Discrimination against atheist teachers
A new cross-border research survey has confirmed that non-religious teachers are hiding or suppressing their beliefs in schools with a religious ethos for fear of the impact on their careers. The study is by Dr Catherine Stapleton of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, and Dr James Nelson of Queen’s University Belfast.
The teachers interviewed for the report teach a variety of secular subjects, which means their jobs do not have religious belief as a genuine occupational requirement. However, the teachers report that religion or belief is undoubtedly a factor in appointments and promotions at their schools, including denominational and ETB schools.
This report strengthens Atheist Ireland’s arguments for ending the exemptions in our equality laws that allow schools with a religious ethos to discriminate against atheist teachers. We continue to lobby on this issue, alongside the other areas in which religions have undue influence in our education system.
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.
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Atheist Ireland News
New research report confirms discrimination against atheist teachers
A new cross-border research survey supports the argument that Atheist Ireland has made for years: that non-religious teachers are hiding or suppressing their beliefs in schools with a religious ethos for fear of the impact on their careers.
Chris Hind, Atheist Ireland Teachers Officer, says:
“This discrimination against atheist teachers places us in a conflict of conscience between our personal beliefs, our desire to uphold the constitutional rights of all students and their parents, and our legal duty to uphold the religious ethos of their school.
The study is by Dr Catherine Stapleton of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, and Dr James Nelson of Queen’s University Belfast.
This report strengthens the case for ending the exemptions in our equality laws that allow schools with a religious ethos to discriminate against atheist teachers.”
Atheist Ireland spoke last week in Mary Immaculate College at the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, where we raised religious discrimination against atheists in Irish schools.
The teachers interviewed for the report teach a variety of subjects: English, Maths, History, Modern Languages, Physics, Music, SPHE, Technology & Design, Computer Programming, IT, and Business Studies. Only one teaches Religion (along with Maths).
This means their jobs do not have religious belief as a genuine occupational requirement, which is part of the test of proportionality under European Council Directive 2000 on when employers can take religious beliefs into account.
However, the teachers in this study report that religion or belief is undoubtedly a factor in appointments and promotions at their schools, most explicitly in Catholic schools, but also in schools run by the State through ETBs.
This causes a conflict of identity for teachers, with most feeling unable to express their non-religious identity. This hinders not only their careers directly, but also their relationships with peers, students and senior staff. Read online...
Calling concerned teachers
If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at email@example.com
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 gods‘ free (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 $36,420 to 1270 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 'notme.ie' is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1920 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 4,112 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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Atheist Ireland Committee
Our Maternity Hospital Group - Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women's Healthcare are having a protest rally at the Dáil on Saturday, 14th May, at 2pm, to send a message to our government that we will not tolerate a new National Maternity Hospital which is anything less than public and secular.
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
Urgent need for impartial sex education from primary school upwards, says Harris
By Carl O'Brien
The ethos of schools must not be allowed to prevent pupils’ access to impartial education on sex and relationships, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said.
Under the Education Act (1998), schools are free to determine what they consider to be appropriate sex education in line with the “characteristic spirit of the school”.
This has led to claims that some religious-run schools are not providing objective sex education to students and are avoiding topics which may conflict with their ethos such as LGBT relationships or contraception.
Speaking at the Oireachtas committee on gender equality, Mr Harris said access to impartial sex education “can’t be down to the luck of the draw, the ethos of the school or where you live”.
“I worry that in the absence of proper, factual information being accessible in a school setting that young people may develop attitudes to sex and expectations around sex from social media. We’ve got to call this out. We’ve got to get real on this and get on with it,” he said.
He said he was undecided about whether legislation was needed to oblige all schools to provide this information, but said it was vital that children have access to impartial education on sex and relationships.
“I defend to the death the right of a parent to decide the ethos of the school [they choose to send their child to] … but it is a separate and distinct issue to be able to access age-appropriate, impartial, fact-based information on sex and consent,” he said.
Under its review of sex and relationships education published in 2019, the State’s advisory body on the school curriculum did not recommend making legal changes to prevent schools from using their ethos to avoid teaching “sensitive” topics.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment report said there were contrasting views on whether school ethos really was affecting the teaching of sex education.
The NCCA is currently reviewing the curriculum and is due to produce a draft sex education curriculum for Junior Cycle age groups soon.
Meanwhile, Mr Harris said higher education is making strides on addressing gender equality and creating safer campuses through the roll-out of classes on sexual consent across all universities.
However, there was “troubling” evidence of sexual reassessment and sexual violence on campuses which underlined the need for comprehensive sexual education curriculum at primary and secondary level.
“This unfortunately is one of the key recommendations of the former Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment which has not been progressed,” he said.
“If we wait until our young people are 18 and entering third level to educate them on consent, in many cases the damage is done or indeed it is more difficult to undo perceived norms.” Read more...
Protesters call for State to take over new maternity hospital site
By Simon Carswell
Deirdre Fitzgerald wants the site of the new National Maternity Hospital to be bought by the State in a compulsory purchase or for the new hospital to be moved to Tallaght instead of the St Vincent’s Hospital site.
Standing next to her daughter Mia, Ms Fitzgerald was one of more than 30 demonstrators outside the current site of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin city centre on Thursday who are angry at the relocation of the new hospital to the Dublin 4 site.
The site was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, who have transferred their shareholding to a new company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG. The land for the new Dublin hospital is to be leased to the State for 299 years.
“Ultimately, it’s wrong, it is really wrong. It is not serving Irish women. It is not serving my daughters, my children, my grandchildren or anyone well,” she said, holding her own placard that asks whether the Vatican has given permission for abortions to take place on their land.
“None of my daughters want it; none of their friends want it; everyone is incensed.”The demonstration, organised by the Our Maternity Hospital group that is campaigning against church ownership of women’s healthcare, took place as the board of the hospital met inside the Upper Mount Street building which is also home to Fianna Fáil’s headquarters.
The protesters fear a religious ethos could hamper services such as abortion and IVF, despite assurances from Ministers and medics.
Protest organiser Anne Conway said the “most troubling” aspect of the deal was the possibility that the €10 annual peppercorn rent could rise to €850,000 if there was a disagreement.
Lack of trust
The fact that the deal involves the Religious Sisters of Charity, which failed to deliver its full share to the financial redress to institutional abuse survivors, leaves her deeply uneasy. “It makes us feel untrusting of them,” she said. All protesters cannot understand why the hospital land is not just being handed over to the State. “The transfer of this hugely expensive public asset to a private company is bad and it should be under democratic control and public ownership,” said Karl Stanley.
Jody Neary, a Social Democrats councillor in Greystones, Co Wicklow, is concerned at the “railroading” of the agreement behind the hospital and believes time should be given to scrutinise the documents behind the land deal and the private company behind the hospital.
“We have been waiting decades. We can wait a little longer if it means getting full and proper healthcare,” she said. Read more...
Non-religious teachers ‘hide’ beliefs for job opportunities – study
By Carl O'Brien
Non-religious teachers are hiding or suppressing their beliefs over fears it could affect their employment or promotion prospects in schools with a religious ethos, according to research.
The findings are contained in a cross-Border study by Dr Catherine Stapleton of Mary Immaculate College and Dr James Nelson of Queen’s University Belfast.
The report notes schools in both jurisdictions are exempt from equality legislation and have the right to discriminate against candidates on the basis of belief when hiring teachers.
Historically, this has been justified on the basis of preserving religious ethos. It adds that while there has been a significant rise in the number of people with no religious belief, most schools still retain a religious ethos.
As part of the study, qualitative interviews were undertaken with teachers from across the island.
Teachers reported that religion or belief was “undoubtedly” a factor in appointments and promotions at their schools.
In schools managed by Catholic authorities, candidates’ beliefs were explicitly taken into consideration, though to varying degrees.
Teachers were of the view that religious influences were at play in teacher appointments across other school types which hold religious values, on both parts of the island.
For example, temporary contracts and probation periods meant teachers were subjected to a protracted assessment of their suitability for posts, including their “fit” with the religious ethos of schools.
The research also found non-religious teachers felt unprepared for the religious expectations they encountered in schools and the assumption that they would conform to the religious culture. This, the study said, caused a range of ethical and professional dilemmas.
The majority managed their situation by “hiding or suppressing their identity, including feigning belief”. Some cultivated anonymity or limiting openness to a small group of trusted colleagues.
Only a minority of the sample felt they could be confident about expressing their non-religious identity.
Overall, teachers felt the religious climate of schools permeated much of their professional experience including relationships with peers, students and senior staff.
Many examples were given of how suppressing their non-religious identity blocked the natural development of these relationships. Read more...
Taking the church out of Irish primary schools
By Jennifer Horgan
For more than a century parents in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, have had little choice but to send their children to religious-run primary schools. That is all about to change next September.
St Mary’s Boys Junior School, a Catholic school founded in 1913, will reopen as Nenagh Community National School.
“There’s great interest in the change,” says principal John Gunnell. “I’m getting calls from parents in places where we would never be enrolling from. Staff feel very positive about the move; it’s very exciting.”
The reforms mean the patronage of the school will transfer to the State-owned Tipperary Education and Training Board. The new mixed school will be multidenominational and the sacraments will be taught outside school hours.
The move is part of a wider Department of Education reconfiguration policy aimed at facilitating a more diverse school patronage in eight pilot areas where there are no multidenominational primary schools.
The pilot areas include Arklow, Athlone, Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick and Youghal. It is the latest attempt to inch forward plans to divest schools from the Catholic Church.
It is estimated that the State owns 5 per cent of primary schools. The Catholic Church, by contrast, controls almost 90 per cent. The State, however, pays teachers and foots the bill for the vast bulk of capital costs involving school buildings.
In the past decade or so, about 20 multidenominational primary schools have been handed over from the church to the State under divestment or reconfiguration programmes.
The Government has committed to improving parental choice by meeting a target of delivering 400 multidenominational primary schools by 2030.
While the reconfiguration plan received a broadly positive welcome initially, some are now questioning key aspects of it – and whether the modest aims will provide any meaningful choice for parents.
Controversially, the new school in Nenagh (or the State) will rent the premises from the church. The ETB will pay an annual rent over the course of 40 years for an undisclosed sum.
The fact that these schools have typically benefited from State-funded upkeep or extensions is a source of anger among some campaigners. The Department of Education and the Catholic Church have declined to say how much could be paid under the plan. There are also concerns about the extent to which parental choice will feature under the plan in areas were Catholic schools will be “reconfigured”. Read more...
Boylan: Government cant guarantee Catholic ethos wont govern new National Maternity Hospital
By Noel Baker
The former master of the National Maternity Hospital has insisted questions still need to be answered about the relocation of the hospital and the involvement of any Catholic ethos.
Dr Peter Boylan has written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin about his serious concerns following the announcement by the Religious Sisters of Charity that they have transferred their shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to St Vincent’s Holdings.
In the letter, which is copied to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, he says: "I see absolutely no justification for the new publicly funded National Maternity Hospital to be owned by St Vincent’s Holdings."
He raises a string of questions: over any conditions that may have been set by the Holy See for the transfer of ownership of SVHG to St Vincent’s Holdings; around the role of two companies — Stembridge Ltd and Porema Ltd — in the latest developments; the potential for St Vincent’s Holdings to merge with a private US healthcare group; and an apparent €457m drop in valuation of SVHG, from an initial €661m in 2018 to €204m last week.
St Vincents Holdings CLG dismissed the criticisms and said some of the points raised by Dr Boylan are "scaremongering".
Dr Boylan said the issues needed to be "urgently considered" by Government and said the current plans could leave maternity services as a "Cinderella service" within a larger hospital setting.
Referring to conditional permission granted by the Vatican for the transfer, Mr Boylan said the correspondence between the Religious Sisters of Charity and Rome "has never been made public", arguing "it is clearly not possible for the Government to make any commitment or promise that Catholic ethos will not govern St Vincent’s Holdings and therefore the operation of the relocated National Maternity Hospital which will — as the plan currently stands — be owned and controlled by St Vincent’s Holdings."
As for Stembridge Ltd and Porema Ltd, which are linked with thousands of offshore firms, he stressed there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing but queried why such a "complex" arrangement was required.
In response, St Vincents Holdings CLG said it was set up through a service provided by PwC. A spokesperson said: "It is standard business practice to use ‘off the shelf’ companies when incorporating a new company. This very common approach was used to facilitate the incorporation of SV CLG. Nominees of Porema and Stembridge acted as the first members/directors and as is normal practice were immediately replaced when the company became part of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and a new constitution was drafted. Read more...
Concerns over new NMH are understandable given Irish history
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the removal of article 44.2.1 from the Irish Constitution, which recognised the “special position” of the Catholic Church “as the guardian of the faith professed by the great majority of citizens”. There was much political consensus about this change and little opposition from church leaders.
Just 50.7 per cent of the electorate voted in the referendum; 721,003 in favour of the article’s removal and 133,430 against. This was a Troubles-inspired gesture towards Protestant sensibilities to counteract the assertion that the constitution was a Catholic one for a Catholic State.
Its removal did not thaw northern Protestant reservations about the Republic’s ethos; instead, it underlined that there was an appetite for superficially softening the idea of the Republic as an excessively confessional State during a period of sectarian conflict. The same year, taoiseach Jack Lynch dismissed the idea that the Republic was a church-controlled State: “The church, in fact, plays no part either in the making or the administration of the law of the land”.
Underlining how much that assertion conveniently left out, a few weeks later, Maurice Hayes, a future ombudsman for Northern Ireland, wrote privately to Fine Gael’s Garret FitzGerald, referring to the Catholic Church “as a great incubus resisting change in defence of its own institutional interests”. Those interests were so vast that it hardly needed to concern itself with cosmetic constitutional gestures; it was, in many respects, a state within a State.
The church’s influence, despite the upheavals, revelations, social and cultural changes and loss of credibility of recent years, is still strong. Notions of a “post-Catholic” pluralist Republic on the back of increasing secularisation lie alongside the pervasive legacy and extensive involvement of the church in many vital areas of Irish life. That is unsurprising given our history and the ongoing, if much reduced attachment to Catholicism, but it also explains why there is a desire for certainty about whether it is still afforded a “special position” when it comes to pregnant women.
An impression was generated by the Religious Sisters of Charity (RSC) a few years ago that they were to “gift” the Saint Vincent’s Hospital Group (SVHG) to the “people of Ireland”, when what they were doing was transferring ownership to St Vincent’s Holding. It was just one of the unnecessary layers of confusion that have surrounded the proposed new National Maternity Hospital (NMH)
During the week, James Menton, chairman of the SVHG, maintained it was always his board’s determination to “evolve as a secular organisation”, which has been achieved, he wrote, because of the recent transfer of the RSC shareholding to St Vincent’s Holding CLG. The new National Maternity Hospital, the argument goes, will “sever” the link with the church because it will become part of “a secular SVHG”. But while the RSC will not have direct involvement in healthcare it is, as pointed out by Peter Boylan, “a matter of record that . . . directors of St Vincent’s Holding are committed to upholding the values and vision of Mother Mary Aikenhead”. Menton responded to this by maintaining it is a “myth that the values of Mary Aikenhead are some secret code for Catholic control” and that Aikenhead founded the hospital in 1834 to serve the poor, treating patients regardless of religious persuasion.
She did indeed, and Aikenhead and her colleagues did remarkable work, but they also did that during an era when, as the historian of nuns in 19th century Ireland Catríona Clear has pointed out, “evangelical Catholicism . . . appears to have given nuns a sense of shared purpose, and a definite feeling of being part of a movement”, a movement that generated enormous power and control for the church, to the point that 100 years later it was constitutionally afforded its “special position”. We have had no shortage of reminders in recent years of the consequences of that power, especially when it came to the welfare of women.
The other issue is that the State is facilitating the ownership of a publicly funded NMH by a private company with the site being leased. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has stated “it doesn’t really matter who owns the land”. But it does matter, and it matters particularly given the history of the treatment of pregnant women in this country.
It is hardly unreasonable for many to feel uneasy that almost a decade of tangled web weaving surrounds the evolution of the NMH, or surprising that suspicions linger that all might not be as certain as some of the emphatic public declarations would suggest. Why else would a former master of the NMH and two Health Service Executive board members raise concerns not just about legal ownership of the site and building but also about its governance and control? And why did the “clean break” and “gift” promised by the RSC become so muddied over such an extensive period? Read online...
The St Vincent’s Papers
By Marie O’Connor
The British Virgin Islands have just made the news with the arrest of their Premier in Miami on Thursday on charges of money laundering and drug trafficking. The territory features sporadically in the Panama Papers, and the territory is now facing direct rule from London following a year-long UK inquiry into government malpractice. The islands have hosted more than 370,000 shell companies, used to control assets totalling $1.5 trillion on behalf of undisclosed owners. These owners included shady oligarchs and politicians.
Despite oft-repeated claims of independence, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG is effectively a spin-off of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group
Coincidentally, on the same day that the British Virgin Islands Premier was arrested, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group announced that it had completed the legal transfer of the shareholding of the congregation in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group into St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.
Until this week, the nuns owned three hospitals: the enormous St Vincent’s University Hospital, which the order used to mortgage the building of their private hospital: St Vincent’s Private Hospital; and St Michael’s Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. The congregation also owned the Elm Park and Dun Laoghaire sites. The hospitals and the lands were valued at €661 million in 2018. The Elm Park site now owned by St Vincent’s Holdings covers a sprawling 28.7 acres. Housing land in the vicinity is currently making €5 m per acre. This does not represent the full site because the congregation has held onto its old private hospital, which sits on a further 1.8 acres. The Religious Sisters of Charity are set to rent the property, now known as the Herbert Wing, to its former company.
The transfer of the Religious Sisters of Charity’s shareholding means that the new St Vincent’s Holdings CLG has assets worth up to three quarters of a billion euro. If the maternity hospital deal goes through, the property portfolio will be worth in or around €1.75 billion. The board of this new St Vincent’s Holdings CLG currently consists of just three members.
The Religious Sisters of Charity set up St Vincent’s Healthcare Group in 2001 to own and manage its hospital at Elm Park. The Religious Sisters of Charity was the sole shareholder in the company. St Vincent’s Healthcare Group pushed hard for ownership and control of the new maternity hospital.
It got it by insisting on retaining ownership of the site on which the new hospital is to be built, and using this ownership to press for an operating licence (a key condition of the lease).
The purpose of this licence, to be given back to itself, is to enable the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to control the use of the land and, by extension, the activities of the new hospital. Read more...
The Maternity Hospital’s Difficult Birth
By Simon McGarr
After a busy day urging active citizens to call their TDs to register their unhappiness with the plan to transfer ownership and control of a €1bn new National Maternity Hospital, the whole thing ended with the Cabinet getting spooked and telling the Minister for Health to publish his plan and come back in a fortnight.
So, instead of holding a victory announcement the Minister presided over a sort of zombie press conference after the Cabinet meeting broke up. All the same guests, but now, instead of praising him for his achievement in getting the deal over the line, they were left trying to argue that everyone should just sit still and do nothing for two weeks.
This is unlikely to occur. However the meaningless press conference, carrying on like the afters at a cancelled wedding, was overshadowed by something real. The HSE released the up-until-then secret terms of the deal between the HSE, Holles Street Hospital and St Vincents Hospital Group. Let's take a look at some highlights.
What they say in the papers
We should say, to start, what the Minister said we would find in his bushel of paperwork.
"People will be able to see within the Memorandum of Understanding the clinical protections in the NMH and indeed the obligations on the new National Maternity Hospital to provide all services."
Will we though? Because a careful reading of the full set of documents reveals something else- A set of powerful hooks left hidden inside the relationships between the parties undermining the controls the Minister so ardently wanted to point to.
What follows are notes from an initial reading of the documents the HSE made available last night. They aren't a legal opinion and, as you might imagine from a publication called the Gist, they don't represent the last word on these papers. Nonetheless, it is hopefully helpful.
Still missing pieces
The first thing to say is that the papers released last night represent only part of the documents constituting this deal. They are missing the documents which govern and control the company which the nuns have set up and transferred their shareholding to. Under canon law, this transfer required the approval of the Vatican and is subject to whatever conditions were set by the Vatican to proceed. The Minister does not appear to know what those rules are, telling the Irish Times
“I guess you’d have to talk to the Vatican about that. We don’t have any such documents."
In fact, the state has been kept so in the dark on the matter that Mason, Hayes and Curran, the solicitors working for Holles Street Hospital, have a footnote at page 3 of the Co-Ordination Agreement meekly asking "MHC Note: Can you clarify whether any third party consents/approvals or additional steps are required in advance of the ability of SVHG to grant the Lease." This seems like something of a loose end to leave unresolved when you're bringing a supposedly oven-ready deal to cabinet.
The papers released also lack basic elements on their own account- the Operating Licence is missing the Facility Operations Agreement, which is meant to be attached as a Schedule and the Lease is missing the maps and Annexes which would show the parts of the St Vincent's campus the current hospital management would control and which parts would actually be under the control of the new hospital's management. Those maps are also missing from the various option agreements.
This last point is particularly interesting in the light of the eye-opening clause of the Lease which commits that a portion of the land and/or the building being leased is still going to be left in control of the nuns' new vehicle. Read more...
Secularists at serious risk in Bangladesh, UK government says
By National Secular Society
Secularists and atheists in Bangladesh are at "serious" risk of persecution, new UK government guidance says.
Home Office guidance for assessing refugee, asylum and human rights claims says those who openly express atheist beliefs are likely to be subject to discrimination by the state or societal violence that amounts to "persecution or serious harm".
The guidance, published in March, says people who have expressed "atheistic or secularist beliefs", particularly in relation to Islam, have been arrested and detained on the grounds of "religious defamation".
Additionally, high profile atheist and secularist bloggers and activists deemed to have "defamed Islam" face "a high risk" of threats and violence by Islamist extremists.
Bangladesh's blasphemy laws
In Bangladesh it is a criminal offence to publish material "deemed to hurt religious sentiment".
Authorities have used legal provisions such as the Information and Communication Technology Act or the 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA) to harass, detain or prosecute online bloggers and activists. The United Nations has said the DSA is not in line with international human rights laws. The DSA can be applied to material published outside of Bangladesh.
Several atheist bloggers left Bangladesh following attacks, some fatal, by Islamists between 2013 and 2018. Whilst continuing to blog from abroad, they fear arrest or retaliation by Islamic fundamentalists if they return to their country.
Rationalist blogger Marufur Rahman Khan said Islamists "can freely publish books and air their opinion against atheism, secularism, feminism, and homosexuality". But atheists and secularists "are not allowed to express their beliefs," he said.
Atheists, secularists and others who have recently been arrested for comments about Islam include:
The guidance says Bangladesh's laws including the DSA encourage extremists to target individuals suspected of blasphemy. Atheists and people who are accused of 'hurting religious sentiment' and are open about their beliefs are unlikely to be afforded effective protection by Bangladeshi authorities. Instead, the government has "tended to attribute blame" for militant attacks to the victims for criticising religion. Read more...
- An Islamist group called for the death of a Hindu man after accusing him of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad on Facebook in 2019. After the man was arrested under the DSA, it was revealed that his Facebook account had been hacked and he was being blackmailed for money under threat of more 'blasphemous' material being published in his name.
- Musician Rita Dewan was detained for criticising Islam on YouTube in 2020. She faces up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to £17,600 if convicted under the DSA.
- Sufi Muslim singer Shariat Sarker was imprisoned under the DSA in 2020 after an Islamic scholar filed charges that comments made by Sarker on YouTube hurt the "religious sentiments" of Muslims. The offending remarks included arguments that the Qur'an does not prohibit music, and criticisms of religion being used as a political tool.
- In 2021, 17 year old Hindu girl Dipti Rani Das was arrested for "hurting religious sentiment" for a Facebook post critical of Islam. She could be sentenced up to seven years in prison if convicted.
- This year, Bangladeshi author Shahriar Dipu was handed a four year jail sentence for "offending Islam" in two books.
Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade published by Politico
In a stunning breach of Supreme Court confidentiality and secrecy, Politico has obtained what it calls a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would strike down Roe v. Wade.
The draft was circulated in early February, according to Politico. The final opinion has not been released and votes and language can change before opinions are formally released. The opinion in this case is not expected to be published until late June.
According to the draft, the court would overturn Roe v. Wade's holding of a federal constitutional right to an abortion. The opinion would be the most consequential abortion decision in decades and transform the landscape of women's reproductive health in America.
It appears that five justices would be voting to overturn Roe. Chief Justice John Roberts did not want to completely overturn Roe v. Wade, meaning he would have dissented from part of Alito's draft opinion, sources tell CNN, likely with the court's three liberals.
That would mean that the five conservative justices that would make up the majority overturning Roe are Alito and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Roberts is willing, however, to uphold the Mississippi law that would ban abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, CNN has learned. Under current law, government cannot interfere with a women's choice to terminate a pregnancy before about 23 weeks, when a fetus could live outside the womb.
"This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here," Roberts said. I have directed the Marshal of the Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak."
"To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed," Roberts said. "The work of the Court will not be affected in any way. We at the Court are blessed to have a workforce -- permanent employees and law clerks alike -- intensely loyal to the institution and dedicated to the rule of law. Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court."
After the draft was published, a crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court building Monday evening, as people came together to console one another and question what to do next.
At one point, the crowd began to chant, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Samuel Alito's gotta go." "We will not go back." "Abortion rights are under attack, what do we do, stand up fight back." "Pack the courts."
Politico's publishing of the draft is unprecedented by the high court's standards of secrecy. The inner deliberations among the justices while opinions are being drafted and votes are being settled are among the most closely held details in Washington. Read more...
Biden’s Day of Prayer proclamation a craven ‘Declaration of Dependence’
By the Freedom From Religion Foundation
The annual unconstitutional presidential proclamation of a “Day of Prayer” is a degrading “Declaration of Dependence” by a nation predicated on the Declaration of Independence and a godless secular Constitution. President Biden’s dutiful 2022 proclamation also erases the very existence of nonreligious Americans, as all previous presidential Day of Prayer proclamations have done.
A misguided 1952 congressional law requires the president to issue a National Day of Prayer proclamation, now on the first Thursday of May, during which “the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and medication at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” This annual ritual was suggested by evangelist Billy Graham, who said: “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer.” So much for a secular purpose. The law and the endless vaporous proclamations it inspires every year at all levels of government degrade the secular principle upon which the United States was founded.
The Constitution, which is godless, notably bars religious tests for public office. Yet the highest office in the land is instructed by an act of Congress to inveigh upon citizens to grovel before an imaginary supernatural force to do our work here on Earth for us. Isn’t that itself a religious test for the president? It certainly implies a religious test to even be an American, because the proclamation assumes all Americans believe in a god, and one who answers prayer.
Biden’s dutiful proclamation makes this same assumption. “Americans of nearly every background and faith have turned to prayer for comfort and inspiration,” he states. Yet today, three in 10 Americans are unaffiliated with religion. “The Nones” at 29 percent are the single largest “denomination” by religious identification, outnumbering Roman Catholics who are about 20 percent of the population. But we nonreligious folk still need to pinch ourselves to know we exist in the political discourse.
Biden’s proclamation, while perfunctory, catalogs a list of “some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced — saving our planet from the existential threat of climate change; responding to attacks on democracy at home and abroad; and living up to our Nation’s promise of liberty, justice and equality for all.”
As Anne Gaylor, the principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, always observed: “Nothing fails like prayer.” It is pandering and cravenly for public officials and citizens to rely on prayer, instead of rolling up our sleeves and solving our own problems. How convenient to exhort a deity to magically solve global crises.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud we challenged the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer, a case we never worked harder on. Our lawsuit uncovered the fact that the statute was based on a lie — the lie that the Founders prayed at the Constitutional Convention, which they did not — and we uncovered its theocratic origins. We lost the challenge not on the merits, but on standing at the appellate level in 2011. But we still savor the magnificent ruling by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin, who wrote an eloquent decision which all secularists should read. She noted, “The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.” She further wrote: “ . . . recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.” Read more...
Take action now over imminent overturn of Roe v. Wade
In light of the leaked draft of an expected Supreme Court decision that appears to overrule Roe v. Wade, and the widespread panic it has sparked, the Freedom From Religion Foundation urges five constructive acts of resistance.The first: to demand that the U.S. Senate finally pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify and protect the rights in Roe v. Wade no matter what the high court does. The second: to vote and collectively to mobilize the secular vote. The third: to demonstrate in the streets (peacefully), via social media and otherwise make the biggest, loudest fuss so that the courts, candidates and public officials know we won’t tolerate this fundamental right being revoked. We cannot tolerate American women (and teenagers) being forced to undergo compulsory pregnancy in our supposedly free nation. The fourth: to support critically needed abortion funds, as FFRF itself does, such as the all-volunteer Wisconsin Women’s Medical Fund. Finally, we must demand court reform, as our extremist-captured Supreme Court has lost its legitimacy.
Justice Samuel Alito, according to the leaked opinion, claims abortion isn’t among the enumerated rights in the U.S. Constitution, therefore it’s not a right at all — it’s to be left to the whim of whatever legislature happens to run your state (and two-thirds of those legislators, by the way, are men voting on women’s rights). Alito argues paternalistically that the right to abortion must be returned to the “elected officials” at the state level. The idea of putting reproductive rights, or any civil right or individual liberty, up for a vote is anathema to America’s founding principles. A right as basic as deciding when or whether to continue a pregnancy and become a parent cannot and should not be dependent on your zipcode. Such reproductive tyranny is suitable for a totalitarian state — or a theocracy.
But we mustn’t take Alito at his word when he claims that the Constitution does not encompass reproductive liberty. Seven justices who voted for Roe v. Wade back in 1973 noted that the Constitution grants a right to privacy via the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Sadly, the authors of Roe v. Wade ignored the Establishment Clause and its protection of freedom of conscience — an unfortunate oversight. The only organized opposition to abortion rights is religious in nature. Clearly, individuals who believe their god imbues a conceptus with a soul should not, in a free and secular country, have the right to force their dogma or reproductive servitude upon other individuals who do not believe such an article of faith.
And speaking of faith, Alito is one of six justices on the nine-member high court who are Roman Catholic. Five of them typically vote in lockstep, with only Justice Sonia Sotomayor deviating. Apparently in this instance, Justice John Roberts, who typically votes with his four ultraconservative Catholic peers, seems to be striving for a more moderate pace to outlaw abortion rights. That still makes a 5–4 arch-Roman Catholic majority apparently signing onto the leaked brief to overrule Roe. Religion, as always, is at the heart of this attack against a fundamental right.
With precedent and the broad rights of our Constitution meaning nothing to the extremist Supreme Court majority, many other constitutional rights will be up for grabs, including the right to contraception, marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, the Civil Rights Act and, of course, what’s left of the eviscerated Voting Rights Act. Needless to say, the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, which Justice Brett Kavanaugh called a “mistaken understanding of the Establishment Clause” in yesterday’s decision on the Boston Christian flag, is also going to be found, along with abortion rights, not to be in the Constitution.
FFRF has been forthright in demanding court reform in light of Donald Trump’s takeover as president of the federal judiciary — he appointed a third of it, including the same proportion of the U.S. Supreme Court. FFRF has supported various congressional measures, such as the first bill calling for court reform, introduced by Rep. Mondaire Jones. We pointed out that the commission to investigate court reform that President Biden appointed released a meaningless, anodyne report. Where are other organizations and progressive members of Congress on this issue and why are they sitting on their hands? FFRF knew abortion rights could not survive the Trump-captured high court, and now we have the proof. Read more...
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