Religious marriages and State-funded schools  - Secular Sunday #540 || 1 May, 2022


Religious marriages and State-funded schools

The new marriage figures show that since 2016, the percentage of religious marriages in Ireland has dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%, and nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%. This trend mostly represents a drop in religious marriages.

In real numbers, rather than percentages, religious marriages have dropped from 14,545 in 2016 to 9,768 in 2021 (a drop of 4,777), while nonreligious marriages have risen from 7,025 in 2016 to 7,449 in 2021 (a rise of 424).

There was a steady decline in religious marriages from 2016 to 2019, then a dramatic drop caused by Covid in 2020, followed by a partial recovery in 2021, bringing the figures close to the steady decline that was happening before Covid.

This again shows the need for the State to remove the privilege it gives to the Catholic Church in running Irish schools and hospitals, and to Christianity generally in the religious oaths in our Constitution and in our charities and civil registration laws.

Atheist Ireland spoke about this religious discrimination this week at at the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

We spoke generally about atheism and secularism, and specifically about our complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General that the Department of Education is misusing public funds by not respecting the constitutional duty to protect the rights of nonreligious parents.

We have also submitted this complaint to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. We will be following up on it in the coming months, as part of our campaign for a secular education system that treats everybody equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

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.

- 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 5-year drop in religious marriages

Yesterday we reported on what we described as the rise in nonreligious marriages in Ireland since 2016.
That is a fair description when you look at the percentages, as religious marriages have dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%, and nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%.
However, when you look at the actual figures rather than the percentages, it is more accurate to describe the trend as a 5-year drop in religious marriages.
Nonreligious marriages have risen from 7,025 in 2016 to 7,449 in 2021 (a rise of 424) while religious marriages have dropped from 14,545 in 2016 to 9,768 in 2021 (a drop of 4,777).
Why is this? Firstly, the overall number of marriages was steadily declining, by about 240 a year between 2016 and 2019.
The overall number of marriages then dropped by half in 2020 because of Covid, and has recovered somewhat during 2021 as Covid eased off.
For whatever reason, these downward trends have affected religious marriages more than nonreligious marriages.
This again shows the need for the State to remove the privilege it gives to the Catholic Church in running Irish schools and hospitals, and to Christianity generally in the religious oaths in our Constitution and in our charities and civil registration laws.
Ireland is no longer a Catholic country. We are now a pluralist country gradually dismantling Catholic privilege in our laws.
Read online...


The 5-year rise in nonreligious marriages

In the five years since 2016, the percentage of religious marriages in Ireland has dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%, Roman Catholic marriages have dropped from 56.3% to 39%, and nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%.
This shows the need for the State to remove the privilege it gives to the Catholic Church in running Irish schools and hospitals, and to Christianity generally in the religious oaths in our Constitution and in our charities and civil registration laws.
Ireland is no longer a Catholic country. We are now a pluralist country gradually dismantling Catholic privilege in our laws.
The marriage trend was exaggerated in 2020 when fewer people got married because of the Covid pandemic, and is now moving back towards the steady declines and rises from 2016 to 2019.
The marriage figures for 2021 are:
39% Roman Catholic
34.8% Civil Registry
8.6% Other Religions
8.5% Humanist Association
8% Spiritualist Union
1.1% Church of Ireland
Looking at the five-year trends from 2016 to 2021:
Religious marriages have dropped from 67.4% to 56.7%
Of these, four of every five is Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic marriages have dropped from 56.3% to 39%
Church of Ireland marriages have dropped from 1.7% to 1.1%
Marriages by other religions have risen from 5% to 8.6%
Spiritualist Union marriages have risen from 4.5% to 8%
Nonreligious marriages have risen from 32.6% to 43.3%
Of these, four of every five is Civil Registry and the other is Humanist
Civil Registry marriages have risen from 25.9% to 34.8%
And Humanist marriages have risen from 6.7% to 8.5%
See also this follow-up post, the 5-year drop in religious marriages, which addresses the actual numbers of marriages as opposed to the percentages.
Read online...


Combating intolerance against persons based on religion or belief


Atheist Ireland has made the following input to a United Nations report about combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief, as set forth in UN Resolution 76/157.
1. The need to consistently use the phrase ‘based on religion or belief’
2. The balance between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression
2.1 Overview
2.2 Freedom of Thought Submission 2021
2.3 Hate Crime and Hate Speech Submission 2019
3. Discrimination in Ireland based on religion or belief
3.1 Irish Education System Submission 2022
3.2 Irish Equality Acts Submission 2021
3.3 Ireland UPR Submission 2021
3.4 Minority Issues Submission 2020
4. Discrimination and persecution in Pakistan based on religion or belief
4.1 Pakistan ICCPR Submission 2017
1. The need to consistently use the phrase ‘based on religion or belief’
Resolution 76/157 aims to protect people from unjust outcomes based on their ‘religion or belief’. The ‘belief’ part of this phrase includes nonreligious philosophical convictions, the holders of which have the same level of protection as the holders of religious beliefs.
In the Venice Commission Guidelines for Legislative Reviews of Laws Affecting Religion or Belief includes it states that:
“3. Religion or belief
International standards do not speak of religion in an isolated sense, but of “religion or belief.” The “belief” aspect typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world.
Thus atheism and agnosticism, for example, are generally held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs. It is very common for legislation not to protect adequately (or to not refer at all) to rights of non- believers.
Although not all beliefs are entitled to equal protection, legislation should be reviewed for discrimination against non-believers.”
Resolution 76/157 uses the phrase ‘religion or belief’ 32 times. However, there are also 39 instances in which it refers only to the word ‘religion’ without including the word ‘belief’. There are no instances where it refers only to the word ‘belief’ without including the word ‘religion’.
Preamble para 6 … combating religious intolerance …
Preamble para 7 … advocate religious hatred …
Preamble para 8 … any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group…
Preamble para 11 … interreligious and intercultural dialogue …
Preamble para 18 … attacks on and in religious places …
Preamble para 22 … people belonging to religious minorities …
Preamble para 23 … religious and cultural diversity … interreligious dialogue …
Preamble para 24 … dialogue among religious groups …
Preamble para 25 … religious bodies … respect for religious and cultural diversity …
Preamble para 26 … respect for religious and cultural diversity … religious expression …
Preamble para 28 … interreligious, interfaith and intercultural efforts …
Preamble para 29 … interreligious and intercultural dialogue … religious leaders …
… leaders of world and traditional religions … national, racial, or religious hatred …
Preamble para 30 … religious discrimination and intolerance …
3 … incidents of religious intolerance … advocacy of religious hatred …
4 … advocacy of religious hatred …
5 … interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue … religious intolerance …
… combating religious hatred …
6 … religious and cultural diversity …
7 … a domestic environment of religious tolerance …
7 (b) … members of different religious communities…
7 (e) … advocacy of religious hatred …
7 (g) … negative religious stereotyping of persons … incitement to religious hatred …
7 (h) … interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue … combating religious hatred …
8 (b) … religious freedom … all religious communities … manifest their religion …
8 (d) … religious profiling … invidious use of religion …
9 … places of worship and religious sites
We note that section 7 begins by saying that the actions in it are called for by the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This section has seven references to ‘religion’ and only one reference to ‘religion or belief.’
We ask the United Nations and Member States to consistently use the phrase ‘based on religion or belief’ when discussing this issue.
2. The balance between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression
2.1 Overview
As atheists, we empathise with members of other groups who face prejudice and discrimination in Ireland, because we have first-hand experience of it. We also recognise that members of other groups face more frightening hostility in Ireland, including overt harassment, intimidation and violence. We should all stand together to challenge prejudice and hostility against any and all of us, and to protect the values of Western liberal democracy that enable us to do so.
2.2 Freedom of Thought Submission 2021
Atheist Ireland made a submission about Freedom of Thought in 2021 to Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In this we highlighted:
The Right to Not Reveal Your Thoughts
Many States do not recognise the right to not reveal your thoughts, particularly when it comes to religious beliefs or nonreligious philosophical convictions. This includes the right to not be forced to behave publicly in a manner that others can infer, even indirectly, what your religious beliefs or nonreligious philosophical convictions are.
The Right to Not Be Penalised for Your Thoughts
Laws against what some people describe as ‘hate crimes’ must be based on human rights standards. We cannot change how people think and feel by making it illegal. We should tackle prejudice against groups through education and community leadership, and tackle prejudice-motivated crime through the law, where the prejudice is an aggravating factor as a motive for an existing crime.
The Right to Receive Information
The right to freedom of thought implies to right to seek and receive information that can inform the development of your thoughts. This is recognised by resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This is part of the problem with censorship and blasphemy laws. Not only do they interfere with the right to express information, but they also interfere with the right to seek and receive information.
The Right to Nonreligious Philosophical Convictions
There is an established internationally recognised human right to be atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist, or in any other way free from religion. Authoritarian theocrats frequently breach this right in practice, or deny that this human right exists, citing Catholic Canon Law or the Sharia-based Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. But the primacy of universal rights is enshrined in the key international human rights Treaties and associated Court judgments and must be upheld. 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  $36,400 to 1269 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 1919 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 4,113 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


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, €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


Places and Faces

Atheist Ireland speaking about atheism and education in Mary Immaculate college during the week at the National Forum for the enhancement of teaching and learning in higher education.


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




The National Maternity Hospital – a question of ownership


By Dr Peter Boylan

Sir, – The Religious Sisters of Charity are the latest of the Irish religious orders to depart direct involvement in healthcare, following the Sisters of Mercy in 2016, the Bon Secours Sisters in 2017, and the St John of God Brothers in 2019 (“Religious order exits healthcare as part of deal paving way for NMH to proceed”, News, April 29th).
The establishment of Vatican-approved lay successor Catholic sponsorship arrangements is a global trend in consequence of the ageing and dwindling numbers of the Catholic religious themselves.
Following the canon law process for their ownership transfer to St Vincent’s Holdings, the RSC have appointed three people to own St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). These are Prof Michael Keane, Dr David Brophy and Sharen McCabe, all former members of the SVHG board. Prof Keane and Dr Brophy are clinicians at St Vincent’s.
While the RSC are entitled to make whatever arrangements they wish for their own hospitals, I do not see what qualifies a respiratory physician, a radiologist and the managing director of a pharmacy chain to own the planned €1 billion publicly-funded new National Maternity Hospital in place of the 100 governors who currently own it in trust.
For reasons of transparency relating to concerns about Catholic ethos at a relocated NMH, Prof Keane, Dr Brophy and Ms McCabe must now publish the full correspondence between the Vatican and the RSC relating to the establishment of St Vincent’s Holdings and their appointment as its directors and owners.
It is a matter of record that as directors of St Vincent’s Holdings they are committed to upholding “the values and vision of Mother Mary Aikenhead”, the RSC founder. Prof Keane Dr Brophy and Ms McCabe must now state explicitly how they intend to put this commitment into action in their SVHG hospitals and in the future NMH, should the relocation go ahead.
They must further explain why the core values of the Religious Sisters of Charity have been included unchanged in the constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings despite a commitment by Sister Patricia Lenihan in May 2017 that these would be “amended and replaced.”
I note that the press release issued by the Sisters values SVHG at €204 million.
Yet in 2018 the group was valued at €661 million, begging the question as to what has happened to the €457 million difference.
There remain many outstanding concerns and issues to be resolved before there should be any further progress with the NMH relocation. – Yours, etc, Read more letters to the Irish times on this...

The National Maternity Hospital


By Dr Peter Boylan

Sir, – Jennifer Bray reports that the board of the HSE has approved the legal framework around the new National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park (NMH Designated Activity Company) as well as the constitution that will govern it (News, April 26th).
Prof Deirdre Madden and Dr Sarah McLoughlin, the patient advocate on the board, dissented, saying they “continued to have concerns regarding legal ownership of the site and building, and the governance and control” of the hospital.
The Cabinet now has a consequential decision to make about the future of the State’s flagship maternity hospital.
The NMH DAC constitution does nothing to address concerns about Catholic ethos at the new hospital. The HSE board has erred in failing to secure agreement that the constitution of the NMH DAC will include an explicit commitment to provide abortion, elective sterilisation, contraception, IVF, and gender affirmation surgery. Instead, “the purpose of the DAC will be to provide all “clinically appropriate” and “legally permissible healthcare services”. This is a major red flag. Providing services on the basis of a test of whether or not they are “clinically appropriate” makes access to services dependent on the decision of a doctor, not a woman.
The 2018 Termination of Pregnancy Act gives women the legal right to access abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and without any question of a test of clinical indication.
The term “clinically appropriate” qualifies that right and creates a barrier to abortion access. Women would lose autonomy in decision-making and the NMH DAC constitution would enshrine a justification for the refusal of legally permissible treatments.
The HSE’s decision clears the way for the Religious Sisters of Charity (RSC) to transfer their 100 per cent shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to St Vincent’s Holdings, the new Vatican-approved private company owned by just two directors appointed by the Sisters themselves. This company will wholly own the new NMH.
The Minister for Health must confirm whether or not he has seen the details of the RSC’s original application to Rome for their share transfer. To proceed without full knowledge of the terms set by the Vatican would be a serious failure of due diligence.
The Minister must also explain why the Government would consider spending up to €1 billion on a critical piece of State health infrastructure only to gift it to a private company on the record as committed to upholding the Catholic values of the Sisters of Charity. – Yours, etc, Read more letters to the Irish Times on this...


‘Threat of criminal sanctions’ hangs over medical abortion providers, committee hears


By Press Association

THE THREAT OF criminal sanctions hangs over medical practitioners who provide abortion services in Ireland, politicians have been told.
Alison Spillane, a senior policy and research officer at the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), described to the Oireachtas Health Committee how the fear of prosecution “sits in the consultation room” between patient and doctor.
Ireland’s abortion law makes anyone who aids or abets abortion outside the specific terms of the Act liable for criminal prosecution.
It leaves health professionals under the obligation to determine themselves when the statutory criteria for access to care has been met.
The National Women’s Council (NWC) and the IFPA outlined how the rules on abortion services should be reformed to the committee today.
Ireland’s abortion laws, which were legalised following a referendum in 2018, are currently under review.
A report is to be produced to Government later this year.
Under the current law, there is a three-day waiting period for women and abortions can be performed up to 12 weeks of a pregnancy. Read more...


Mayo man who will be buried on own land bequeaths it to public


By Tom Shiel

As a lifelong atheist with “no interest in religion”, Mr Neary said he had no desire to be buried in the traditional place of “consecrated ground”.
A 78-year-old Co Mayo man who won a lengthy planning battle to be buried in a private burial plot on his own land has now bequeathed his 37-acre holding for community and recreational purposes.
“All of my arrangements for the hereafter have been finalised,” Martin Neary, who lives at Madogue, Swinford, said on Thursday evening.
The former migrant worker, who spent years working in England, was speaking in advance of a ceremony on his holding on Friday when Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, officially opened what will be known in perpetuity as the Martin Neary Woodland Park.
It has always been the intention of Mr Neary, a single man with no next of kin, to donate his land for philanthropic purposes.
A large crowd enjoyed refreshments with visiting dignitaries, lending an outdoor party atmosphere to the official opening.
Ms Hackett said the size of the gathering highlighted how important Mr Neary’s legacy would be to present and future generations.
Mr Neary was in jovial mood as he surveyed the crowd on the land where he once used to cut turf and graze cattle.
“I was thinking how much I used to enjoy many a wake. They were sad occasions but good fun also. I thought it better to have my wake before I die rather than after,” he said.
“I am very happy that there seems to be quite a few people here. I was only trying to please myself [by donating the farm] but everybody seems to be quite happy with that.” Peter Gill, parks superintendent with Mayo County Council, described Mr Neary’s gesture in donating his farm for use as a public park as “a huge act of philanthropy”.
Mr Neary said he had been determined that the farm he inherited from his late parents, Martin and Elizabeth (Bessie) never be sold or redeveloped or used for grazing livestock. With the assistance of the county council and the Western Forestry Co-Op, Mr Neary has been able to realise his vision of a woodland oasis which embraces sustainability and celebrates history and culture.
An Bord Pleanála
He is one of only three people in Ireland who has been granted planning permission to be buried on his own land.
The initial application to Mayo County Council was turned down. However, that decision was overturned on appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
Martin Neary (78) in the woodland park he has created beside his home in Mullenmadoge, located between Charlestown and Swinford, Co Mayo. He has permission to be buried there when he dies. Photograph: Conor McKeown
He explained that one of the reasons given for refusal by the council was that permission for such burial would set a precedent. The local authority also highlighted the need to protect water supplies from pollution sources.
“They reckoned I would poison the water,” Mr Neary commented. Jokingly, he added, “I’m only about 10 stone. I don’t think I would cause much pollution.
“Anyway, when you come to think of it, thousands of tons of slurry goes out every year on the land.”
An Bord Pleanála decided that the site for the proposed grave was far enough away from water sources as not to pose any environmental threat.
In her decision, An Bord Pleanála inspector Lorraine Dockery said Mr Neary’s appeal was unlikely to set a precedent. She said Mr Neary’s wish to be buried on his land did “not raise any issues of principle”.
Burial plot
“I can understand the need for concern with regards to setting of precedent within large, urban areas,” she said.
“However, in this instance, the application is for a single plot within a rural, agricultural area where there is no evidence of widespread demand for such facilities. The proposal is therefore considered acceptable in principle, subject to compliance with all relevant criteria.”
Ms Dockery said that the impact of a decomposing body on groundwater “would be limited”.
She also found that the proposed burial plot would be a sufficient distance from dwellings and posed no issues in relation to traffic safety, wells and the water supply infrastructure.
As a lifelong atheist with “no interest in religion”, Mr Neary said he had no desire to be buried in the traditional place of “consecrated ground”. Read more...


Parents ‘appalled’ at school’s refusal to teach about ‘same-sex friendships’


By Simon Carswell

A group of parents of children attending a Co Wicklow primary school have expressed anger at the school’s decision to exclude teaching about “same-sex friendships” and contraception from relationships and sexuality education (RSE).
Education Equality, a voluntary parent-led rights group, said that it was “appalled” that Lacken National School in Blessington had told parents in a letter of April 5th last that “teachers do not cover topics such as contraception and same-sex friendships” in the school’s RSE programme.
Parents were told in the letter that “children who ask questions in class on content outside the designated curriculum are encouraged to discuss the issues with their parents.”
“Parents are informed and asked to talk to their child,” the letter continued.
Last year, in response to protests from parents, the school said that it would not use Flourish, an RSE programme or resource developed by the Catholic Church for primary school children from junior infants up to sixth class.
Parents and the Education Equality advocacy group now representing them say that the latest letter from the school shows that it is continuing to ignore the wishes of parents by not teaching children about same-sex relationships and contraception.
David Graham, spokesman for Education Equality, said that parents representing a majority of children at the school last year requested that the school’s approach to RSE be inclusive of LGBTQ+ relationships and free from religious ethos.
“Less than a year after receiving their letter, the school has ignored this request,” he said.
“By excluding any discussion of same-sex relationships in its classrooms, Lacken National School is compounding the sense of stigma and exclusion already felt by many LGBTQ+ children and families in the Irish education system.”
The school did not respond to requests for comment from The Irish Times. Read more...




Faith and Access: The Conflict Inside Catholic Hospitals


By Wendy Glauser

In the fall of 2020, Susan Camm was among a small group of employees touring a brand new seventeen-storey tower at St. Michael’s Hospital, in downtown Toronto. She liked the large single-patient rooms—a hallmark of modern hospital design—and the big windows that filled the space with sunshine. But something caught her eye: a brass crucifix on the wall. “I had an almost visceral reaction,” she recalls.
Camm, who was then a clinical manager at the hospital, had come across crucifixes at St. Michael’s before. But most had been taken down over the years. What shocked her is that the Christian symbols were in brand new rooms. This wasn’t a decision someone had made decades ago; it was one made in 2020. Later, when she had the chance to enter a patient room alone, she dragged a stool over to the crucifix, stood up, and tried to pull the figure off the wall. Unlike the ones in older rooms, it wasn’t simply hanging on a nail. She would have needed a chisel to pry it off.
While the crucifix is a familiar symbol for Christians, it can be a discomforting one for other patients. Camm imagined a residential school survivor waking up in the hospital after a procedure—confused, disoriented, vulnerable—and seeing the emblem of an organization that protected their abusers. Plus, Camm argues, it’s disrespectful to the tens of thousands of patients from Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods, many of whom are not Christian, who receive care at the hospital each year. But Catholic symbolism and doctrine—governing reproductive health, fertility treatments, care for LGBTQ2+ patients, and medically assisted death (MAID)—is part of 129 health care facilities across the country. In Alberta, Catholic facilities currently maintain 12 percent of acute-care beds and 27 percent of palliative-care beds. And, in Ontario, Catholic institutions control around 15 percent of health services. In some parts of Canada, such as Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, the only hospitals in town abide by Catholic ethics.
When patients want an abortion or their tubes tied, they might be told, “Sorry, we don’t do that here.”
Much like how Catholic schools are funded by tax dollars, Catholic hospitals are part of this country’s universal health care system. Before the institution of public health care, in the 1950s and ’60s, the land and buildings for Catholic facilities might have been paid for by religious orders. Today, however, the hospitals are funded the same way as non-Catholic ones. Provincial and territorial governments cover their operating budgets, including staff, equipment, and energy bills. And the hospitals raise money for extras, like fancy new wings and upgraded machines. (Catholic hospitals and secular ones are governed by the same provincial legislation, which outlines their reporting requirements, employment standards, and more. These laws permit faith-based hospitals to refuse some services for religious reasons.) But, unlike those who attend Catholic schools, which their parents might choose for faith-based education, patients often end up in a Catholic health care facility simply because it’s the closest one. Many Canadians don’t even realize which hospitals are Catholic and which are not, and many patients are never affected by their hospital’s religious affiliation. For a patient who visits St. Michael’s, in Toronto, or St. Paul’s Hospital, in Vancouver, for an MRI or an appendectomy, the experience would be the same as at any other publicly funded hospital. It’s when patients request an abortion or are hoping to have their tubes tied that they might be told, “Sorry, we don’t do that here.” Read more...


No one should face persecution for denying the existence of god


By Andrew Copson

Today, protestors will gather outside the Nigeria High Commission in London to urge the release of Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. It has been two years since he was arrested and locked up far from home. A few weeks ago he was sentenced to 24 years in prison. His crime? Simply to be non-religious and to post critiques of religion on his Facebook page.

The sentence may seem shocking in its severity but it is the tip of the iceberg in a global trend of increasing state action against the non-religious, ranging from general discrimination to arrest, imprisonment, torture or even death. Blasphemy remains a punishable offence in at least 83 countries, apostasy a criminal offence in 17 countries. There are 13 countries around the world where you can be sentenced to death for expressing an opinion deemed blasphemous or for apostasy, including Nigeria, Afghanistan, Qatar, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

In the last few years, violent action has been taken against non-religious people. In Malaysia, members of non-religious groups have been arrested and their associations suppressed. A government minister swore to “hunt down” atheists and humanists. In Libya, leaders of Humanists International’s affiliate group were harassed and arrested, and their organisation suppressed. Even if not sentenced, a mere accusation against you, motivated by personal grievances, can result in harassment, or being murdered with impunity by vigilantes. Humanist activists in India and humanist bloggers in Bangladesh have been murdered on the streets in targeted killings.

One Pakistani student was lynched by his classmates merely for saying he was a humanist on social media.

Mubarak’s life story was an example of the hatred against non-religious people across the world. In 2014, when his humanist beliefs first became known to others, he was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital for over two weeks. He was only released when a strike at the hospital saw many patients discharged. His treatment for not believing in gods is a common action taken against non-religious people in majority-Muslim countries in particular.

The human right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief should be a universal right for everyone everywhere, equally. As well as protecting mainstream religious adherents and orthodox and established believers, it must also protect the non-conformists, the reformists, the minority sects, the heretics, and the splitters. It should protect humanists, atheists, agnostics, and those with non-religious worldviews, whether systematised or implicit.


Religious chaplaincy is failing the Defence Force


By Phillip Hoglin

While the nation takes stock to remember our Anzacs this week, we need to take a moment to think about how we can better support the current members of our Australian Defence Force (ADF). 
The toll that military service has on our service personnel has long been acknowledged. The ongoing Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, established mid-2021, has brought this into sharper focus. The hearings have heard some truly harrowing accounts of how ‘the system’ has let service personnel down.
As the Royal Commission has already heard, there are gaps in the support provided to veterans. And, when current and former ADF members fall through these gaps, the worst possible wellbeing outcomes can result.
One such gap may result from a poor ability to undertake early intervention and wellbeing triage while a member is still serving – an inadequacy that can partly be attributed to the ADF’s approach to chaplaincy.
Currently, the ADF’s pastoral care and wellbeing approach, known more broadly within Defence as ‘chaplaincy’, is provided exclusively by religious uniformed chaplains, who are predominantly Christian. 
In results from the 2019 Defence Census, it was revealed that 56 per cent of full-time Defence members were not affiliated with any religion – up from just 31 per cent in 2003.
Religious affiliation from 2003-2020 in the permanent ADF.
There are signs that this trend will not slow down anytime soon. With an annual increase of between 1.5 to 2.5 per cent, it is estimated that the absence of religious affiliation among Defence members is now around 61 per cent. The proportion of ADF personnel with no religious affiliation looks certain to reach, and then plateau, at around three quarters of the Defence population by 2030.
This change in demographic characteristic is driven almost exclusively by young recruits aged between 18 and 24 years. It raises a serious question about the ADF’s ability to provide effective wellbeing support using the existing religion-dominated approach when a large and increasing majority of its members are not religious. Read more...

Inspectors criticise Catholic Church for banning gay author’s school talk


By The National Secular Society

School inspectorate Ofsted has criticised the Catholic Church for forcing a school to cancel a talk by a gay children's author.
In a letter to the John Fisher School in Croydon, Ofsted said the Archdiocese of Southwark's actions had "unnerved and upset many in the school community".
The letter follows a snap inspection of the school in March prompted by the diocese's actions.
Simon James Green (pictured), an award-winning children's author, had been invited by school leaders to visit John Fisher School in March to talk about his career.
But the diocese, which oversees the Catholic secondary school for boys, called on leaders to cancel the visit because it fell "outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school".
Its intervention followed a campaign by the website Catholic Truth and an email from the school's chaplain to parents protesting the talk.
The school's governing body voted in favour of the leaders' decision not to cancel the visit. In response, the diocese sacked school governors supportive of Green.
The diocese intended to replace the governing body with an interim executive board (IEB), but Sutton Council found that this did not comply with the law.
Ofsted also criticised the move, saying: "While the Catholic Church retains control of governance in Catholic schools, the archdiocese's attempt to impose an IEB was made unilaterally and without due regard to the published statutory guidance regarding the appointment of IEBs."
Ofsted said some leaders, staff and pupils "have been left feeling angry, confused and frustrated" by the events. It said some are "worried about the impression these events might give of the school's ethos".
Members of the National Education Union at the school are on strike today to protest the diocese's actions, despite threats to sack them by the governors appointed by the Catholic Church. Read more...


Praying coach case suggests conservative justices want to rewrite the law on religion and schools


By Jeffrey Toobin

By now, it's well known that the Supreme Court, in its new conservative orientation, is poised to rewrite our understanding of the Constitution when it comes to abortion (allowing states to ban it) and gun control (preventing states from imposing it). But there's another area that may be due for upheaval -- the establishment and free exercise religion clauses of the First Amendment.
That possibility was on display in Monday's argument in Kennedy v. Bremerton. In this case, a football coach at a public high school in Washington state lost his job after he conducted public prayers on the 50-yard line after games.
The issue in the case is whether the coach's prayers amounted to a permissible exercise of the coach's rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, or whether the prayers were an impermissible establishment of religion by the government. The district court and 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the school district, but the Supreme Court's six-member conservative majority appeared to be looking for ways to overturn those results and vindicate the coach's actions.
The justices had a lot of questions about the facts of the case, which remain somewhat disputed. The coach's lawyer argued that his prayers were private actions, which his players and others had the freedom to join or ignore. The school board's lawyer focused on what happened after the controversy became public -- wild, dangerous scenes on the field, where outsiders demanded to be part of the prayers, and other religious sects (and nonbelievers) sought opportunities to conduct competing observances after games.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is a basketball coach, was especially interested in the different possibilities raised by the case. He asked what if the prayer was in the locker room, or in an on-field huddle, or as the players were walking away after the game.
Still, the heart of the controversy seemed straightforward -- and an echo of issues that the Supreme Court has been addressing for decades, starting in 1962 when the justices banned mandatory school prayers. The issue was whose perspective matters more -- the teacher who wishes to pray and the students who want to join him, or the students and others who don't want to be exposed to forms of religious worship that they neither share nor endorse.
The question, as Justice Elena Kagan put it, was about "coercion." As she pointed out, a football coach exerts enormous power in a high school setting. He can decide which student athletes start or play at all; he can recommend (or refuse to recommend) students for scholarships and jobs. If a coach with that kind of power conducts "voluntary" prayer sessions after games, are the prayers really voluntary or a form of coercion?
The answer to this question once seemed clear. In 2000, the justices banned a practice at a Texas high school where students led "voluntary" prayers before football games. A 6-3 majority in that case held that "the delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship." Read more...

Eddie Marsan leads calls to Free Nigerian humanist at High Commission


By Humanists UK

Today, protesters gathered together outside the Nigerian High Commission, sparked by the recent sentencing of the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison. Eddie Marsan read out devastating testimony from Mubarak about his treatment by authorities even prior to his arrest. The protest, organised by Humanists UK, also coincided with the two year anniversary of Bala’s arrest. The demands on Nigerian authorities were two-fold: overturn Bala’s sentence and repeal all blasphemy laws in Nigeria.
Following the protest, Humanists UK is asking its members, supporters, and the general public to write to their MP to raise awareness of his case and to urge the UK Government to act.
Bala was sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment for posting ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook after an unfair trial: it was repeatedly delayed and the charges against him were duplicated. Procedural irregularities have been rife since his arrest two years ago. Bala remained incarcerated without charge for well over a year. He was denied access to his lawyers and family for an extended period. He was denied medical attention. And the Abuja High Court’s ruling that he be released on bail was ignored by Kano State authorities. Not only that, but his case exemplifies the need to abolish blasphemy laws, which intrinsically contravene the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Eddie Marsan, actor and Patron of Humanists UK, presented the heartbreaking and powerful testimony that Bala submitted to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2019. The testimony describes how Bala came to realise that he is a humanist, and how he was ostracised by his family and friends because of it. He describes how he was threatened by Boko Haram but had no protection from the Nigerian Government, and how his application for a UK visa was rejected. His testimony goes on to describe how he and others formed a Nigerian humanist community that supported each other and led others in Africa to organise and develop a stronger voice demanding  human rights for all. That, of course, all took a devastating turn when Mubarak was arrested months later. Read more...


Religious charities cost Canadian taxpayers billions, reports find


By The National Secular Society

A Canadian organisation has called for charity law reform after finding religious charities cost taxpayers billions every year.
Canadian taxpayers subsidise religious activities by as much as $3.2 billion annually as a result of income tax relief available to Canadians who donate to religious charities, according to Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC).
This violates a Supreme Court ruling that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion, because every Canadian is required to subsidise religious activities, CFIC said.
The findings were made in a series of reports arguing that organisations whose sole purpose is the advancement of religion should no longer be granted charitable status. The concluding report was published earlier this month.
In 2019 the National Secular Society released a report which also argued for a change in UK charity law to remove religious privilege.
Canada's criteria that determine which organisations qualify as a charity were inherited from British law, which recognises "the advancement of religion" as a charitable purpose.
This means organisations can register as charities if they exist only to evangelise and promote religion, without offering social or community benefits such as foodbanks.
More than 32,000 charities in Canada identify under the category of "advancement of religion", possessing assets exceeding $47 billion.
In addition to tax relief, Canadian governments transferred slightly more than $1 billion to charities incorporated under the category of advancement of religion in 2018.
CFIC said that organisations that require people to adhere to a particular faith or evangelise to recipients of their services should not be funded by the government.
The NSS has expressed similar concerns regarding religious charities funded by the UK government to provide public services. Last year the government announced a new £1 million pilot fund exclusively for religious organisations. The government has failed to respond to repeated requests from the NSS to justify excluding non-religious organisations from this fund.
CFIC also raised concerns about harms caused by religion, including discrimination against particular communities and restrictions on reproductive rights. Read more...


Teachers strike at faith school over gay author ban


By Humanists UK

Teachers have gone on strike, and Ofsted has found significant damage to morale, at a South London faith school forced by its diocese to cancel the visit of a gay author. In March the Archdiocese of Southwark overruled the staff to prevent author Simon James Green from making an educational visit on World Book Day, and when governors backed the staff, promptly sacked them. Humanists UK has expressed concern about Ofsted’s findings, and offered its support to the striking teachers.The strike, which according to reports will last for upto six days over three weeks, was called by members of the National Education Union after an overwhelming vote of 90% in favour. The first day of the strike was 28 April. However, some of the new governors installed by the Archdiocese have threatened to sack any staff who strike.
Meanwhile, Ofsted’s report following a snap inspection in the wake of the scandal has praised staff and pupils but found that ‘some leaders, staff and pupils have been left feeling angry, confused and frustrated.’ The report goes on to recommend immediate action to ‘restore stability to governance, and in turn ensure that leadership is provided with the support and challenge needed to build further on the school’s strong provision for pupils’ personal development.’ Read more...


Two years on, humanists across the globe call for the Governor of Kano State to Free Mubarak Bala


By Humanists International

On the second anniversary of his arrest, humanists across the globe continue to call for the release of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, currently serving a 24-year prison sentence in connection with his Facebook posts.
Arrested from his home in Kaduna state on 28 April 2020, Bala – a human rights activist and President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria – was held without charge for more than a year. He faced charges before the Kano State High Court in connection with Facebook posts he is alleged to have made over the course of April 2020, which are deemed to have caused a public disturbance due to their “blasphemous” content.
Initially facing 10 counts of causing a public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code, respectively. In a surprise move, the Kano State Attorney General introduced 8 additional charges the day before the trial was expected to commence. On 5 April 2022, Bala pled guilty to all 18 counts – contrary to legal advice – and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. It is believed that he was subjected to intimidation, and could have been tricked into pleading guilty in the hopes of a more lenient sentence. Bala’s lawyers are expected to appeal the verdict.
Throughout the past two years, Bala’s case has been mired with procedural irregularities that represent violations of his fundamental rights enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, and international law. In addition to being arbitrarily detained for 15 months, there have been several other violations of his rights to a fair trial, which include denying Bala access to his legal counsel until October 2020, failing to comply with a December 2020 Federal High Court order to release Bala on bail, and consistent attempts to obstruct the work of Bala’s legal team.
Humanists International fears that Mr Bala is being targeted solely for having exercised his rights to freedom of belief and freedom of expression, which are protected under the Nigerian Constitution, and under international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented:
“Today marks two years since our friend and colleague Mubarak Bala was taken by authorities in Nigeria. Held captive for two long years for simply expressing his genuinely held humanist beliefs.
“For two years the humanist community around the world has continued to campaign for his release. We will not rest until Mubarak is safely released, and united with his family. I would like to thank everyone who has rallied to our call.
“To the authorities in Nigeria, I say this: justice will prevail for Mubarak. And the global humanist movement will work tirelessly to see that it does. We will never forget about or turn our backs on Mubarak.” Read more...


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