Secular Sunday #257 'Patron bodies are holding the State to ransom' || 27 November, 2016
Secular Sunday - Atheist Ireland's weekly newsletter


International human rights bodies criticising Ireland on schools now reach double figures

This has been a very positive week for Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland. We met with Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and we attended a Council of Europe Human Rights Conference at which Commissioner Muiznieks was speaking. At both meetings we raised the breaches of human rights in Irish schools against atheist and minority faith families.

Commissioner Muiznieks will be reporting within three months on his visit to Ireland, but before he left he made clear that he will conclude that Ireland has to end religious discrimination in all schools. He was very grateful to us for the information which we gave him about the Irish education system, and he said that he had never seen anything like it elsewhere. He described it as patron bodies holding the State to ransom.

The Commissioner’s report will bring into double figures the number of United Nations and Council of Europe human rights regulatory bodies that have told Ireland in recent years that it has to stop discriminating on the ground of religion in school access and the school curriculum. Atheist Ireland has actively contributed to all of these processes since we were founded in 2008.

You can read more details here.


Atheist Ireland News

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner says Irish school patrons are holding State hostage

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland met twice with Nils Muiznieks, Human Rights Commissioner with the Council of Europe, during his four-day visit to Ireland which ended today.

During his visit, the Commissioner examined breaches of the human rights of women, children, travellers, refugees and other groups. He will publish a full report on his visit within the next three months, but he has already said that discrimination against non-Christian children in the school system has to end.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Muiznieks met with representatives of Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, to discuss the rights of children. We outlined the problems that we face as minorities both in access to school and, more importantly, within the schools, where religion is integrated throughout the whole curriculum. You can read our report of that meeting here.

We told him that parents can legally opt their children out of the formal Religious Instruction classes. But the schools don’t provide alternative classes, so their children have to sit at the back of the religion class they are supposed to be opted out of. But more importantly, the Catholic ethos is integrated throughout the State Curriculum and the entire school day. Children cannot opt out of this religious ethos.

We explained that, even if the State provided the 400 multi-denominational schools that it is promising fifteen years from now, that would still be a small proportion of the more than three thousand primary schools with a religious ethos. And the Catholic Church is trying to negotiate that, in return for divestment of some schools, it should have a stronger Catholic ethos in the majority of schools that it retains. That would leave most atheist and minority faith parents in an even worse position than they are now.

Commissioner Muiznieks told us that he had never seen anything like the Irish education system, and he wondered why no parent had taken a legal challenge against it. We explained that one difficulty is that parents would have to fight a legal case while their child was in the school they were challenging, and that the child would be likely to have left the school system by the time the case ended. However, we remain open to facilitating such a case if we can. Read more...


Atheist Ireland, Evangelical Alliance Ireland and Ahmadiyya Muslims raise secular education at Council of Europe conference

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, attended a Council of Europe human rights round-table conference today in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

At this conference, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks called on civil society organisations to work alongside Council of Europe Institutions to protect human rights. He said that “we must make it politically and legally costly for states to ignore their human rights obligations.”

Our secular alliance asked about religious discrimination against minorities in the education system. We had already raised these issues at a separate meeting on Tuesday with Commissioner Muiznieks. You can read our report of that meeting here.

At today’s conference, there was a significant reaction to the fact that we had an alliance present between Atheists, Evangelicals and Ahmadiyya Muslims. It was seen as a unique and important step in having the religious discrimination in schools addressed as a human rights and equality issue, and not one of sectoral self-interest. Read more...


Atheist, Evangelical and Ahmadiyya Muslim alliance meets Council of Europe Commissioner about secular schools

Today a unique secular alliance met Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, to discuss children’s rights in Irish publicly funded national schools. Jane Donnelly told Commissioner Muižnieks that she was proud to speak on behalf of Atheist Ireland, Evangelical Alliance Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland.

“We are three groups with very different world views,” she said, “but we are agreed on one thing: the Irish State should stop discriminating on the ground of religion, particularly in our schools.” Jane and Michael Nugent also gave the Council of Europe Commissioner a written report that includes perspectives from the three different belief groups. Read more...


Celebrate the life of Christopher Hitchens in Dublin.

Atheist Ireland are pleased to announce that we will be hosting the annual Hitchmas celebration.

Christopher Hitchens loved parties: "Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration."

Bring your favourite Hitchens quotes and passages to share on the night.

Join us on Thursday 15th December, from 8pm in Wynns Hotel, Dublin. The event is open to members and non-members of Atheist Ireland and is free to attend, but voluntary contributions to help cover the room hire cost would be welcome.

Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland 'Good Without Gods' Kiva team members have made loans of over $17,200  to entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team 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.

Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland. 

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged and €10 unwaged/student. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:
  • You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
  • You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
  • You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
  • You will have access to our members only Facebook group
  • Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.

 You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support.

Atheist Ireland Committee

Places and Faces

Photos from Atheist Ireland events around the country.

Information Table in Wexford, November 2016

Pastafarian Minister, John Hamill and Michael Nugent following their talk at Maynooth University Diversity Week.

"Praise be unto his noodly appendages"

Michael Nugent, Jane Donnelly and Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights.

Jane Donnelly, Michael Nugent and Paul Rowe, CEO of Educate Together

Atheist Ireland, Ahmadiyya Muslims and Evangelical Alliance with Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks

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.


Saturday 3rd December, 12.00-14.00, GPO, O'Connell Street
Information Table

Thursday 15th December, 20.00-01.00, Wynn's Hotel, Abbey Street


Watch this space, more events coming soon


Watch this space, more events coming soon.


Watch this space, more events coming soon.


Watch this space, more events coming soon.


Watch this space, more events coming soon.

Other Events of Interest

Friday 2nd December, 18.30-20.00, Central Hotel, Dublin
The Moral Case for Abortion

Monday 5th December, 09.30-17.30, CESCA, Performance and Development, HR South
St Mary's Health Campus, Cork

Embedding Equality and Human Rights

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




Vatican Should Apologise, Not Local Bishops – Rwanda

by Clerical Whispers

The Government of Rwanda wants genuine apology from Vatican –  the seat of Catholic Church and not an apology from local catholic bishops in the country.

On Sunday, Rwanda catholic Bishops wrote a letter apologizing on behalf of the Church’s role in planning and executing the 1994 genocide against Tutsi which claimed a million lives.

Moreover the letter was also not distributed to all dioceses across the country but only in Kigali. 

For example the letter was read three times at Saint Famille in Kigali but wasn’t mentioned at neighbouring Cathedral of Saint Michel.

A government statement released this afternoon on the message of Rwandan Catholic bishops reads that instead of a genuine apology, the church is playing innocent and taking it as a negligible event. Read more... 

Notes on Judge Harding-Clark's report on the Symphysiotomy payment scheme 

by Máiréad Enright


Judge Maureen Harding-Clark’s report on the much-criticised Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme was published two days ago. It is 275 pages long – 133 of commentary from the judge, 142 of extracts from medical literature and hospital records. Judge Harding-Clark was in an important position. She assessed applications from almost 600 women who believed that they had been subject to symphysiotomy. She oversaw searches of hospital records, and medical tests designed to verify their claims, and she allocated redress payments accordingly; 50,000 euro to those who could show they had had a symphysiotomy, 100,000 euro to those who could link that symphysiotomy to ongoing health consequences, and so on. Her report does more than describe the functioning of that role. It situates the scheme she oversaw in the context of an extensive defence of the uniquely Irish practice of non-emergency symphysiotomy. It is not the independent report survivors of symphysiotomy are entitled to under human rights law. The media have read it as diminishing SOS’s claim that the non-emergency substitution of symphysiotomy for Caesarean section without consent, as practiced in Ireland, violated many women’s human rights. However, this coverage has been insufficiently critical of this report. Here are just some of the report’s problematic features Read more...


Pastafarian Seminarian

by Free Thought Prophet/John Hamill

On Monday 21st November, I was invited to speak at an event in Maynooth University, as an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of Ireland. The topic related to faith, and how reliable or otherwise this is, as a method of understanding the truth about the world. The transcript for the talk is below. 

"I was raised as a Roman Catholic. My parents are devout people, who ensured that their kids never missed Mass. I was educated by the Christian Brothers, who ensured that I received comprehensive instruction in Catholicism. In my twenties, I had as much faith in Catholicism as anyone here in Maynooth. I had faith in scripture as the inerrant word of god and I had faith in the authority of teachings from the Roman Catholic Magisterium. Together, these two sources of revelation, scripture and authority, are referred to within Catholicism as the “Deposit of Faith” or the “fidei depositum”. As I grew older though, I realised that faith in scripture and faith in authority, are unreliable ways to learn about what is true in the world. That is why I defected from the Roman Catholic Church and became an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster." Read more...

Women Don’t Need a Priest’s Forgiveness After an Abortion

by Hemant Mehta

Pope Francis issued a letter today, just at the end of the “Year of Mercy,” saying that ordinary priests (as opposed to bishops) can forgive women who have abortions, even though the Catholic Church considers abortion a “grave sin.” The forgiveness would also extend to doctors and nurses involved in the procedure.
“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” the pope wrote in the letter. “In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.“

That may sound all well and good, but it’s worth pointing out that women (including Catholic women) who get abortions don’t need another man’s permission for having the procedure done — certainly not from a man who’s not the father. They don’t need a Christian Right activist blocking them from seeing an abortion doctor, and they sure as hell don’t need a priest to tell them they’re forgiven when they didn’t do anything wrong. 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.


Free Thought Prophet: “Giving Thanks for Jameson”

Sam Harris: The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence with Stuart Russell


Media Watch

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







29th November
International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

1st December
World AIDS Day

2nd December
International Day for the Abolition of Slavery 

3rd December
International Day of Persons with Disabilities


This Week in History

Celebrating/remembering a momentous event in atheism, science, skepticism, secularism or human rights, plundered shamelessly from Wikipedia and other sources.

December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order to give up her seat in the coloured section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation. Others had taken similar steps, including Bayard Rustin in 1942, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1952, and the members of the ultimately successful Browder v. Gayle 1956 lawsuit (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) who were arrested in Montgomery for not giving up their bus seats months before Parks. NAACP organizers believed that Parks was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws, although eventually her case became bogged down in the state courts while the Browder v. Gayle case succeeded.

Parks' act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and Martin Luther King, Jr., a new minister in town who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement. Read more...

Rosa Parks: Mini Bio

Montgomery Bus Boycott 



Celebrating the life and work of a notable atheist born this week in history.

1st December 1935, Heywood "Woody" Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg) is an American actor, comedian, filmmaker, playwright, and musician, whose career spans more than six decades.

He worked as a comedy writer in the 1950s, writing jokes and scripts for television and publishing several books of short humor pieces. In the early 1960s, Allen began performing as a stand-up comedian, emphasizing monologues rather than traditional jokes. As a comedian, he developed the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish, which he maintains is quite different from his real-life personality. In 2004, Comedy Central ranked Allen in fourth place on a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, while a UK survey ranked Allen as the third greatest comedian.

By the mid-1960s Allen was writing and directing films, first specializing in slapstick comedies before moving into dramatic material influenced by European art cinema during the 1970s, and alternating between comedies and dramas to the present. He is often identified as part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmakers of the mid-1960s to late 1970s. Allen often stars in his films, typically in the persona he developed as a standup. Some best-known of his over 40 films are Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). In 2007 he said Stardust Memories (1980), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Match Point (2005) were his best films. Critic Roger Ebert described Allen as "a treasure of the cinema."

Allen won four Academy Awards: three for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Director (Annie Hall). He also won nine British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards. His screenplay for Annie Hall was named the funniest screenplay by the Writers Guild of America in its list of the "101 Funniest Screenplays. In 2011, PBS televised the film biography, Woody Allen: A Documentary, on the American Masters TV series. Read more...


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