misunderstanding that all nonpublic schools offer superior education and require little supervision, but this isn’t always true. Read online…

NSS urges government to aid Ahmadi Muslim prosecuted for blasphemy


By The National Secular Society


The National Secular Society has urged the UK government to intervene in the case of an Ahmadi Muslim woman prosecuted for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan. According to the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC), 65 year old Kaneez Bibi was arrested on 2 February after being accused of destroying an anti-Ahmadi propaganda poster that allegedly had verses from the Quran on it.
Pakistan’s penal code makes it an offence to “outrage religious feelings” by “insulting” religion. Read more…

Parent challenges admissions regulator after Catholic Diocese allowed to limit school choice


By Humanists UK


The Catholic Church has been allowed to dictate the admissions policies of secondary schools in Leicester, even where these are not faith schools. This is according to a parent who has made a complaint to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – the body that regulates schools admissions. The parent, Dr Sara Thompson, argues that this behaviour effectively traps children in Catholic education for life, because pupils in Catholic primary schools are then funnelled into attending Catholic secondary schools. Read more…

Two Greek humanists to stand trial for challenging antisemitic hate speech by Orthodox bishop


By Humanists International


Humanists International is deeply concerned that two members of the Humanist Union of Greece, Mr. Panayote Dimitras and Ms. Andrea Gilbert, are to stand trial this month after making a complaint about a high-ranking Greek Orthodox Bishop’s antisemitic hate speech. 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.


Freethought Radio – Secular Reparations
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – The Invalid Baptisms

Media Watch

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





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