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Today is Census Day - Secular Sunday #536 || 3 April, 2022

Editorial

Today is Census Day

 
Today, Sunday 3 April, you will fill in your census form for 2022. The results will be used in planning the allocation of public services and resources, including the Catholic Church controlling almost all of our State-funded primary schools.

Atheist Ireland has spent the last month running a social media campaign to ask people, if they are not religious, to mark the ‘No Religion’ box on question 12. We would like to thank everyone who has responded positively or critically to this important discussion.

This census question has traditionally been a leading one: ‘What is your religion?’ Research has shown that nonreligious people can answer this question by naming the religion they grew up in. However, when asked a non-leading question like ‘Do you have a religion’, they are more likely to answer no.

For this census, after lobbying by Atheist Ireland, the words ‘if any’ have been added to make clear that you are not expected to automatically have a religion. Also, the first check-box is now ‘No Religion’, which comes before the list of the five most popular religions from the last census.

If you do not have a religion today, please remember that the question is about what you believe today, at the time of the census. We are optimistic that this year’s census will continue to record the rise of the nonreligious in Ireland, from just a thousand in 1961 to nearly half a million in 2016.

You can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work on this and other secular issues by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.


 
- Secular Sunday Editorial Team

 

Éire Aindiach



Éire Aindiach

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

Atheist Ireland News


 

This Sunday is Census Day

 
This Sunday, 3 April, you will fill in your census form for 2022. The results will be used in planning the allocation of public services and resources, including the Catholic Church controlling almost all of our State-funded primary schools.
To keep the census figures accurate, please pay attention to the new religion question, which now reads: ‘What is your religion, if any?’ If you are not religious, be sure to mark the ‘No Religion’ box.
Note that the words ‘if any’ have been added to make clear that you are not expected to automatically have a religion. Also, the first check-box is now ‘No Religion’, which comes before the list of the five most popular religions from the last census.
Note also that the CSO formally advises that the question is about what you believe ‘at the time of the census’, so you shouldn’t just mark the religion you were brought up in. You won’t write in your childhood address, so don’t mark your childhood religion.
These small improvements came after lobbying by Atheist Ireland during a consultation process. We argued that the old question, ’What is your religion’, assumed that everyone had a religion, and resulted in people writing down a religion even if they were not religious.
As a further prejudice, the listed options used to be ordered in the sequence of the most frequently given responses from the previous census. However, although ‘No religion’ was the second most frequent answer in the second-last census, it did not appear in second place in the last census.
This year we can continue to record the rise of the nonreligious in Ireland, from just a thousand in 1961 to nearly half a million in 2016. What will it be this year? Another rise will put pressure on the State to deliver public services without giving privilege to the Roman Catholic Church based on inaccurate census numbers.
You can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work on this and other secular issues by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.































Read online...

 

Department of Education is undermining a foundational pillar of the Constitution

 
Syllabus Religious Education was introduced into second level schools in 2000. It is an exam subject at junior and Leaving Certificate level.
The Department of Education, the NCCA, teachers and schools as well as the TUI all claim that syllabus Religious Education is suitable for all religions and those with no religion, and does not come under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. This is the Article in the Constitution that gives students the right to not attend religious instruction if it is against the conscience of their parents. It is a condition of state funding.
But an amendment in 1998 to the Intermediate Education Act 1878 shows that the Department of Education knew in 1998 that syllabus Religious Education does in fact come under the protection of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.
The Department’s current position is an attack on the rights of parents under the Constitution.  The Department and successive Ministers have undermined a foundational pillar of the Constitution: the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children and the right to not attend religious instruction. It is also a misuse of public funds because not attending Religious Instruction is a condition of state funding of schools.
Here’s how the 1998 amendment shows that they are aware of this.
Legislative change needed to introduce syllabus Religious Education
In order to introduce Religious Education as an exam subject Section 5 (4) of the Intermediate Education Act 1878 had to be amended. This was a problem for the Department of Education and the NCCA who wanted to be able to hold and fund exams in religion at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. Their legal advice was that the Intermediate Education Act 1878 was still in force.
Under Section 5 (4) of the Intermediate Education Act 1878 no exam in religious instruction could take place in publicly funded schools. The Act stated that:-
Section (5) – It shall be the duty of the Board to promote intermediate secular education in Ireland in the manner provided by this Act; (that is to say,)
(4)Generally by applying the funds placed at the disposal of the Board for the purposes of this Act as hereby directed: Provided, that no examination shall be held in any subject of religious instruction, nor any payment made in respect thereof.
The Education Act 1998 amended it as follows:
“35(1) Section 5 of the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1878, is hereby amended in
subsection (4) by the deletion of “; provided that no examination shall be held in any subject
of religious instruction, nor any payment made in respect thereof”.”
The explanatory memorandum for the Education Act 1998 explained why this was done:
“The Act is the basis for the conduct of the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and
the amendment will permit the introduction of religion as an examination subject.”
It follows from this that the funding of Syllabus ‘Religious Education’ as an exam subject comes under the category of ‘Religious Instruction’. Otherwise it would not have been necessary to amend the ban in the Intermediate Education Act 1878 regarding ‘Religious Instruction’ in order to hold and fund examinations in Syllabus ‘Religious Education’.
The Burke case and undermining the rights of parents
Section 62-7(n) of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 obliges schools to out in their Admission Policies the arrangements for students who exercise their Constitutional right to not attend ‘Religious Instruction’.
Many schools inform parents in their Admissions Policies that they are not obliged to inform them of the arrangements for students not attending ‘Religious Instruction’ because syllabus ‘Religious Education’ is not ‘Religious Instruction’ where the right to not attend applies. Other schools tell parents to come into a meeting in the school to discuss the issue.
Parents have a constitutional right in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children under Article 42 of the Constitution.
In the recent Burke case the Supreme Court has said that an overall saver in the Constitution is Article 42.4 (J.Charleton para 4). The obligation on the State to have due regard for the rights of parents reflects a concern for upholding parental authority; a foundational pillar of the Constitution that accords with Article 41 recognising the family as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of” Irish society. Hence, society is built around the family.
The Department of Education has undermined parental authority in relation to the religous and moral formation of their children. Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the rights of parents under the Irish Constitution. Read online...

 
 

The State should not give the Catholic Church control of state-funded hospitals

 
The Irish Constitution was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. There are Articles in the Irish Constitution that favour religion and protect the interests of religious institutions.
There are Constitutional reasons why governments should not fund religious institutions to deliver public services. Publicly funded hospitals that are religious can deliver healthcare according to their own ethos.
For example publicly funded Catholic hospitals can refuse contraception, in vitro fertilisation and abortion. Funding such hospitals means that these services cannot be accessed and people would need to access such services elsewhere.
The state is not obliged to fund religious healthcare institutions, but has chosen to do so. Here are the Articles in the Constitution that put restraints on the State if it makes that choice.
Article 44.1
The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.
Article 44.2.5
Every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire and administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.
Article 44.2.6
The property of any religious denomination or any educational institution shall not be diverted save for necessary works of public utility and on payment of compensation.
WIth these Constitutional clauses in place, why would any government want to hand over our New Maternity Hospital to a private religious charity?
This Sunday is the Census. If you are not religious, please mark that you have no religion. Send a message to the state that we are not all Catholic, and that we want secular public services. Read online...
 



Know your rights

 
The Supreme Court said parental authority in relation to the religious & moral formation of their children is a foundational pillar of the constitution, it is a condition of state funding.

Despite this teachers are obliged to uphold the ethos of the patron not the rights of parents.

The Learning outcomes in the ‘Goodness Me Goodness You course’ in Community National Schools require children to demonstrate an understanding and respect for the Codes of Conduct for a range of belief traditions.The Catholic Bishops Code of Ethical standards for Healthcare is such a Code of Conduct.

Parents from non religious backgrounds teach their children to challenge, not respect this code of conduct because it is against their conscience. This is what multi denominational religious education means in Community National schools. It is not an objective course and undermines the rights of non religious families in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children.

The state intends to hand over our New Maternity Hospital to a religious charity while teaching children to respect not challenge the catholic bishops codes of conduct.







 
Under the Irish Constitution the state is obliged to respect and honour religion. In addition religious bodies have the right to manage their own affairs. Given these constitutional obligations why are we handing over our New Maternity Hospital to a religious charity?




 


Calling concerned teachers


If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at teachers@atheist.ie
 

 

List of Atheist Ireland Submissions

 

 

Buy this book "Is My Family Odd About Gods?"

 
**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more...


 
Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.
 

Lessons about Atheism


Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans

 


 

Be Good without Gods

 
Atheist Ireland 'Good Without Gods' Kiva team members have made loans of  $36,000 to 1253 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner's social and secular rating here.

 

Notme.ie

 
Atheist Ireland's 'notme.ie' is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1915 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

 

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition - The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,109 Help us reach it's target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven't already done so. Thank you.


 

Tell us what you think

Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at secularsunday@atheist.ie.
 

 




Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland


Last week 23 March was International #AtheistDay. Join Atheist Ireland to promote secular schools and ethical laws.

 
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:
  • 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

 
Join

The Final Countdown to Census 2022

6 days to the Census on Sunday 3 April. If you’re not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.


 
5 days to the Census on Sunday 3 April. If you’re not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.



4 days to the Census on Sunday 3 April. If you’re not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.


 
3 days to the Census on Sunday 3 April. If you’re not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.



2 days to the Census on Sunday 3 April. If you’re not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.



 
1 day to the Census, tomorrow, Sunday 3 April. If you’re not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.


 
Today, Sunday 3 April, is Census Day. If you are not religious, mark ‘No Religion’.

 

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

 
 

National

 

What is it about religious orders and land? It makes me want to gag

 

By Fergus Finlay

 
You couldn’t be up to them, could you? The religious orders in Ireland, I mean. Let’s talk about one of them in particular, the Holy Ghost Fathers. Or the Spiritans, as they’re grandly called. It was an interview about them that made me almost gag this week.
I suppose I should declare an interest first of all. When I was younger I had an uncle who was a Holy Ghost priest. Not quite an uncle, he was my mother’s first cousin, and the same age as her. Father Jack we called him. He died when I was in my 20s, but he used to visit our house fairly regularly when I was a kid.
I remember him as kindly. His face was always grave, but he never left the house without distributing shillings amongst us. I was fond of him, I guess, and that was why in later years I asked a few people who had been taught by him, mainly in Rockwell College, if they remembered him.
I can still remember the reaction of the grown men I spoke to. They each, literally, went pale at the mention of his name, and one or two found themselves unable to speak. Little by little, I discovered that he had a deep cruel streak. He had a way of belittling young people that would reduce them to nothing, and leave deep lifelong scars.
I had occasion, many years later, to speak in Rockwell College, and I asked some of the priests there about him. He wasn’t someone they really wished to talk about, but I was later sent a little book called Spiritans Remembered — basically a list of all of them with a little pen picture of each.
In relation to my uncle, he was described as a “strict disciplinarian” and the following appeared: “His coldness of temperament and his austere approach to life somewhat curtailed his influence for bringing out the best in those with whom he had to deal”. I had to grudgingly admire the use of the word “somewhat” to describe boys who were terrified of him.
The Holy Ghost fathers have a lot of worse skeletons in their closet. Ten years ago, an audit by the Church’s National Safeguarding Body found at least 47 abusing priests in the order in the past.
 “There is evidence that there were serial abusers who worked in school communities in Ireland. They went undetected and unchecked giving them unmonitored access to children during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s,” the audit report said.
The Holy Ghost fathers apologised, of course. I don’t know, however, if they ever made any contribution to the compensation fund that was established by the government to make restitution to survivors of abuse. If they did, it presumably would have been a small part of the paltry contribution made by the church and religious orders to the overall fund, under the infamous indemnity deal negotiated by the then government.
I’m pretty sure they could afford it. Not only do they own some of the most valuable lands in Ireland, they also run some of the most expensive schools here. If you visit their website, the first thing you see is a big yellow button with the word “Donate” on it. The second is their motto: “In Service of those in greatest need”. Read more...


 

New census religion question offers scope for change

 

By Colm O'Connor

 
On Sunday evening, Census 2022 will take place. Most questions cover factual matters such as our ages and professions, but Question 12 stands out as different, as it asks us about our spiritual beliefs.
For the first time, the traditional wording of ‘What is your religion?’ has been replaced with ‘What is your religion, if any?’.
For some, this question might give pause for thought, particularly if we are completing the form on behalf of our children or other family members. For example, should we say that we are religious just because we were baptised? Or indeed, can we make any claim about the religious beliefs of our children?  
In 2016, I was one of the 10% who ticked the ‘No Religion’ box. Six years earlier, I had ‘defected’ from the Catholic Church, by demonstrating to the satisfaction of the bishop, my sincere desire to leave. In effect, I was excommunicated, at my request and could no longer participate in sacraments.
However, the change in status had a far greater significance to me.
Two months earlier, we had received a terminal diagnosis for our much-loved baby daughter, then 10 weeks old. Our lives were changed unexpectedly and irrevocably.
That first week after her diagnosis was characterised by a mixture of numbed shock, fear, and given the short timeframe (she had a maximum of 10 months to live), a frenzy of decision-making. 
For some, a religious upbringing would have provided real comfort, but for me, it was a source of additional stress.
Initially, I felt the urge to have her baptised for two reasons (even though I had not believed in God or an afterlife since I was 17).
Firstly, in a practical sense, I knew nothing about graveyards. I thought that they were owned by the Catholic Church and that we would have to get her baptised ‘to get her in’, mirroring the ‘baptism barrier’ in some schools. This was clearly not the case, as the social worker explained, but it was the first time that I recognised the depth of influence of religious teaching on my subconscious.
The second issue was more serious. Despite not believing in an afterlife, I couldn’t escape the fear that if I was wrong, perhaps I would get into heaven and that she would not. The concept of limbo had recently been ‘cancelled’ by Pope Benedict XVI, but culture runs deep.
I couldn’t rest until we were in the same category, so that if she ‘didn’t get in’, neither would I, and so I could mind her. Again, these were the thoughts of someone who hadn’t believed in an afterlife for 16 years. 
At that time, the CountMeOut.ie campaign was assisting people with the process of ‘defecting’ from the Catholic church. 12,000 people downloaded the form, before Pope Benedict’s decision to ban the practice. I was likely one of the last people to be allowed to defect. Read more...


 

International



Evangelical school drops Operation Christmas Child after parents complain about homophobia

 

By Humanists UK

 
An independent evangelical faith school has abandoned its support of Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, and its annual shoebox appeal Operation Christmas Child (OCC). St Lawrence College in Ramsgate dropped OCC following a complaint from parents about the charity’s links to homophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric. OCC uses Christmas gifts to proselytise to vulnerable children in the developing world. The President of Samaritan’s Purse is US preacher Franklin Graham: he has made frequent homophobic and anti-Muslim remarks. Humanists UK has been supporting the parents, and has welcomed the school’s decision.Rev Franklin Graham obtained notoriety in the United States by claiming that Barack Obama had “allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to become part of the US government and influence administration decisions”. He has also spoken out in defence of Vladimir Putin’s homophobic “gay propaganda” law, and called for all Muslim immigration to be banned.
The parents originally raised their concerns about OCC in November 2021, but the school defended its association with the charity on the basis it was in line with its Christian ethos. This was also the school’s position when the parents raised a formal complaint, which was dismissed at stages one and two of the complaints process. It was not until a stage three hearing that the school finally upheld the complaint, and has now agreed to stop supporting OCC.
In a joint statement explaining the decision, the chair of governors and the head teacher said: 
‘The College carried out due diligence on Samaritan’s Purse… and believed its values were in line with the College’s Christian ethos. We now accept our research, which was conducted in good faith, did not give sufficient consideration of the wider potential impact that supporting Operation Christmas Child may have on the existing College community, or a proper assessment of the charitable purposes of Samaritan’s Purse. We have therefore decided not to support this charity in future.’
The statement went on to reference how Samaritan’s Purse is opposed to same-sex marriage, and the school makes clear that ‘such views are not in line with a school where pupils can be themselves and are respected and celebrated for who they are.’
Read more...
 

The big idea: do we still need religion?

 

By Robin Dunbar

 
In 2018, archaeologists moving bodies for reburial from a 19th-century cemetery in Birmingham to make way for the new HS2 station were puzzled to find several that had plates on their laps. Then someone remembered a curious custom from the nearby Welsh Marches – that of the village “sin-eater”. A plate of bread and salt would be placed on the deceased’s lap while they were lying in repose. Just before the coffin was closed and the funeral cortege set off for the church, the village sin-eater arrived, ate the bread and was given some coins and a glass of ale for their trouble. The belief was that the deceased’s sins were absorbed by the salt and transferred into the bread, and then into the sin-eater.
Sin-eaters were usually elderly and destitute, and glad to have the money – not to mention the free food and drink. The price they paid was to be shunned by their community because of their macabre associations. The last known sin-eater was Richard Munslow, who died aged 73 in 1906. Sin-eating reminds us that, more than anything else, even the most staid of religions – in this case, Anglicanism – can be associated with surprisingly curious beliefs and rituals.
 
Perhaps because of this, it has often been claimed that religious belief arises from ignorance and superstition. If that were the case, you might expect religion to gradually fade away as societies became better educated and more scientifically oriented.
There are at least two reasons, however, why religions persist. One is the fact that, on average, religious people are generally happier, healthier and live longer. For better or for worse, they also have easier deaths when the time comes. The other is that religious people are more likely to feel that they belong to a community. In a survey I ran, those who reported attending religious services were depressed less frequently, felt their lives were more worthwhile, were more engaged with their local community, and felt greater trust towards others. These enormous benefits mean not only that religion has enduring appeal, but that religious practices make you “fit” in the evolutionary sense – and thus they tend to stick around.
Part of the reason people are attracted to religion is that its rituals – the standing, sitting and kneeling in unison, the singing, the listening to emotionally rousing sermons – trigger the brain’s endorphin system. This is the mechanism that underpins social bonding in all primates, including humans. Like opiates, endorphins produce a sense of bliss bordering on ecstasy, calmness and warmth, relaxation and trust, while elevating pain thresholds. In addition to these hedonic benefits, endorphins trigger the release of natural killer cells (part of the body’s immune system). Read more...


 

Woman slaughtered in DI Khan over alleged blasphemy, 3 seminary teachers arrested

 

By Sirajuddin

 
Three female teachers of a seminary in Dera Ismail Khan were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly killing a former colleague after accusing her of blasphemy, according to District Police Officer (DPO) Najamul Hasnain.
The DPO told Dawn.com the murder occurred early in the morning outside the Jamia Islamia Falahul Binaat. According to the first information report (FIR), a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, when police reached the site of the crime, they found the victim lying in a pool of blood with her throat slashed.
Sharp objects were used in the attack on the victim, the FIR added.
DPO Hasnain said the suspects — aged 17, 21 and 24 respectively — killed the 21-year-old victim over "difference of opinion on religious issues" and allegations of blasphemy.
He said the victim was a follower of well-known religious scholar Maulana Tariq Jameel, which was not liked by the suspects.
The DPO quoted the suspects as saying that a 13-year-old female relative of theirs "saw a dream last night" in which she found out about the alleged blasphemy committed by the victim and was subsequently "ordered to slaughter her".
A register containing details of the dream has been recovered during the initial investigation, the DPO said, adding that the trio of suspects, along with their relative, have been arrested. Read more...


 

A government blueprint for more religious control of schools?

 

By Alastair Lichten

 
The government's new proposals for education reform in England could see increased discrimination, and most non-faith schools placed in faith-based academy trusts. Alastair Lichten explores the threat to secular education posed by the 'Opportunity for all' white paper.'Opportunity for all' sets out the government's vision for the future of England's education system. But perhaps the biggest opportunity created is for further religious control of publicly funded schools.
The white paper published Monday contains a few positive proposals and potential opportunities for secularists. However, the central proposal – a renewed push for all schools to academise and join multi-academy trusts (MATs) – poses a grave threat to the future of secular education.
More funding for CofE and other faith-based academies
Establishing a new MAT has costs for any provider, but the paper singles out those "which Dioceses and other religious authorities face" and gives them special treatment by committing to "develop options for financial support". This would put anyone developing secular or community ethos trusts at a disadvantage.
We've long warned that the government's enthusiasm for faith based MATs risks replacing secular oversight of state schools with opaque religious governance. The established church hopes to see local education authorities "wither on the vine" so they can take over this role. In our 2018 report on academisation and its threat to secular education, we revealed almost half of non-faith schools in MATs where potentially governed by faith based trusts, and hundreds had become faith schools. The proposals risk seriously accelerating this trend.
While the paper claims that once moved into MATs "schools will retain their ethos", the DfE have continually failed to set out meaningful protections for the secular ethos of community schools. This is in marked contrast to proposals to protect what is euphemistically referred to as "statutory freedoms" for faith schools that become academies. We should be challenging, not entrenching, the 'freedoms' faith schools have to discriminate when selecting pupils, staff and governors, or when creating their curriculum.
The commitment to "ensuring that all providers of schools with a religious character remain able to open new schools, once all schools are in trusts" has two worrying implications. The most obvious is more non-faith schools taken over, or faith schools forced under tighter control. But this could also herald another attempt to introduce new 100% religiously selective academies.
New attack on the 50% cap
Currently new academies (free schools) have a 50% cap on religious selection of their pupils. This has meant some religious groups (principally the Catholic Education Service) that wish to practice up to 100% religiously discriminatory admissions have had to propose voluntary aided schools instead. These face comparatively more scrutiny and opportunity for public opposition, so have been less successful. If the government want "all providers" of faith schools to continue opening new schools, and for all new schools to be academies, they may be preparing to weaken the 50% cap. Read more...


 

Texas teacher settles lawsuit with student he forced to write out Pledge of Allegiance

 

By Elisha Fieldstadt

 
A Texas high school teacher who was sued after he forced a student to write out the Pledge of Allegiance after she refused to say it has settled with the student for $90,000, according to a civil rights organization.
American Atheists, which represented the student, Mari Oliver, said in a statement Tuesday that Benjie Arnold, a 12th grade sociology teacher at Klein Oak High School in Harris County, about 30 miles north of Houston, agreed to the settlement.
 
"The Texas Association of School Boards, a risk pool funded by Texas school districts, has paid $90,000 to resolve the case before trial," the statement said.
Oliver sued Arnold and the school in 2017, according to court documents. She said she was "harassed, disciplined, and retaliated against for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance," according to American Atheists.
Oliver, who is Black, had "exercised her constitutional right to decline to participate in the Pledge out of her objection to the words, 'Under God,' and her belief that the United States does not adequately guarantee 'liberty and justice for all,' especially for people of color."
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 decided that students may not be required to salute the American flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance if it is against their religious belief. Texas law also stipulates that if a student has a written request to sit out the pledge, from a parent or guardian, a public or charter school must honor that.
Oliver's mom had made the request but she still faced harassment over her decision not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, according to the suit. Her mom pulled her out of school to homeschool her for a time.
 
"When she returned, the discrimination she faced for sitting out the Pledge resumed and intensified," according to American Atheists. Teachers were informed of Oliver’s decision, but Arnold continued to retaliate against her for not reciting the Pledge, the suit said.
 
He required that Oliver and her classmates write out the Pledge of Allegiance, and when Oliver refused, he told her: “What you’ve done is leave me no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want," the American Atheists statement said.
Arnold was then caught on a recording offering to pay for students to move to Europe, but telling them they would have to pay him back double if they wanted to return to the U.S. Read more...


 

With inquisition-like tactics, Libya is jailing progressive youths on charges of atheism

 

By Paul McLoughlin

 
The authorities in post-Gaddafi Libya often make a lot of promises about a new era for democracy and freedom. Instead, human rights groups and activists are warning the country is steadily returning to 'total tyranny' with a sustained security crackdown on independent journalism, and now, even expressions of secular thinking.
The New Arab has learned that seven activists - aged between 19 and 29 - have been detained in Tripoli as Libyan security forces and authorities use accusations of atheism to jail journalists and muzzle civil society.
Five of the detainees have been accused by Libya's public prosecution of belonging to the Tanweer Movement, a civil society group best-known for organising book fairs and calling for liberal social reforms.
The charges against the accused of 'promoting atheism' and 'abandoning religion' have alarmed human rights groups who believe that Tripoli authorities are working with the security forces to crush dissent in Libya - Libya warlord Khalifa Haftar and the rival eastern authority have faced similar accusations.
"It is a shameful display, the public prosecution should be investigating the internal security agency for their crimes, not to mention the rampant crimes and abuses committed by militias and armed groups across Libya," Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International's Libya researcher told The New Arab.
#Libya | The ISA has arrested at least 7 men for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression & detained them arbitrarily.

Authorities must stop the ISA’s vicious campaign against people exercising their rights & release those detained.https://t.co/VF2lNSXNtq
— Amnesty MENA (@AmnestyMENA) March 23, 2022

Security forces
At least one of the activists was detained for alleged 'blasphemous' conversations on social media app Clubhouse, while another was snatched as he attempted to fly out of Libya.
Border guards at Tripoli Airport, where the incident took place, have been linked to the Internal Security Agency (ISA) headed by former militia commander Lofti al-Harari.
The agency has been accused of a harrowing campaign of repression against activists, often on spurious charges of 'promoting atheism' or 'insulting Islam', which could potentially carry the death penalty.
Libya's political authorities appear unwilling to rein in the security forces, which is largely made up of members of Harari's previous armed group. Critics say these men lack the training or background to work in a credible security service. Read more...


 

NSS raises religious imposition on children’s rights with UN

 

By The National Secular Society

 
The National Secular Society has said religious threats to child rights in the UK raised by the United Nations have not been addressed.
It raised these concerns as part of the UN's universal periodic review (UPR) process, which monitors the human rights records of all UN member states.
Discrimination in faith schools
In 2020, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) urged the UK to consider "strengthening policies to combat discrimination in all areas, notably in employment and education".
The NSS said discrimination is "institutionalised" throughout the UK's education system due to the prevalence of state-funded faith schools. Equality law exemptions granted to faith schools allow them to prioritise children from particular religious backgrounds in admissions. They are also allowed to discriminate against teachers on the grounds of religion or belief.
It said religious segregation is "especially acute" in schools in Northern Ireland and that progress on integrated education has been "painfully and unacceptably slow". A bill placing a duty on the Department of Education to provide further support to the integrated schools sector was passed in the NI assembly earlier this month.
The NSS recommended the UK eliminate religious discrimination in schools and work towards a "fully secular public education system".
Collective worship
The UNCRC recommended the UK repeal its laws requiring collective worship in all state schools and ensure all children can withdraw themselves from collective worship.
The NSS said "little progress" had been made in this area. It highlighted how a private member's bill introduced in 2021 to replace collective worship with inclusive assemblies in non-faith schools in England was not supported by the government. Read more...


 

Saudi Arabia must lift Raif Badawi’s travel ban, Humanists International says at UN

 

By Humanists International

 
At the United Nations today, Humanists International has called on Saudi Arabia to lift the travel ban to which it is subjecting the recently-freed human rights defender, Raif Badawi.
The call was made in a video statement delivered (in Arabic) by Kacem El Ghazzali, Humanists International’s MENA Advocacy & Casework Consultant, and friend of Badawi.
Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian writer, dissident, and human rights activist was released from prison earlier this month following the expiry of his 10-year prison sentence for “insulting Islam through electronic channels.”
Badawi was imprisoned in 2013 after he created a website, the Saudi Liberal Network, which he intended as a forum to encourage free political and social debate in Saudi Arabia. In his writings, Badawi advocated for principles of secular thought and liberalism.
Following his release, Badawi is now subject to a 10-year travel ban and a 10-year ban from participating in visual, electronic, and written media. He also owes a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyals (approx. US$ 266,616).
In his statement at the UN Human Rights Council today, El Ghazzali called on the Council to urge Saudi Arabia to lift the travel ban which deprives Badawi “of embracing his wife and children, who live abroad.” He said, “he has already paid a heavy price and it is time to stop his suffering.”
The statement also highlighted the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right of every individual to leave his or her country, and that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Saudi Arabia in 1996, states that, respecting the rights of the child includes allowing a child’s parent(s) to leave any country, including their own.
There is no judicial means to challenge travel bans in Saudi Arabia, other than by a royal pardon.
During his sentence Badawi also received 50 lashes during a public flogging, a punishment which the United Nations described as “cruel and inhuman.”
Saudi Arabia executed 81 people the same day that it released Badawi from jail. Read online...

 
 
 
 
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