Secular Sunday #267 'Education Minister’s plans will reinforce religious privilege in Irish schools' || 5 February, 2017
Secular Sunday - Atheist Ireland's weekly newsletter


Education Minister’s plans will reinforce religious privilege in Irish schools

Education Minister Richard Bruton is combing two policies that together will reinforce religious privilege in Irish schools. He is misleadingly portraying baptism certs as the issue most important for secularists, and making a big deal about seeming to address it with a bizarrely complicated consultation process. 

He is then using that as cover for the more fundamental project of further entrenching religious privilege in even the small amount of new ETB/CNS multi-denominational schools that the Government is proposing to create over the next thirteen years. He is also undermining Educate Together in the process.

This is not going to solve the problem of religious discrimination in Irish schools. Indeed, if it succeeds, it will make the problem worse for most secular and minority faith families. But the issue is now on the political agenda, so it is important that we reinvigorate our campaigning on the core issues at this time. 

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign together with the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, to promote secular education from the perspective of three groups with very different world views who are united in being discriminated against in Irish schools.

Please join Atheist Ireland and help us to campaign for a State-funded secular education system, based on human rights, and with no privilege for religious institutions.


Atheist Ireland News


Now Minister Bruton wants to pay Catholic Church for Christian ETB schools to use their buildings

The Minister for Education has announced yet another consultation process in relation to religion and education. This time he hopes to pay the Catholic Church rent for school buildings, if they agree to a different Patron body running a small number of schools, while the State also pays for the operation and wages of the schools that the Catholic Church still runs.
Even if this happens, the vast majority of schools will still be run directly by the Catholic Church. Most areas will still have only one school, and that will be Catholic. And the Catholic Church is seeking to trade off divesting a small number of schools for a stronger Catholic ethos in the vast majority that they will retain.
The Education and Training Boards (ETBs), who operate the Community National Schools, will likely to be competing with Educate Together to be the new Patrons of the small number of schools that might be transferred. The ETBs will also be overseeing the negotiations that will end up with the Catholic Church choosing which new Patron to go with.
ETBs are State bodies. The State has already entered into an agreement with the Catholic Church, to have Catholic religious education and formation in Community National Schools operated by the ETBs. The Community National Schools were launched as Inter-denominational Schools. Inter-denominational schools are Christian schools.

The new language being used by the Minister

The Minister is trying to rename the ETB schools as being multidenominational. He also seems to be trying to position Educate Together schools as non-denominational, and the ETB Community National Schools as a middle ground compromise between Denominational schools and Educate Together schools.
The Minister is also now referring to Religious Formation/Catholic Catechesis and Religious Education as Faith and Belief Nurturing. His agenda is to make it all sound more palatable. We are not fooled. ETB schools are obliged to teach religion in accordance with the agreement with the Catholic Church, which opposes objective teaching about religions and beliefs.
Last week he said Community National Schools reflect international best practice in the area of faith and belief nurturing. He is wrong. He says that international best practice encourages schools to celebrate religious festivals and rites of passage. Actually, it is the exact opposite: that schools should teach about, but be careful not to celebrate, such events. Read more...

ETBI/CNS now using new phrase “belief nurturing” to hide reality of faith formation during school day


It has become clear over the last week that the Minister for Education is supporting ETB Community National Schools. We are very concerned about the establishment of Community National Schools at primary level, given the record of ETBs in relation to the teaching religion at second level, and the amount and type of complaints we receive from parents. Many ETBs at second level make religion compulsory, and if parents do manage to opt out their children they cannot choose another subject.
CNS schools were established to have Faith Formation during school day
When the Community National Schools were introduced in 2007, the then Minister Mary Hanafin issued a press release and stated the following:

The Community National Schools will be open to all children in a Community but they will provide for Religious Education and Faith Formation during the school day for each of the main faith groups represented… A general ethics programme will also be available for children whose parents opt for that, and the schools will operate through an ethos of inclusiveness and respect for all beliefs, both religious and non-religious.

The above is the published press release of the agreement, in relation to Religious Education and Faith Formation and ethics classes in the new Community National Schools. We have not been informed that this agreement has been scrapped, or that the Catholic Church have agreed to not have religious education and faith formation in these schools.
CNS now says there is no Faith Formation during school day
The CNS is now claiming that the religious education and faith formation that was agreed does not take place. Instead, they say there is “belief nurturing” and sacramental preparation. They are claiming that sacramental preparation takes place for approx ten hours per year. They say that “belief nurturing” is done in consultation with parents.
Think about this. Do you really think that the Catholic Church would enter into an agreement with the State, that the religious formation of children from Catholic families would only take place for ten hours per year? That is what the Community National Schools are trying to have us believe.
In denominational schools with a Catholic ethos, the religious formation/instruction class takes place for two and a half hours per week. In the Holy Communion year, a lot more time is given over to preparation for this ritual as well. In addition, denominational schools integrate religion into the curriculum and the Church has said that if this is not guaranteed in State schools then it will put the faith of Catholic children in peril.
Are we really meant to believe that the Catholic Church has agreed to just ten hours per year for specific sacramental preparation, which is faith formation, and which parents can opt out of under the Constitution?
In addition, there is also the issue of the hiring of teachers in these schools. We will explore that topic in another article. Read more...


Freedom of Conscience in the USA


In an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, the American President Donald Trump has stated that he will introduce a new policy to prioritise Christians within the asylum process. Atheist Ireland is opposed to such policies, as an overt abuse of the human right to the freedom of conscience. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Furthermore, Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, states that:
Discrimination between human beings on grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.


Atheist Ireland Youtube Channel

Ashling O'Brien debates 'This house would believe in god' for the Trinity College Historical Society.



Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland 'Good Without Gods' Kiva team members have made loans of  $18,000  to 628 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 publically renouce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 594 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

Petitions on Blasphemy and Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland continues to run two petitions; one for a referendum to remove blasphemy from the Irish Constitution and the other, the Schools Equality PACT seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Please sign and share if you haven't already done so. Thank you.

Tell us what you think.

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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.

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Thank you for your continued support.

Atheist Ireland Committee


Places and Faces

Photos from Atheist Ireland events around the country.

Dublin Information Table, February, 2017 

Atheist Ireland Events

All events are free and open to everyone to attend unless otherwise stated.

All Atheist Ireland events are listed below as well as on our website


Watch this space, more events coming soon



Sunday 12th February, IFI, Temple Bar


Saturday 25th February, AIB Bank Shop Street
Information Table


Sunday 12th February, Gally's Bar and Restaurant

Saturday 18th February, Main St Killarney
Information Table

Saturday 18th February, Genting Thai Restaurant, Killarney


Watch this space, more events coming soon.


Watch this space, more events coming soon.


Sunday 12 February, The Glasshouse, Swan Point


Saturday 11th February, The Bagel Factory, Broad Street
Information Table


Saturday 11 February, Thomas Moore Tavern.
Atheists in the Pub

Other Events of Interest

Monday 6th February, McSwiggans, Eyre Street, 8.30pm
Galway Skeptics in the Pub 

Tuesday 24 January - Monday 20 of February
Minister Bruton commences 4-week consultation process on plans to address the role of religion in school admissions
You can find a template to help with your own submission here

Saturday 22nd July - Sunday 23rd July 2017, Venue TBC, London
International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century


Opinion and Media

Material collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement.

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



Dear Minister Bruton …


By The Free Thought Prophet/John Hamill

The Irish Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has formally launched a new consultation process on his plans to address the role of religion, in admissions to publicly-funded schools. In Ireland today, schools are funded by the State but managed by ‘patrons’. There are some schools managed by minority groups but 96% of all publicly-funded primary schools in Ireland are managed by the Roman Catholic Church. It is perfectly legal for the Church to discriminate based on religion. So, in many cases, five year old children are turned away from the local State school by the Roman Catholic patron because they don’t have a baptismal certificate.
In seeking to reform this system, which overtly abuses the human rights of children and their parents, the Minister has asked Irish parents to put the six options described below into their preferred order:
1. basing school admissions policies on catchment areas
2. using the geographically nearest school as a criterion
3. giving schools quotas of children from different religions
4(a) total prohibition of religious discrimination in admissions
4(b) prohibition, while requiring a declaration of support for ethos
4(c) prohibition, with religious quotas for minority faith schools
The Minister is also soliciting opinions on four specific issues pertaining to these options, which are:
A. Possible impacts on minority religions
B. Possible constitutional issues
C. Possible impacts on the management of schools
D. Possible unintended impacts
I have included my submission to the Minister below. I was greatly helped in composing the submission by the information on the Teach Don’t Preach website. I would encourage all Irish parents to make a submission to the Minister.

Dear Minister Bruton,
I have experience of religious discrimination in Irish schools. I am an atheist and I live in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. Since I am employed, home schooling is not an option for me and the law requires that I must send my children to school. The only options provided by the State in Castleblayney are religious schools, which offer no meaningful opt-out. If I sought to opt my children out of religious instruction, they would simply be asked to sit in a different seat nearer the door, while the rest of the class recite prayers. Such an approach would not remove the indoctrination and would only apply an extra dose of ostracisation on top of it. Consequently, the Irish State effectively imposes Roman Catholic indoctrination on my children against my wishes. This is a clear abuse of both my human rights and those of my children.
If I may paraphrase the Gospel of Mark, the practical implications of this indoctrination are legion, for they are many. Firstly, the practice of integrating Christianity within every aspect of the entire curriculum, removes any possibility of exercising my constitutional right to an opt out. When the kids sing songs, they sing religious songs. When they draw pictures, they draw religious pictures. Even the core areas of reading, writing and arithmetic have been polluted with the dogma of the prevailing religiosity. The image below is taken from my child’s English text book, called Spellbound. Question (c) in this image, offers just one from many examples, of how my kids are taught to spell through a religious ethos. In order to exercise my constitutional right to opt out of religious instruction, must I opt my children out of spelling classes too? Read more...

Imbolc & St Brigid’s Day: 1st February

by Dr Marion McGarry

The conversion of the Pagan people of Ireland to Christianity began in the 5th century. The success of the missionaries is owed to their combining old Pagan practices with new Christian ones to assist people familiarise with the new religion. This article explores the combining of the Ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc with St Brigid's Day in Ireland and the customs and artifacts that remain today. 

Christian events mirrored those important ones on the Pagan calendar: St Brigid’s Day coincided with Imbolc; St John’s Eve on 23 June was at midsummer; the Feast of Our Lady on 1 May was at the same time as Bealtaine and Garland Sunday, the last Sunday in July, is connected with Lughnasa. In Ireland there was a greater emphasis on Catholic female saints because in Pagan worship female goddesses were of equal significance with the male. As a consequence of this we still see a firm devotional following for Our Lady in Ireland and to St Brigid: Until the mid-twentieth century Mary and Brigid were the most popular names for Catholic girls. Read more...


Community National School Drowns in Tweets


Yesterday we learned that Richard Bruton wants the ETB to go around asking schools to divest to other patrons, one of which is actually the ETB itself. Not only that, now that we’ve nearly managed to stop wasting money on paying rent on prefabs, the government now want to pay the Catholic Church up to €20k a year to use their buildings.
It’s not surprising given the potential scandal, Twitter was buzzing today and the CNS Twitter page was being asked some pressing questions, given their relationship with the Catholic Church. (A deal was done with the Catholic Church on the establishment of Community National Schools that there would be a guarantee of Catholic faith formation within the school day. No other patron demanded this.)
What was very interesting was the CNS’s inability to give a straight answer to questions. There were a number of examples, which I’ll outline here.
The rumour that teacher trainees are required to have certification in religious studies to teach in CNS schools.
This has come about because of the following documentation, which was uncovered by a freedom of information request. I have highlighted the relevant text.

It appears that CNS schools require formal CPD in at least two different denominational programmes. It is easy to get the first in teacher training college, either Catholic or Church of Ireland, because all Irish training colleges offer this as a module, (it is not compulsory in most colleges but to get a job in over 90% of schools requires it.) It appears it is also necessary from the above to have it too. Getting a second one might be tricky as no such course exists in training college. However, the CNS have managed to pull together a 2-day CPD on how to teach Islam in their schools. I’m not sure if this course is approved by any Muslim group but I know that a number of teachers in the CNS model have done this training and have said that it does not prepare them properly. Moving to Twitter, it was asked whether the CNS hold this line on obtaining certification in 2 different faiths. Read more...


Lifting ban on church politicking would undermine our secular republic


by Freedom From Religion Foundation


The new political setup in Washington, D.C., is hell-bent on converting religious institutions into campaign halls.

The Johnson Amendment bars churches or other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It is essential for keeping the foundations of our secular republic intact, but the Trump administration and Congress are going after it with all their might.

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, President Trump vowed: "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment." In doing so, he repeated a pledge that he has made several times in the past.

In tandem, top GOP lawmakers, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, introduced a bill the same day to comply with his wishes. "It would allow churches and other nonprofits that have tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code to speak out about candidates as long as the political activity is made during the course of the organizations' regular activities and does not have a large cost," The Hill reports. Another recent bill, introduced the beginning of January, also aims to "restore the free speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment." 

Coupled with this flurry of legislative activity is yet another ominous development. A portion of a leaked presidential executive order draft that The Nation obtained also seeks to halt all enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. See FFRF's detailed analysis of the executive order here. 

Why does all this matter so much?


Leaked “religious freedom” exec order draft reveals alarming attack on civil rights


By Freedom From Religion Foundation

A leaked presidential executive order draft that the Trump administration is floating reveals a sweeping and alarming agenda to permit discrimination, dismantle the Civil Rights Act and other protections in the name of "religious freedom."

The proposed "Executive Order Establishing a Government-wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom" would authorize special privileges and legal exemptions to religionists, particularly benefiting the Religious Right. If Trump issues this executive order, he would be fulfilling virtually every item on the Religious Right's wish list.

In summary, the proposal, if adopted, would allow any governmental agency or private corporation citing a religious objection to discriminate against certain classes of citizens, such as LGBTQ or women seeking contraception, It would allow the type of discrimination that got Kim Davis removed from her governmental position in Kentucky.

The order very clearly violates the clause of the First Amendment that FFRF works to protect every day: the Establishment Clause. At its core, this proposal would privilege religion — and though it never mentions it by name, Christianity. Trump would give the Religious Right a blanket exemption to every rule it doesn't like and allow it to impose its discriminatory and often cruel morality on others. Put simply, this grants believers a license to break laws that conflict with their religion. Read more...

A Few Thoughts on the “Muslim Ban”


by Sam Harris

President Trump has had a busy first week in office, displaying the anarchic grandiosity, callousness, and ineptitude of which he seems uniquely capable. He is every inch what we knew him to be: a malignant Chauncey Gardiner. And now our institutions have begun to shudder at his whim. The fact that atheists like me can’t find the time to worry about the religious crackpots he has brought with him into power is a measure of how bad the man is. Christian fundamentalism has become the least of our concerns. Our democracy has been engulfed by a hurricane of lies.

Many readers have asked me to comment on the president’s executive order suspending immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries. I believe I’ve stated my positions on the relevant topics fairly clearly. But perhaps a brief summary is in order. Read more...

A Clash of the Uncivilised: Trump, Muslim Profiling and the Far-Right's Assult

by Maryam Namazie

Donald Trump’s suspension of new refugee admissions for 120 days and the barring of nationals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for 90 days (likely to be extended) is fundamentally about a far-Right restructuring of US society under the guise of “stopping terrorism” and defending “western civilisation” whilst hiding behind “acceptable” bigotry against migrants and Muslims.

It’s similar to the rise of Islamism and its far-Right restructuring of many societies in the Middle East and elsewhere under the guise of stopping “imperialism” and defending “Islamic civilisation” whilst hiding behind the industry of offence and “Islamophobia”.

Despite its packaging of counter-terrorism and border protection, the rise of far-Right politics is part and parcel of the well-wrought assault on the fundamental rights of people in the US and Europe where policies imposed on the “other” are now being opnely imposed right here at home.

The assault on women’s and reproductive rights, refugee rights, citizenship rights, welfare, health services, environment, education, legal aid, human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedoms to strike and organisation… as well as the increasing privatisation and commercialisation of – well just about everything – are the real stories here. Read more...

A Muslim Activist Answered Our Questions About Donald Trump’s Travel Ban

by David G McAfee

As a candidate, Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States. Once he discovered that would violate the U.S. Constitution, however, President Trump crafted his Executive Order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries (exempting Christian refugees).

As an atheist, I understand the flaws in religious extremism. But I’m also a secular activist, and I would never support a law that discriminates based on religious belief. I opposed the ban, and sought to discuss its implications with those who understand them best.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have many positive interactions with strong believers. In fact, most of the time I’m reading hate mail from Muslims, Christians, and pretty much every other faith. But I will also defend their right to believe and not be discriminated against, and that’s how I met Azmia Magane, the chief of staff at – the “leading website for Muslim women in the West.”

I recently spoke with Magane, a social worker and writer who is passionate about social justice, policy analysis, child welfare, and humanitarian causes, about Trump’s “Muslim Ban” and how to best repair relationships with the Muslim community. Read more...


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.

One from the Atheist Ireland vaults.

Atheist Ireland (2016): Irish Atheists, Evangelicals and Ahmadiyya Muslims for Secularism


The Free Thought Prophet: Freethought and Thoughtcrime

The Free Thought Prophet: The Dumb Demoniac: Atheist Gospel Breakdown

Sam Harris: Why Meditate? A Conversation with Joseph Goldstein

Dave Rubin: Dave Talks "Muslim Ban" With Iraqi Refugee, Faisal Al-Mutar


Media Watch

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








6 February

International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 120 to 140 million women have been subject to this harmful practice and 3 million girls continue to be at risk each year. FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights. It has been banned in Ireland since 2012.

12 February

Red Hand Day. A day to recognise the plight of child soldiers, children forced to serve in wars and other armed conflicts.

Darwin Day. A celebration of the life and work of the man whose theory of evolution by natural selection forms the foundation of modern biology.


This Week in History

Anniversaries of momentous events in atheism, science, skepticism, secularism and human rights, plundered shamelessly from Wikipedia and other sources.

10 February

1996: The IBM supercomputer Deep Blue defeats Garry Kasparov in chess for the first time.

11 February

1990: Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison outside Cape Town, South Africa after 27 years as a political prisoner.





11 February

1847: Thomas Edison  (d. 1931) American businessman, invented the light bulb and phonograph

1923: Antony Flew (d. 2010). English philosopher. An atheist and a strong advocate for atheism. In his later years he became a deist.

12 February

1809: Charles Darwin (d. 1882). English scientist and theorist who demonstrated that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed that this evolution is due to a process he called natural selection. All of his writings can be found at Darwin Online

1948: Ray Kurzweil, American engineer, author and futurist. Advocate of transhumanism


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