Why the State pays chaplains in ETB schools - Secular Sunday #554 || 7 August, 2022


Why the State pays chaplains in ETB schools


The State pays chaplains in ETB schools, who are mostly Catholic, to help parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children. This costs the state approximately €10 million per year.

This happens in ETB schools, which the Department of Education presents as the alternative to denominational schools. Why is the State allowed to fund this? A case in 1996 challenged these payments in ETB schools, on the grounds that it was an endowment of religion, which the Constitution forbids.

The Supreme Court found that parents are responsible for the religious education and formation of their children, but that the State could help the parents do that by funding chaplains. This means that the purpose of school chaplains is religious. They are not, as some people think, merely an inclusive resource for the whole school community.

That role could be filled, and should be filled, by a counsellor appointed under a fair recruitment process. Instead, the local Bishop decides who will be a school chaplain. Can you imagine if the State paid ETB schools to employ an atheist, to help parents with the atheistic education of their children? We would never hear the end of it.

Atheist Ireland will continue to highlight this religious privilege towards Catholic parents in ETB schools. You can help us to continue this work by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.

- Secular Sunday Editorial Team


Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach

Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:
  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News


The state pays €10m a year for Catholic school chaplains to help Catholic parents


The State pays Catholic and Church of Ireland Chaplains to help parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children. This funding costs the state approximately €10 million per year.
This is the purpose of the funding of Chaplains in ETB Community and Comprehensive Schools and designated Community Colleges. Most Chaplains are Catholic but some are Church of Ireland.
The Deeds of Trust for Community Colleges, and the Model Agreement for designated Community Colleges, state that the Chaplain must be nominated by the relevant religious authority. In the vast majority of cases that is the Catholic Church.
In 1996 a case was take to the courts regarding this funding. It was claimed that the funding of Chaplains was an endowment of religion, forbidden by the Constitution. The case went to the Supreme Court and in 1998 they found that this funding wasn’t an endowment of religion, because the State was helping parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children under Article 42.1, 42.4 and Article 44 of the Constitution.
The courts said that Community and Comprehensive schools were denominational in nature. They are either Catholic or Church of Ireland. They were open to all members of the community. The Catholic Church told the court that if the State didn’t fund Catholic Chaplains’ then they would be obliged to pay for them.
The Supreme Court recognised that teachers in Community schools were mostly lay teachers, and therefore it wasn’t practical to combine religious and academic education the way that a religious order might have done in the past.
The court found that, regardless of this, parents had the same right to have a religious education provided for their children, and they were not obliged to settle just for the religious instruction class.
This is the reason why Chaplains are funded by the State. Their very purpose is to assist Catholic and Church of Ireland parents with the religious education and faith formation of their children.
Justice Barrington went on to say that, if minority parents chose to send their children to Community or Comprehensive schools, they can expect them to be influenced to some degree by the religious ethos of these schools.
Community and Comprehensive schools, as well as designated Community Colleges, are presented as the alternative to denominational schools by the Department of Education.
So where does all this leave minorities in ETB schools and also in denominational schools?  Most parents have no choice where they send their children to school.
We are told that all parents have absolute Constitutional rights with regard to the education of their children, and that all schools are inclusive and promote diversity and pluralism.
We are asked to accept that inclusion, diversity and pluralism mean that our children can be influenced by a religious ethos in the general atmosphere of a school.
If religion is combined with academic subjects, this will be another avenue of religious influence, as well as our children being left in the religion class, because no supervision is provided outside the class.
Can you imagine if the State paid schools to employ an atheist, to assist parents with the atheistic education of their children, or to promote atheism in the general atmosphere of the school?
If that happened (which of course it shouldn’t), we would never hear the end of it. It would be seen as religious discrimination and undermining the rights of religious parents. It is the same when the State pays schools to employ a Catholic Chaplain to assist parents with the Catholic education of their children. Read online...


This week Atheist Ireland had a letter published in the Irish Times

Religious oaths and secular education - Atheist Ireland has repeatedly raised these issues with the UN

Sir, — The UN Human Rights Committee has again told Ireland to provide secular education by establishing non-denominational schools, and to further amend the Employment Equality Act to bar all forms of discrimination against teachers and medical workers.
The UN has also told Ireland to remove the religious oaths in the Constitution for people who take up senior public office positions, taking into account the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public.
Atheist Ireland has repeatedly raised these three issues with the UN, and the Irish State has repeatedly told the UN that it will address them, but the Government never carries through on these commitments.
Indeed, Ireland misled the UN this year by saying the Government’s objective is to have 400 “multidenominational or non-denominational schools”. But this is not true. The programme for Government refers only to “multidenominational” schools.
What the UN has asked for is secular or non-denominational schools, which they explicitly refer to in this week’s concluding observations.
Atheist Ireland continues to promote these three fundamental human rights: the right to secular education through non-denominational schools; the right to teach in schools and work in hospitals without religious discrimination, and the right to be president, a judge, taoiseach, or tánaiste, without swearing a religious oath that a conscientious atheist could not take. — Yours, etc, Read online...


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  $37,275 to 1300 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 1935 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 is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:
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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



Warning by Archbishop on future of Catholic Church in Ireland


By Patsy McGarry

Where the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned “the one certainty is the ongoing and sustained decline both in the numbers who practice and in the numbers of those who answer the Lord’s call to priesthood and religious life,” Archbishop of Tuam Francis Duffy has said.
“All trends are dramatically downwards with no turning point in sight. I suggest you look at your priest, he may be the last in a long line of resident pastors and may not be replaced,” he said.
“I suggest you look at your church, you may be lucky to have a Sunday Mass or several, but for how much longer? I suggest you look at your fellow parishioners at Mass, who among your neighbours will continue to be the new leaders and carry on pastoral work in your parish, alongside a much smaller number of clergy? Who among them will lead prayer services and keep faith alive and active through catechesis and other initiatives?,” he said.
“Some may think I have painted a somewhat dismal picture. It is the current reality as I see it, and as I know many of you see it too. While we must face it and work with it, we must not lose hope,” he said.
It was “a time of decline in some respect but it is a time of great hope. Opportunities are there to be seized,” he said. It was “the best of times to be a priest, challenging – yes, with risks – yes, with God on our side – yes”.
It was “a time for faith, faith into action, faith into reaching out,” he said.
Noting that the Catholic Church in Ireland “has formally entered a synodal process” in which the faithful were being consulted on its future, he said he is “convinced that this is the way to go and it will be a fruitful new departure”.
But, he warned “the synodal process is a pathway not a runway.” In saying that “some people wondered if I was dampening down expectations, I said I was being realistic,” he said.
The synodal process was “a new chapter for the Catholic Church in this country. It means learning as we journey together all the while being guided by the Holy Spirit. It means being patient with each other and respectful of differing views, being adventurous and willing to value the new, as well as the traditional, and it calls for being focused.”
There were “no quick fix solutions or approaches as we reflect on and consider our Church. Instead we journey together on a path that will have many twists and turns and will not always be easy.”
The Archbishop was speaking as a report is being prepared for submission to Rome by August 15th next as part of preparations there for a Synod in October 2023.
The report is a synthesis of many radical views expressed by Irish Catholics following widespread consultations in the Church’s 26 dioceses across the island where laity called for fundamental change, including the ordination of women, a removal of mandatory celibacy for priests, and for a more inclusive Church more with regard to members of the LGBTI+ community, the divorced and remarried, single parents, and cohabiting couples.
Last month the Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin warned against “divisiveness and polarisation of views” as preparations continue on the report to be submitted to Rome this month. It was “vitally important,” he said, not to allow the discussion about the synod in Rome next year to “degenerate into a kind of them and us adversarial process which loses sight of our shared belonging within the Church of Christ”.
Concerns have been expressed in Ireland, and elsewhere, that these pre-synodal discussions throughout the Catholic world could damage, not create, communion in the church, even as the synod would “not diminish the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, but rather affirm and enhance it,” Archbishop Martin said.


New Irish adoption law opens wounds as 900 register to trace birth families


By Lisa O'Carroll

Octogenarian and child of five among adopted children or parents applying for unrestricted access to early years data. An 81-year-old, adopted as a child, and a 74-year-old mother who gave up her baby for adoption, are among 900 people who have registered to trace their parents or children after landmark legislation was passed in Ireland.
The public response to the new laws, which came into force on 1 July, is opening decades-old wounds for children and parents who were separated at birth, some sent to the UK or the US, during the past 100 years.
The data, released on Thursday by the Adoption Authority of Ireland, indicate many have lived to late adulthood without knowing who their birth parents are.
Irish people adopted abroad as children to get full access to their records
Read more
Of the 891 who have registered the AAI said the oldest person to request their data was 81, and the mean age of applicants (both parent and child) was 50. The youngest was a five-year-old whose adoptive parents had registered on their behalf.
Of the 786 seeking contact with parents, 74% want information on their birth mother, with 17% seeking data on their father and 9% seeking contact with a brother, sister or multiple siblings.
This reflects pressure on unmarried mothers in Catholic Ireland to give up their babies for adoption, but who went on to have more children later in life.
Others are seeking contact with a grandparent, cousin, aunt or uncle, AAI said.
The 81-year-old seeking their birth data would have been informally adopted, as adoption was not legal until 1953 – presenting a challenging task for anyone seeking to find their birth parents before the new legislation.
The laws, which came into force last month, provide all adoptees with the legal entitlement to full and unrestricted access to their birth certificate, and birth, early life, care, and medical information.
Those who were informally adopted before 1953, a process known as “boarded out”, or who had their birth illegally registered, can also apply for their data.
Last month the AAI, which is charged with managing the process, launched an awareness campaign to reach adult adoptees who were taken into families in the UK, the US and elsewhere.
The AAI said most of the 891 people who had registered in the first month of the laws being enacted were from Ireland. More than 100 are from abroad, 40 of them from the UK, 17 from the US and four from Australia.
The Birth Information and Tracing Act allows adoptees or relatives to register their preference for contact with a parent of child until October, when the tracing process can legally start. In October they can apply to obtain the data.
Patricia Carey, AAI chief executive, said: “We are very encouraged by the number of people who have registered. Come October, when the free services under the legislation open, adoptees will finally have the right to access all of their birth information held by the state. This wasn’t the case previously, so it is a big deal.”
It is known that 48,000 children were adopted between 1953 and 2021, with an additional 2,000 children known to have been sent overseas and another 20,000 “boarded out”.


Letter to the Irish Times - Abolishing religious oaths A better solution


By Alan Tuffery

Sir, – Nora Gorey’s (Letters, August 4th) proposes a “simple solution” to the problem of compulsory religious oaths by offering a choice between a religious and a secular oath.
Alas, it is not that simple. There may be many reasons why an individual may prefer not to reveal their religious or other affiliation.
For example, they may fear that a case of crucial importance to them may be prejudiced.
Further, there is a right “not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public”. This right was specifically mentioned in the Centre for Civil and Political Rights’ comments on the 2021 United Nations Period Review of Human Rights in Ireland.
Religious oaths were described by the Law Reform Commission as “at best embarrassing and at worst offensive to the religious beliefs of the persons to whom they are meant to apply”.
It recommended that the oath should be abolished and replaced with a solemn statutory affirmation for witnesses, jurors, and for deponents submitting affidavits in all civil and criminal proceedings.
That would be a better solution and is simple enough – apart from the constitutional change required to remove the requirement of a religious oath of the president, judges and members of the Council of State. – Yours, etc
Read online...



Shelby County teacher proselytized students, says Freedom From Religion Foundation


By Alabama Political Reporter Staff

Shelby County teacher has been warned against promoting Christianity at Calera High School after school officials were alerted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation about his activities.FFRF, a watchdog organization that seeks to prevent any promotion of religion within the government, says a concerned parent notified them that a Calera teacher had sent home Christian literature with students and signed a student’s yearbook with a religious message.
“…you are designed for a grand incredible purpose that has cosmic significance,” FFRF cited the inscription as reading. “The God of the Universe, your creator and mine, has made a way for men and women to commune with Him and to be found in Him. This purpose is tied up in His identity, who He is, God is triune, three persons one God. God the Holy Spirit, God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Father… He desires a corporate Bride for the Son, Jesus Christ. He desires children for His family, Sons and daughters reconciled to the Father.”
The organization notified Shelby County Schools of the teacher’s actions. “If the district continues to turn a blind eye to the overt proselytization occurring in Mr. Waring’s classroom, it becomes complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the school district’s counsel. “The district must make certain that none of its employees are unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by discussing their personal religious beliefs, preaching, handing out religious materials, or otherwise creating a religious environment in their classrooms.”
The school district initiated a probe after FFRF’s missive and took action.
“Following the investigation, they have had repeated conversations with the teacher, required him to review materials emphasizing the importance of separation of church and state, and had him put together a written reflection confirming he understood the importance of the issue,” the attorney for the district recently emailed Line. The Freedom From Religion Foundation said it is appreciative as to how open to outside advice the Shelby County Schools system is.
“The school district took strong action after we informed it about the teacher’s constitutional transgressions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re pleased at the way things turned out.” Read online...


Kansas voters protect abortion rights in post-Roe v Wade referendum


By Press Association

VOTERS IN THE US state of Kansas have protected abortion rights by rejecting a measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban it outright.
The referendum in the conservative state was the first test of US voter sentiment about abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June.
It was a major victory for abortion rights advocates following weeks in which many states in the South and Midwest largely banned abortion.
Voters rejected a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have added language stating that it does not grant the right to abortion.
A 2019 state Supreme Court decision declared that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights, preventing a ban and potentially thwarting legislative efforts to enact new restrictions.
The referendum was closely watched as a barometer of liberal and moderate voters’ anger over the June ruling scrapping the nationwide right to abortion.

The measure’s failure also was significant because of how conservative Kansas is and how twice as many Republicans as Democrats have voted in its August primaries in the decade leading up to last night’s tilt.
Opponents of the measure predicted that the anti-abortion groups and lawmakers behind the measure would push quickly for an abortion ban if voters approved it.
The 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights blocked a law that banned the most common second-trimester procedure, and another law imposing special health regulations on abortion providers is also on hold.
Abortion opponents argued that all of the state’s existing restrictions were in danger, though some legal scholars found that argument dubious. Kansas does not ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy.
Backers of the measure began with advantage because anti-abortion lawmakers set the vote for primary election day, when for the past 10 years Republicans have cast twice as many ballots as Democrats. But the early-voting electorate was more Democratic than usual.


Rev Richard Coles and Richard Dawkins dine across the divide: ‘The problem is he’s not swayed by evidence but by feeling’


By Sam Wollaston

In our celebrity Dining across the divide special, the cleric meets the atheist biologist. Can they find any understanding on the value of faith?
Richard C, 60, East Sussex
Occupation Cleric, broadcaster, writer and Communard (retired)
Voting record Always Labour. “I was a party member for a while. I rejoined to vote for Keir; I rather like Keir”
Amuse bouche Richard skydives. On his first tandem freefall, jumping from a plane at 10,000ft, he asked the instructor what was the worst thing that could happen. “He said: ‘Fuck it up completely and kill us both!’”

Richard D, 81, Oxford
Occupation Evolutionary biologist, author, atheist
Voting record Lib Dem. “To begin with it was because I liked the Oxford MP Evan Harris, one of the few scientists in parliament, and very intelligent. In recent elections I have just been passionately anti-Brexit”
Amuse bouche Richard plays the EWI (pronounced ee-wee), which stands for electronic wind instrument. “It looks like a clarinet, but can sound like anything that has been programmed into it – trumpet, tuba, cello, accordion, panpipes”

For starters
RC I grew up in a world of Christian values; I was a chorister as a kid.
RD I was too.
RC I was singing the music of the Anglican choral tradition.
RD As was I.
RC But I was an atheist from the age of eight, unshakably certain that the universe was a material phenomenon.
RD That is unusual in an eight-year-old. What led you to that?
RC My grandfather’s death. I remember hearing people say well-intentioned phrases about him having gone to a better place, but I couldn’t get past the idea of him decomposing in a grave – it just seemed to me that was what was going on.
RD Do you think he is in a better place now?
RC Yes, as well as decomposing. Once I got to the other side of accepting faith then all sorts of possibilities opened up. The idea that we can endure in some way after the death of our material selves – I find that captivating.
RD Captivating, but is it realistic? The brain has come into existence as a result of millions of years of evolution, presumably acquiring what we think of as consciousness. Why would you think that something that has come into being through evolution goes on when the brain decays?

The big beef
RC At the end of my 20s, HIV took out about a third of my circle. I wanted to connect with that feeling from when I was a kid of being in chapel and loving the music.
RD Your conversion to Christianity came about because of HIV deaths?
RC That’s what got me through the door: the turmoil and devastation and thinking: where do I go with this?
RD You needed somewhere to go and the material world didn’t provide the consolation you needed, so you became a believer.
RC I suppose I did get consolation, but much more than that it challenged me fundamentally about the world. It was so extraordinarily rich and surprising and counterintuitive. And I started to read the Bible seriously.
RD Apart from the resurrection, which I presume you believe in, what about miracles like water into wine, walking on water …?
RC Highly unlikely scenarios, and in my own experience I have never come across something inexplicably supernatural. But accepting the incarnation is the big one. If God does that, God could do anything; that’s the key for me.
RD I can appreciate the message in the same way I can appreciate a novel where I don’t believe in the characters but nevertheless can empathise with them and love them. I don’t understand why you take the gospels seriously because scholars don’t.
RC Plenty of scholars do. The gospels are very complicated, there are all sorts of things going on in them – some of it is eyewitness account, memory, oral tradition; some of it is theological. It’s very challenging sometimes, but it’s worth it because of the fruits, because of the wonderful stuff that continues to captivate me and motivate me.



Over 70% Brits don’t think it’s important for PM to be Christian


By The National Secular Society

The National Secular Society has called for separation of church and state as figures show Britons don't think the prime minister must be Christian.
Seventy-one per cent of British people said it was "not at all important" (49%) or "not very important" (22%) for a British prime minister to be a Christian, according to figures collected by Deltapoll last month.
Only 23% thought being a Christian was "quite important" (14%) or "very important" (9%) for a prime minister.
There is no religious qualification for a prime minister, but the UK's head of state, the monarch, holds the title "Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England". Under current laws, the monarch is required to "join in communion" with the Church of England and promote Anglicanism in Britain.
Catholics are specifically excluded from becoming the monarch.
The UK is also the only democracy to have an explicitly Christian ceremony for its head of state's accession, with the monarch pledging to maintain the "laws of God" during the coronation.
The entanglement of church and state, resulting from the established status of the Church of England, has also caused problems for prime ministers. Last year, Boris Johnson was forced to relinquish his prime ministerial role of advising on the appointment of CofE bishops after apparently converting to Catholicism.

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