Secular Sunday #540 – Religious marriages and State-funded schools

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Religious marriages and State-funded schools


The new marriage figures show that since 2016, the percentage of religious marriages in Ireland has dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%, and nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%. This trend mostly represents a drop in religious marriages.

In real numbers, rather than percentages, religious marriages have dropped from 14,545 in 2016 to 9,768 in 2021 (a drop of 4,777), while nonreligious marriages have risen from 7,025 in 2016 to 7,449 in 2021 (a rise of 424).

There was a steady decline in religious marriages from 2016 to 2019, then a dramatic drop caused by Covid in 2020, followed by a partial recovery in 2021, bringing the figures close to the steady decline that was happening before Covid.

This again shows the need for the State to remove the privilege it gives to the Catholic Church in running Irish schools and hospitals, and to Christianity generally in the religious oaths in our Constitution and in our charities and civil registration laws.

Atheist Ireland spoke about this religious discrimination this week at at the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

We spoke generally about atheism and secularism, and specifically about our complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General that the Department of Education is misusing public funds by not respecting the constitutional duty to protect the rights of nonreligious parents.

We have also submitted this complaint to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. We will be following up on it in the coming months, as part of our campaign for a secular education system that treats everybody equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

As always, you can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work on secular issues by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland 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

The 5-year drop in religious marriages


Yesterday we reported on what we described as the rise in nonreligious marriages in Ireland since 2016.
That is a fair description when you look at the percentages, as religious marriages have dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%, and nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%.
However, when you look at the actual figures rather than the percentages, it is more accurate to describe the trend as a 5-year drop in religious marriages.
Nonreligious marriages have risen from 7,025 in 2016 to 7,449 in 2021 (a rise of 424) while religious marriages have dropped from 14,545 in 2016 to 9,768 in 2021 (a drop of 4,777).
Why is this? Firstly, the overall number of marriages was steadily declining, by about 240 a year between 2016 and 2019.
The overall number of marriages then dropped by half in 2020 because of Covid, and has recovered somewhat during 2021 as Covid eased off.
For whatever reason, these downward trends have affected religious marriages more than nonreligious marriages.
This again shows the need for the State to remove the privilege it gives to the Catholic Church in running Irish schools and hospitals, and to Christianity generally in the religious oaths in our Constitution and in our charities and civil registration laws.
Ireland is no longer a Catholic country. We are now a pluralist country gradually dismantling Catholic privilege in our laws.
Read online…


The 5-year rise in nonreligious marriages


In the five years since 2016, the percentage of religious marriages in Ireland has dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%, Roman Catholic marriages have dropped from 56.3% to 39%, and nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%.
This shows the need for the State to remove the privilege it gives to the Catholic Church in running Irish schools and hospitals, and to Christianity generally in the religious oaths in our Constitution and in our charities and civil registration laws.
Ireland is no longer a Catholic country. We are now a pluralist country gradually dismantling Catholic privilege in our laws.
The marriage trend was exaggerated in 2020 when fewer people got married because of the Covid pandemic, and is now moving back towards the steady declines and rises from 2016 to 2019.
The marriage figures for 2021 are:
39% Roman Catholic
34.8% Civil Registry
8.6% Other Religions
8.5% Humanist Association
8% Spiritualist Union
1.1% Church of Ireland
Looking at the five-year trends from 2016 to 2021:
Religious marriages have dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%
Of these, four of every five is Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic marriages have dropped from 56.3% to 39%
Church of Ireland marriages have dropped from 1.7% to 1.1%
Marriages by other religions have risen from 5% to 8.6%
Spiritualist Union marriages have risen from 4.5% to 8%
Nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%
Of these, four of every five is Civil Registry and the other is Humanist
Civil Registry marriages have risen from 25.9% to 34.8%
And Humanist marriages have risen from 6.7% to 8.5%
See also this follow-up post, the 5-year drop in religious marriages, which addresses the actual numbers of marriages as opposed to the percentages.
Read online...


Combating intolerance against persons based on religion or belief

Atheist Ireland has made the following input to a United Nations report about combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief, as set forth in UN Resolution 76/157.
1. The need to consistently use the phrase ‘based on religion or belief’
2. The balance between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression
2.1 Overview
2.2 Freedom of Thought Submission 2021
2.3 Hate Crime and Hate Speech Submission 2019
3. Discrimination in Ireland based on religion or belief
3.1 Irish Education System Submission 2022
3.2 Irish Equality Acts Submission 2021
3.3 Ireland UPR Submission 2021
3.4 Minority Issues Submission 2020
4. Discrimination and persecution in Pakistan based on religion or belief
4.1 Pakistan ICCPR Submission 2017
1. The need to consistently use the phrase ‘based on religion or belief’
Resolution 76/157 aims to protect people from unjust outcomes based on their ‘religion or belief’. The ‘belief’ part of this phrase includes nonreligious philosophical convictions, the holders of which have the same level of protection as the holders of religious beliefs.
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.”
Resolution 76/157 uses the phrase ‘religion or belief’ 32 times. However, there are also 39 instances in which it refers only to the word ‘religion’ without including the word ‘belief’. There are no instances where it refers only to the word ‘belief’ without including the word ‘religion’.
Preamble para 6 … combating religious intolerance …
Preamble para 7 … advocate religious hatred …
Preamble para 8 … any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group…
Preamble para 11 … interreligious and intercultural dialogue …
Preamble para 18 … attacks on and in religious places …
Preamble para 22 … people belonging to religious minorities …
Preamble para 23 … religious and cultural diversity … interreligious dialogue …
Preamble para 24 … dialogue among religious groups …
Preamble para 25 … religious bodies … respect for religious and cultural diversity …
Preamble para 26 … respect for religious and cultural diversity … religious expression …
Preamble para 28 … interreligious, interfaith and intercultural efforts …
Preamble para 29 … interreligious and intercultural dialogue … religious leaders …
… leaders of world and traditional religions … national, racial, or religious hatred …
Preamble para 30 … religious discrimination and intolerance …
3 … incidents of religious intolerance … advocacy of religious hatred …
4 … advocacy of religious hatred …
5 … interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue … religious intolerance …
… combating religious hatred …
6 … religious and cultural diversity …
7 … a domestic environment of religious tolerance …
7 (b) … members of different religious communities…
7 (e) … advocacy of religious hatred …
7 (g) … negative religious stereotyping of persons … incitement to religious hatred …
7 (h) … interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue … combating religious hatred …
8 (b) … religious freedom … all religious communities … manifest their religion …
8 (d) … religious profiling … invidious use of religion …
9 … places of worship and religious sites
We note that section 7 begins by saying that the actions in it are called for by the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This section has seven references to ‘religion’ and only one reference to ‘religion or belief.’
We ask the United Nations and Member States to consistently use the phrase ‘based on religion or belief’ when discussing this issue.
2. The balance between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression
2.1 Overview
As atheists, we empathise with members of other groups who face prejudice and discrimination in Ireland, because we have first-hand experience of it. We also recognise that members of other groups face more frightening hostility in Ireland, including overt harassment, intimidation and violence. We should all stand together to challenge prejudice and hostility against any and all of us, and to protect the values of Western liberal democracy that enable us to do so.
2.2 Freedom of Thought Submission 2021
Atheist Ireland made a submission about Freedom of Thought in 2021 to Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In this we highlighted:
The Right to Not Reveal Your Thoughts
Many States do not recognise the right to not reveal your thoughts, particularly when it comes to religious beliefs or nonreligious philosophical convictions. This includes the right to not be forced to behave publicly in a manner that others can infer, even indirectly, what your religious beliefs or nonreligious philosophical convictions are.
The Right to Not Be Penalised for Your Thoughts
Laws against what some people describe as ‘hate crimes’ must be based on human rights standards. We cannot change how people think and feel by making it illegal. We should tackle prejudice against groups through education and community leadership, and tackle prejudice-motivated crime through the law, where the prejudice is an aggravating factor as a motive for an existing crime.
The Right to Receive Information
The right to freedom of thought implies to right to seek and receive information that can inform the development of your thoughts. This is recognised by resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This is part of the problem with censorship and blasphemy laws. Not only do they interfere with the right to express information, but they also interfere with the right to seek and receive information.
The Right to Nonreligious Philosophical Convictions
There is an established internationally recognised human right to be atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist, or in any other way free from religion. Authoritarian theocrats frequently breach this right in practice, or deny that this human right exists, citing Catholic Canon Law or the Sharia-based Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. But the primacy of universal rights is enshrined in the key international human rights Treaties and associated Court judgments and must be upheld. Read online…

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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

Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $36,400 to 1269 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 1919 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 4,113 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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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.
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You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support

Atheist Ireland Committee

Places and Faces


Atheist Ireland speaking about atheism and education in Mary Immaculate college during the week at the National Forum for the enhancement of teaching and learning in higher education.

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




The National Maternity Hospital – a question of ownership


By Dr Peter Boylan


Sir, – The Religious Sisters of Charity are the latest of the Irish religious orders to depart direct involvement in healthcare, following the Sisters of Mercy in 2016, the Bon Secours Sisters in 2017, and the St John of God Brothers in 2019 (“Religious order exits healthcare as part of deal paving way for NMH to proceed”, News, April 29th). Read more letters to the Irish times on this…


By Dr Peter Boylan


Sir, – Jennifer Bray reports that the board of the HSE has approved the legal framework around the new National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park (NMH Designated Activity Company) as well as the constitution that will govern it (News, April 26th). Prof Deirdre Madden and Dr Sarah McLoughlin, the patient advocate on the board, dissented, saying they “continued to have concerns regarding legal ownership of the site and building, and the governance and control” of the hospital. Read more letters to the Irish Times on this…


‘Threat of criminal sanctions’ hangs over medical abortion providers, committee hears


By Press Association


THE THREAT OF criminal sanctions hangs over medical practitioners who provide abortion services in Ireland, politicians have been told. Alison Spillane, a senior policy and research officer at the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), described to the Oireachtas Health Committee how the fear of prosecution “sits in the consultation room” between patient and doctor. Read more…

Mayo man who will be buried on own land bequeaths it to public


By Tom Shiel

As a lifelong atheist with “no interest in religion”, Mr Neary said he had no desire to be buried in the traditional place of “consecrated ground”. A 78-year-old Co Mayo man who won a lengthy planning battle to be buried in a private burial plot on his own land has now bequeathed his 37-acre holding for community and recreational purposes. Read more…

Parents ‘appalled’ at school’s refusal to teach about ‘same-sex friendships’


By Simon Carswell


A group of parents of children attending a Co Wicklow primary school have expressed anger at the school’s decision to exclude teaching about “same-sex friendships” and contraception from relationships and sexuality education (RSE).
Education Equality, a voluntary parent-led rights group, said that it was “appalled” that Lacken National School in Blessington had told parents in a letter of April 5th last that “teachers do not cover topics such as contraception and same-sex friendships” in the school’s RSE programme
. Read more…



Faith and Access: The Conflict Inside Catholic Hospitals


By Wendy Glauser


In the fall of 2020, Susan Camm was among a small group of employees touring a brand new seventeen-storey tower at St. Michael’s Hospital, in downtown Toronto. She liked the large single-patient rooms—a hallmark of modern hospital design—and the big windows that filled the space with sunshine. But something caught her eye: a brass crucifix on the wall. “I had an almost visceral reaction,” she recalls. Read more…

No one should face persecution for denying the existence of god


By Andrew Copson


Today, protestors will gather outside the Nigeria High Commission in London to urge the release of Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. It has been two years since he was arrested and locked up far from home. A few weeks ago he was sentenced to 24 years in prison. His crime? Simply to be non-religious and to post critiques of religion on his Facebook page. Read more…

Religious chaplaincy is failing the Defence Force


By Phillip Hoglin

While the nation takes stock to remember our Anzacs this week, we need to take a moment to think about how we can better support the current members of our Australian Defence Force (ADF). The toll that military service has on our service personnel has long been acknowledged. The ongoing Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, established mid-2021, has brought this into sharper focus. The hearings have heard some truly harrowing accounts of how ‘the system’ has let service personnel down. Read more…


Inspectors criticise Catholic Church for banning gay author’s school talk


By The National Secular Society


School inspectorate Ofsted has criticised the Catholic Church for forcing a school to cancel a talk by a gay children’s author. In a letter to the John Fisher School in Croydon, Ofsted said the Archdiocese of Southwark’s actions had “unnerved and upset many in the school community”. The letter follows a snap inspection of the school in March prompted by the diocese’s actions. Read more…

Praying coach case suggests conservative justices want to rewrite the law on religion and schools


By Jeffrey Toobin


By now, it’s well known that the Supreme Court, in its new conservative orientation, is poised to rewrite our understanding of the Constitution when it comes to abortion (allowing states to ban it) and gun control (preventing states from imposing it). But there’s another area that may be due for upheaval — the establishment and free exercise religion clauses of the First Amendment. Read more…


Eddie Marsan leads calls to Free Nigerian humanist at High Commission


By Humanists UK


Today, protesters gathered together outside the Nigerian High Commission, sparked by the recent sentencing of the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison. Eddie Marsan read out devastating testimony from Mubarak about his treatment by authorities even prior to his arrest. The protest, organised by Humanists UK, also coincided with the two year anniversary of Bala’s arrest. Read more…

Religious charities cost Canadian taxpayers billions, reports find


By The National Secular Society


A Canadian organisation has called for charity law reform after finding religious charities cost taxpayers billions every year. Canadian taxpayers subsidise religious activities by as much as $3.2 billion annually as a result of income tax relief available to Canadians who donate to religious charities, according to Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC). Read more…

Teachers strike at faith school over gay author ban


By Humanists UK


Teachers have gone on strike, and Ofsted has found significant damage to morale, at a South London faith school forced by its diocese to cancel the visit of a gay author. In March the Archdiocese of Southwark overruled the staff to prevent author Simon James Green from making an educational visit on World Book Day, and when governors backed the staff, promptly sacked them. Read more…

Two years on, humanists across the globe call for the Governor of Kano State to Free Mubarak Bala


By Humanists International


On the second anniversary of his arrest, humanists across the globe continue to call for the release of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, currently serving a 24-year prison sentence in connection with his Facebook posts. 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 Compassion
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – This Christian Show’s Ad Campaign Backfired

Media Watch

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




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