Stop Saying 'Opt Out’ of Religious Instruction - Secular Sunday #537 || 10 April, 2022


Stop Saying 'Opt Out’ of Religious Instruction

Many people informally refer to the right to ‘opt out’ of religious instruction in Irish schools. But that term is unhelpful. The right in Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution is much stronger. The legal right is to ‘not attend’ religious instruction.

‘Not attending’ means physically leaving the classroom, not sitting at the back hearing everything that is being taught. And because the Constitution links that right to the funding of schools, there are financial implications: schools must either supervise children outside of the classroom or give them an alternative subject.

This right supports and is supported by Article 42 of the Constitution, which protects the inalienable right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children. It is reflected in the right in the Education Act to not attend any subject contrary to parents’ conscience.

But the clearest right is to not attend religious instruction, as that is explicitly named in the Constitution. So when you are trying to vindicate the right of your child to not attend religious instruction, be sure to use the legal phrase ‘not attend’ instead of the informal phrase ‘opt out.

Also, Atheist Ireland has made a submission to the review of the operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. We highlighted such issues as conscientious objection, risks to health, and harassing women outside clinics.

You can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work on this and other 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


Stop saying ‘opt out’ of religious instruction – the right is to ‘not attend’

There is a right under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution for students to ‘not attend’ religious instruction in publicly funded schools if that is against the conscience of their parents. This is sometimes informally referred to as the right to ‘opt out’.
However, the explicit right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction is a far stronger right than the vague informal phrase ‘opt out’ which has no legal basis. ‘Not attending’ means physically leaving the classroom, not sitting at the back hearing everything that is being taught.
Referring to it as the right to ‘opt out’ is not a reflection of the Constitution or the Education Act 1998 as neither refer to the right to ‘opt out’. There is a Constitutional right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction. The words ‘not attend’ were not written into the Constitution for nothing.
The framers of the Constitution made a conscious decision to ensure that students had a right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. They also made ‘not attending’ religious instruction a condition of state funding.
This supports and is supported by Article 42 of the Constitution, which protects the inalienable right of parents in relation to the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.
As a result of this, the Education Act vindicates the right of parents for their children to ‘not attend’ any subject that is contrary to their conscience. For example some parents want their children to ‘not attend’ sex education or physical and social education.
Parents have this right under the Education Act for their child to ‘not attend’ any subject contrary to their conscience, and the Education Act includes this right because under our constitution it is parents who are the primary educators of their children (Article 42).
Again, this is an explicit right to ‘not attend’. It is not a vague informal right to ‘opt out’.
However, the Constitution treats ‘not attending’ religious instruction more strongly than other subjects, because it specifically names it and links to to State funding of schools.
This is the wording of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution
Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.
The Irish version of the Constitution takes precedence over the English version. The words ‘Teagasc Creidimh’ under Article 44.2.4 translate directly into ‘religious teaching’. So ‘not attending’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 is simply not attending ‘religious teaching’.
The courts have already found that the right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 must be read in the context of Article 42, the right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children.
Atheist Ireland is campaigning for the Constitutional rights of students to ‘not attend’ religious instruction. As this right is a condition of state funding this means that students must be supervised outside the classroom or offered another subject.
It would help our campaign to vindicate this right if more people stopped using the vague phrase ‘opt out’ and started using the legally explicit phrase ‘not attend’. Read online...


Funds originating in Russia were given to religious groups in Europe including the Iona Institute for political campaigns. Read our article from 2021


International funding of political campaigns against sexual and reproductive rights

This article covers:
Part 1 — Funding of Political Campaigns of Religious Bodies
Part 2 — EPF Report on International Funding of Religious Bodies
Part 3 — EPF Report on Agenda Europe Discussion Document
Part 4 — Protecting Democracy from Big Money Between Elections
Part 1 — Funding of Political Campaigns of Religious Bodies
Millions of euros in international funding, including from America and Russia, are spent within European countries to campaign politically against sexual and reproductive rights. Some of this money is used for political purposes in Ireland. The Irish SIPO laws should be strengthened to prevent this from happening here, and not weakened to allow an unregulated free-for-all of political donations between elections.
In Ireland, churches and religious charities can take unlimited donations, from Ireland or internationally, and use that money for political purposes. Secular NGOs can also take donations to use for political purposes, but we have to get a lot of small donations rather than a small number of large donations. This is good for democracy, because it helps to make politics a battle of ideas not a battle of bank accounts.
Atheist Ireland is lobbying to strengthen the SIPO laws so that churches and religious charities have to comply with these requirements. Unfortunately other groups, including ICCL and Amnesty, are lobbying to weaken the SIPO laws, to allow anybody to take any political donations in between elections. That would be bad for secularism, and bad for democracy, as most political influence is sought and granted between elections, not during election campaigns.
This article highlights two reports from the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. One is about the source and use of this international funding. The other is about a detailed discussion document circulated within the Agenda Europe network whose members advocate for laws against sodomy, divorce, gay propaganda, abortion, contraceptives, IVF, stem cell research, euthanasia, and anti-discrimination laws.
The Oireachtas All-Party Group on Sexual and Reproductive Rights is affiliated to the European Parliamentary Forum that produced these reports. The IFPA acts as its secretariat. The group is co-chaired by Senator Annie Hoey (Labour), Holly Cairns TD (Social Democrats), and Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee (Fianna Fáil). Senator Alice Mary Higgins sits on the Executive Committee of the European Parliamentary Forum.
Part 2 — EPF Report on International Funding of Religious Bodies
The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights recently published a report called Tip of the Iceberg, about the funding of conservative religious advocacy groups that oppose sexual and reproductive rights in Europe. The report concludes that in the ten years from 2009-2018, such groups received over $700 million, of which $270 million came from Russia and the United States.
The report says that American-based groups Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Acton Institute donate funds to European groups, with ADF spending €4.3 million in Europe during 2018 alone. One of the recipients is the Agenda Europe network of over a hundred members and groups in thirty countries that describe themselves as pro-life and pro-family.
The report says that Agenda Europe’s central organisers are Catholic activists and groups with direct links to the Vatican hierarchy, including Gudrun Kugler and Terrence McKeegan. In Ireland, Senator Ronan Mullen, Irish family and Life, and the Iona Institute have links to the Agenda Europe network. The Agenda Europe network holds private annual summits. In 2015 it held its summit in Ireland.
The report also says that the Milan-based Novae Terrae foundation gave €2.3 million of funds originating in Russia-Azerbaijan to various European groups between 2012-2015. It says these groups included Citizen Go in Madrid, Dignitas Humanae in Rome, Mum Dad & Kids in Brussels, and the Iona Institute in Ireland. It does not say how much each group received.
The report also refers to a transnational conservative Catholic body called Tradition, Family and Property which strongly opposes abortion and LGBT rights. Its main European political focus is in Poland. Its Irish affiliate, the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, is a registered charity with the aim of advancing religion. It had income of €390,000 in 2019.
Part 3 — EPF Report on Agenda Europe Discussion Document
The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights also published a report in 2018 about a detailed policy discussion document circulated within the Agenda Europe network, titled Restoring the Natural Order: An Agenda for Europe.
The Internet Archive shows that large sections of this document were already published word-for-word in articles on the now-private Agenda Europe blog, on or before Feb 2015. That blog endorses the content of the discussion document. Read more...


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  $36,000 to 1253 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 1915 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 4,110 Help us reach it's target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven't already done so. Thank you.


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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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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




‘Groupthink’ and religion - Letter to the Irish Times


By Rob Sadlier

Sir, – In “Organised religion provides balance to uncritical acceptance of facile ‘groupthink’” (Opinion & Analysis, April 4th) Archbishop Eamon Martin claims, rather contradictorily, that organised religion’s “authority serves as a bulwark against privatised interpretations”.
He contends that “organised religion . . . brings a coherent corpus of teaching which is the fruit of centuries of reflection on revelation, and of dialogue between faith and reason”, but ignores the fact that religions are contradictory in the claims they make. Whose “revelations” are we to believe, and on what basis?
A person’s religion is to a large extent a result of what country and what family he or she was born into. How many people would believe in the likes of transubstantiation, the resurrection, the immaculate conception, the assumption, hell, and papal infallibility had they not been indoctrinated into believing these teachings when they were impressionable young children? If they had not been exposed to these teachings until they had reached adulthood, would they still believe them to be true?
Religious beliefs are inculcated in children from an early age, when their minds are like sponges and before they have a chance to develop a sense of critical thinking. This primacy can make such beliefs resistant to change, even unshakeable, without consideration regarding evidence, even into adulthood. Is this not a recipe for groupthink? Religious indoctrination and groupthink can have dangerous consequences. Human history is replete with examples of people committing all kinds of immoral acts, using religious beliefs as justification for their actions.
I agree with Archbishop Martin that organised religion plays “a major role in local and global discourse on the common good” and has done great work for the poor and destitute, but its role throughout history is decidedly chequered.
Taking the Catholic Church alone, one need only think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, conspiracy with various fascist regimes and the cover-up of child sexual and physical abuse, to provide but a few examples.
The immoral actions and positions taken by Christian institutions are not confined to history. Some elements of the Catholic Church in Poland have sided with hard-right xenophobic nationalists. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has given theological cover for Vladimir Putin’s monstrous attack on Ukraine.
History clearly shows that organised religion is not always a bulwark against “fanatical distortions, extremism and violent fundamentalism”. In fact, it has often sponsored and driven them. – Yours, etc, Read online...


How Ireland Took On the Church and Freed Its Soul


By James Wood

“Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history,” Novalis said. It was subtle of Penelope Fitzgerald to use this as the epigraph for her historical novel about the poet, “The Blue Flower,” implying, as it does, the novel’s best powers of restoration. History is full of destruction and certain death, but fictional people may live forever, in an eternal redemption. And recorded history struggles to capture not only unwritten lives but unwritten thoughts, very often leaving a void around private existence, interiority. The novel gladly rushes in where the angel of history fears to tread.
But the novel has no monopoly on historical correction, and reading Fintan O’Toole’s new book, “We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland” (Liveright), is like reading a great tragicomic Irish novel, rich in memoir and record, calamity and critique. The book contains funny and terrible things, details and episodes so pungent that they must surely have been stolen from a fantastical artificer like Flann O’Brien. The pedophile Dublin priest who built a swimming pool in his back garden—in drizzly Ireland!—so that little boys could swim with him. The censoring, all-seeing Archbishop of Dublin who kept a telescope and a magnifying glass in his official residence, and once boasted that, when he used the magnifier to scrutinize “the drawings of women in ads for underwear, it was possible to see the outline of a mons veneris.” The moment, in 1963, when Ireland acquired its first escalator. The fact that Irish viewers could see only a chaste version of “Casablanca” that “cut out all the references to Rick and Ilsa’s passionate love affair in Paris, leaving their motivations entirely mysterious.” The deeply corrupt Prime Minister Charles Haughey, who spent a thousand pounds of someone else’s money a week on dinners with his mistress. The strange fact that Albania got its own television station before Ireland did. The bishop who fled Ireland for a convent in Texas after his lover told the press about their illegitimate son, whom he had refused to acknowledge.
These public events have the irresistible tang of the actual, and around them O’Toole—who has had a substantial career as a journalist, a political commentator, and a drama critic—beautifully tells the private story of his childhood and youth. But because the events really happened, because they are part of Ireland’s shameful, sometimes surreal postwar history, they also have the brutishly obstructive quality of fact, often to be pushed against, fought with, triumphed over, or, in O’Toole’s preferred mode of engagement, analyzed into whimpering submission. His great gift is his extremely intelligent, mortally relentless critical examination, and here he studies nothing less than the past and the present of his own nation. James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus promised to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race; less Parnassian than Dedalus but just as angry as Joyce, O’Toole tells the story of how his race, at last breaking the fetters of religion and superstition, created its own conscience.
O’Toole opens his book in 1958, the year of his birth. He was born into the working classes; his father was a bus conductor and his mother became an office cleaner. The family lived in a newish housing estate, “lined by largely identical two-storey working-class dwellings,” in a suburb southwest of Dublin. The modernity of the housing stock was important: the O’Tooles had electricity, running water, and an indoor lavatory. In a book rippling with extraordinary facts, here are some of the starkest: at the end of the Second World War, two-thirds of Irish homes had no electricity. In the countryside, especially, development was sluggish. The 1961 census revealed that nearly seventy-five per cent of rural homes didn’t have plumbing. At least half these houses “had no fixed lavatory facilities at all, indoor or outdoor.” O’Toole remembers visiting his ninety-eight-year-old great-grandmother in County Wexford: her house had recently been electrified, but the toilet was a dry outhouse that had a plank with a hole in it, and water was brought from a distant pump. Read more...


Northern Ireland Humanists calls for blasphemy law repeal and free speech protections in new hate crime law


By Humanists UK

Northern Ireland Humanists has called on the Department of Justice to use upcoming legislation on hate crime to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws and strengthen protections for freedom of expression. In response to a consultation on reforming hate crime laws, Northern Ireland Humanists stated:
‘Any legislative reform to hate crime laws in Northern Ireland would be an ideal vehicle for repeal of both the common law and statutory offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, as occurred in Scotland [last year].’
Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain criminal offences in Northern Ireland – the only part of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland to have not yet repealed these laws. Repealing them is a policy supported by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance, the Green Party, and People Before Profit. The UUP does not have an official policy position, but most of its MLAs support repeal. Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long recently called these laws ‘archaic and have no place in modern society.’ The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has also repeatedly recommended that the Northern Ireland Government repeal these laws.
Northern Ireland Humanists also strongly believes that any new hate crime law needs to include explicit protections for critical expressions against religious beliefs. This would ensure that legitimate free speech about religions is not wrongly treated as a hate crime. Such protections already exist in hate crime laws in the rest of the UK. But they do not exist in Northern Ireland. This is an opportunity to resolve this gap. Read more...



Nigerian humanist sentenced to 24 years in prison for ‘blasphemy


By The National Secular Society

The National Secular Society has condemned a Nigerian court for sentencing a humanist activist to 24 years in prison for 'blasphemy'.
Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested in 2020 in connection with a series of Facebook posts that some deemed "blasphemous".
Yesterday the Kano State High Court convicted Bala of 18 counts of causing a public disturbance.
Bala was arrested after a petition from a group of lawyers, sent to local police, said he had called the Islamic prophet Muhammad "all sorts of denigrating names".
Mubarak pled guilty to the charges in court, which was not part of the agreed legal strategy. Humanists International said it is likely he was subjected to intimidation, and there have been unconfirmed reports of threats against his family members.
He was held without charge for 462 days and was denied access to a legal team for over five months. He has also been denied access to medical care. In December 2020 a judge at the High Court in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, ruled that Bala should be immediately released, but Kano State authorities failed to comply.
His court hearing had been subject to repeated adjournments.
Bala was previously arrested and committed to a psychiatric unit by his family over criticism of Islam in 2014. He has also been subject to death threats.
NSS comment
The NSS has contributed to Humanists International's campaign to release Bala, and in 2021 urged authorities in Nigeria to release him after he had spent a year in detention.
NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "This is an outrageous and appalling punishment for a crime that shouldn't even be a crime.
"Blasphemy laws of any kind have no place anywhere. They are an affront to the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.
"Mubarak Bala should be released, and his safety and rights secured, immediately and unconditionally.
"We again join calls for the Nigerian authorities to release Bala and to repeal their blasphemy laws." Read online...


CofE plans to increase influence in post-16 education smack of hubris


By Alastair Lichten

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has attracted little media attention. Compared with other wide ranging government proposals that could increase religious control of education, the bill has been seen more as a technical tidying up exercise. Those opposed to any religious discrimination, privilege or control of state education have traditionally had few worries about the further education (FE) sector.
The bill introduces the ability for the small number of faith-based sixth form colleges to convert into to 16-19 academies, and join faith-based multi-academy trusts. However, we grew more concerned when it emerged that the government's "main success indicators" includes: "…in future faith bodies applying to establish (new) 16-19 academies".
This, coupled with our concerns over the Church of England's (CofE) efforts to expand its influence over the wider FE sector, led us to dig deeper into their lobbying and meetings with the Department for Education surrounding the bill.
The CofE acknowledges that it has little to no experience in the FE sector but sees it as an important area of evangelism to "build a younger and more diverse church" and "engage with a missing generation".
We have uncovered the CofE's "Action Plan for FE Partnerships following a roundtable meeting with the Secretary of State for Education and the Archbishop of York". This provides new insight into the Church's hoped-for "market warming" process.
The first of the CofE's two key aims is to "reimagine chaplaincy provision" across FE, where there currently remain "only a handful of full-time college chaplains". FE and sixth form colleges already have a cadre of professionally-qualified and committed staff who work diligently to enhance the welfare and wellbeing of students of all backgrounds, abilities and aspirations, and of all faiths or none.
Religious organisations are to be commended for providing spiritual support to college pupils who request it. Secular welfare professionals in FE require a high degree of cultural literacy and should always be prepared to make referrals in the very rare cases where pupils request religion-specific support. But for the CofE, waiting for young people to voluntarily come to them is a losing game.
Employing unqualified chaplains whose first loyalty is towards their theology diverts funds from, and creates potential for conflict with, the open and inclusive support provided by professional welfare services. The recent case of a chaplain sacked by Trent College in Nottingham for putting personal belief above the school's open policy on diversity is but one example.
In an unsuccessful bid last year, the CofE requested funding for chaplaincy provision at 12 colleges from the College Collaboration Fund. The CofE's action plan involves seeking "some indication of the background to that decision", presumably beyond that offered to other applicants without such privileged access to government ministers. It admits that the application for chaplaincy funding "formed a significant early element in the 'market warming' process" for their expansion into FE. The CofE clearly feels entitled to "the DfE's assistance, to rapidly explore alternative funding opportunities".


Acts of worship shouldn’t have a prayer in schools, says former principal


By Mark Macaskill

A former Scottish head teacher has questioned the merits of religious worship in school assemblies and feels a US-style “no prayer” policy should be adopted.
Cameron Wyllie, 64, who was principal of the £14,000-a-year George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, said he backed religious education but felt acts of worship had no place in morning assemblies, which are a feature of school life in many non-denominational independent and state establishments across Scotland.
In a book reflecting on his 37-year career in education, Wyllie said a growing number of children were secular and “turned off” by religion.
He felt modern pupils were more interested in moral issues that could be raised without recourse to religion. He likes the US approach, where organised school prayer is largely banned from public elementary, middle and high schools, although pupils may pray privately and join after-school religious clubs.
In Scotland, non-denominational state schools are not obliged to hold daily acts of collective worship although, under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, state-funded schools are expected to practise religious observance at least six times a year, unless a resolution to discontinue has been passed by the local education authority.
“I’ve nothing against the idea that, on some mornings, our young people should be given important things to think about,” Wyllie said. “I even think it’s good if, on occasion, a person from some religious group explains what they think and why. But we are surely well past assuming that some padre has the (God-given) right to monopolise the minds of our kids. In any case, it just turns them off.”
In his book, Is There a Pigeon in the Room?, to be published in June by Birlinn Polygon, Wyllie reminisces about his life in schools, first at Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College and then at George Heriot’s from 1991 until his retirement in 2017. Read more...

Making money, losing faith: The Mormons in Australia


By Ben Schneiders

Sue Given’s break with Mormonism started when her 13-year-old son overdosed on pills. “That was when he first came out to us - on the gurney, in the hospital.”
Given’s son told her that he was afraid she would not love him anymore as he was gay. It took a few more years before Given quit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons) for good. “When you are a true believer, as I was, challenging your own deeply held biases is extremely difficult,” she says, more than a decade after the event.
Later her eldest daughter came out to her too. Given burst into tears - not from the news, she says, but from the realisation that her children had had to hide their true selves from her.
Her family had been committed Mormons, her husband even becoming a bishop (akin to a lay pastor) for their congregation. The final break came after an update to the Church’s handbook in 2015 that said the children of same-sex parents could not be blessed as babies, baptised or serve as missionaries.
People losing their faith in Australia is not unusual - “no religion” is the fastest-growing category in the Census - but there are aspects of life in the Church that make it different.
One is the extraordinary commitment it requires of adherents in both time and money. This is not an hour-or-two-on-a-Sunday faith. Given said she would regularly spend dozens of hours a week on activities around the Church on weeknights and weekends. It is a common story.
The financial burdens were also significant, with Mormons required to pay 10 per cent of their gross income in tithes. For a typical Australian household that would be about $9000 a year.
Given had been recruited into the religion as a teenager 50 years earlier, despite her parents’ opposition. “I was later baptised without my parents’ consent or knowledge.”
But when her break from Mormonism came, it called everything into question, including the origin stories of this 19th-century American religious movement, the institutionalised homophobia and the hefty time and financial commitments. Read more...

Schools chaplaincy provider bans cohabitation and ‘sexually intrusive’ behaviour in staff’s private life 


By Paul Karp

Australia’s second biggest schools chaplaincy provider imposes a code that discriminates against staff based on relationship status and sexual conduct, a whistleblower has alleged.
Caragh Larsen, a former Schools Ministry Group chaplain at two Adelaide public primary schools, said the code banning “cohabitation” and “sexually intrusive” behaviour left unmarried and LGBTQ+ staff vulnerable.
Larsen’s job at one school was funded through the federal chaplaincy program, which gives $60m a year for chaplains connected to religious groups to provide pastoral care services in schools. The other position was funded by the South Australian government.
Proselytising in public schools is banned, but Larsen said SMG chaplains were encouraged to speak about their faith with students, when asked, and praised for directing them to church youth groups.
The SMG code states that “it is unacceptable for a pastoral care worker to initiate or become involved in relationships of a sexual or inappropriate nature with any person to whom they are not married”. That includes relationships which “involve cohabitation or any behaviour which is considered to be sexually intrusive by another person”.
Larsen, a qualified counsellor, told Guardian Australia the clause meant “we had to be married, or living on our own”.
Schools Ministry Group is the biggest chaplaincy provider in South Australia, providing 263 chaplains to schools according to its 2019 annual report. There is no breakdown of how many are federally funded, but it received $5.3m in overall government funding in the same year.
SMG did not respond to questions about how “sexually intrusive” conduct was defined, or whether the code enabled discrimination on relationship status and lawful sexual conduct.
It said its chaplains “must agree to uphold standards and to be part of a supportive faith community that aligns with our Christian values”.
“This is not only reasonable but is consistent with the wellbeing model of providing social, emotional and spiritual support.” Read more...


Oklahoma lawmakers pass near-total ban on abortion


By BBC News

Lawmakers in Oklahoma have passed a bill that would impose a near-total ban on abortions in the state.
The bill would criminalise performing an abortion in almost all cases, except where it could "save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency".
Medical professionals convicted under the laws face fines of up to $100,000 (£76,505) and 10 years in prison.
It comes as the US Supreme Court weighs a case that could overturn abortion rights across the US later this year.
Oklahoma's House of Representatives, in which Republicans hold a supermajority, voted to send the bill to the governor's office by 70 votes to 14.
The state's Governor Kevin Stitt will be presented with the bill for his approval. The Republican has already committed to signing into law any legislation that restricts abortion rights.
Republican Rep Jim Olsen, who authored the bill, said he was "thrilled" by its passage and said the legislation could see "many lives of babies saved".
But pro-choice groups say the bill is a devastating blow for women, noting it comes after the state became a major destination for women from neighbouring Texas seeking abortions after the passage of extremely restrictive laws in the state last year.
"Nearly half of the patients Oklahoma providers are currently seeing are medical refugees from Texas," a coalition of pro-choice groups said.
"Now, Oklahomans could face a future where they would have no place left in their state to go to seek this basic health care."
Tamya Cox-Toure, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said in a statement the bill serves as an "alarming reminder that the days of access to safe and legal abortion may be numbered, and we must continue to fight to guarantee all people have access to the essential health care they need, including abortion".
Republican dominated legislatures have been passing a series of restrictive abortion measures in recent years, designed to set up a showdown in the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
The court is due to rule by the end of June on a case involving a Republican-backed Mississippi law which could see conservative justices overturn the Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion under federal law in 1973.
The ruling could cut off abortion services for tens of millions of women and likely see similar laws bar abortion in nearly two dozen states. Read more...

Texas abortion: The ‘ranch’ for mothers with no place to go


By Linda Pressly

Texas has passed one the strictest abortion laws in the US, banning the procedure after around six weeks' gestation. That has left many women looking for options.
It was shortly after the birth of her second child, when Dallas-based Aubrey Schlackman had an epiphany.
"We'd been to the grocery store and were driving home. And I passed a big ranch for sale, and I just suddenly had the idea," she says.
She wanted to open a place that could provide accommodation and support for single mothers facing an unforeseen pregnancy.
"I feel like wide-open spaces give a natural space for healing and contemplation. And I think God uses nature as a way to heal," she says.
Aubrey and her husband Bryan had been working with Christian ministry programmes taking care of pregnant women.
"A lot of them were first-time moms," Bryan says. "And then we discovered there were lots of situations where a mother with existing children who got unexpectedly pregnant did not have many places to go."
So the Schlackmans founded a non-profit, Blue Haven Ranch. Although it does not yet exist as the ranch Aubrey envisages, the charity is currently supporting five single mothers who are either pregnant or who have recently given birth, providing cash to rent an apartment, and help towards utility bills.
Eventually, the couple hope to purchase 100 acres of Texas farmland to build Blue Haven Ranch from scratch: cottages for 20 single mothers and their children, a community hub where families can cook and eat together, fields for animals and land for vegetable cultivation.
The Schlackmans estimate it will cost around $15 million (£11m), and their fundraising efforts are going well, buoyed perhaps by the passing of the Heartbeat Act, also known as SB8 - Senate Bill 8 - last September.
That law prohibits abortions from as early as six weeks into pregnancy, after the detection of what anti-abortion campaigners call a foetal heartbeat - a flutter from a group of cells that will regulate the rhythm of a heart when it later forms. This can happen even before a woman knows she's pregnant.
One of the most restrictive laws in the country, SB8 gives any citizen the right to sue another individual suspected of "aiding and abetting" an abortion. Those individuals could be a doctor, or even an Uber driver taking a woman to an abortion clinic.
"A lot of women are really scared," says Qiana Arnold of the Afiya Centre, a reproductive rights NGO in Dallas supporting Black women, about the impact of SB8.
"[Pro-life] protesters are getting more aggressive. And the way the language of the law has been communicated in the media, it's like abortion is illegal in Texas. It isn't - but you've got to move fast," she says. Read more...


‘Day of shame for Nigerian authorities’: Mubarak Bala sentenced to 24 years in prison


By Humanists International

Humanists International strongly condemns the outrageous decision of the Kano State High Court to convict Mubarak Bala of 18 counts of causing a public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code, respectively. Bala was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Dr Leo Igwe, Board member of Humanists International, commented:
“The Humanist community in Nigeria is utterly shocked by the sentencing of Mubarak Bala for ‘blasphemy’. It is utterly disgraceful that a court in this 21st century could convict an individual for making innocuous posts on Facebook.
“Today is a sad day for humanism, human rights and freedom in Nigeria. The sentencing of Mubarak Bala is a stark violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. We urge the authorities in Nigeria to ensure that this judicial charade does not stand.”
Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested from his home in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, on 28 April 2020 in connection with a series of Facebook posts that some deemed to be “blasphemous” and likely to cause a public disturbance.
Mubarak pled guilty to the charges in court. It was not part of the agreed legal strategy, and came as a surprise his legal team. It is likely that he was subjected to intimidation, and could have been tricked into pleading guilty in the hopes of a light sentence. There have been unconfirmed reports of threats against his family members.
Bala’s case has been subject to a series of procedural irregularities that have hindered his right to a fair trial. They include:
  • Being presented in court for the first time 644 days after his arrest;
  • Being denied access to medical care;
  • Being held without charge for 462 days;
  • Being denied access to his legal team for more than five months;
  • Court hearings have been subjected to repeated adjournments;
  • The Kano State Police Commissioner repeatedly refused to comply with an order issued by a Magistrate requiring the police to grant Bala access to his legal team;
  • The Kano State authorities have failed to comply with a ruling of the Abuja High Court that determined that Bala should be released on bail.
Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented:
“The thoughts of the whole global humanist movement are with our friend Mubarak, his wife, and his baby son. This is a day of shame for the Nigerian authorities, who have imposed an unthinkable punishment on an innocent man.
“For two years Mubarak’s fundamental rights to liberty and a fair trial have been consistently violated. He has been charged and found guilty of offenses that amount to no more than expressing a non-religious opinion. We call on the Nigerian authorities to quash this completely unjust and entirely disproportionate conviction, and release our innocent friend and colleague.”
Humanists International believes that Mubarak Bala is being targeted for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, and calls for his conviction and sentence to be overturned, for Bala to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for the Nigerian authorities to ensure his safety upon his release. To this end, we urge the state and federal authorities to repeal their outdated blasphemy laws.
Donate now to help us cover Mubarak Bala’s legal expenses

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Deputy Catherine Connelly castigates Stephen Donnelly in the Dail yesterday for handing over the new Maternity Hospital to a religious institution. Watch here.




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