This is an extract from a talk I gave at Trinity College Dublin last week on the relationship between religion and the Irish State.
I want you to imagine if the Irish State was run in the reverse way to the way that it is at the moment with regard to religion and atheism.
Imagine if the preamble to our Constitution began with the words “In the name of atheism, we the people, acknowledging the nonexistence of gods, do enact this constitution.”
Imagine if our President and judges had to swear an oath that began “In the absence of any gods” and that ended with the phrase “May my atheism direct and sustain me.”
Imagine if our Constitution included an article about atheism that began: “The state acknowledges that public praise is due to atheism. It shall hold atheism in reverence, and shall respect and honour atheism.”
Imagine if our Parliament started every day with by reciting: “May our actions be directed by our atheism, so that every word and work of ours may always begin and end in atheism.”
Imagine if there was a law against publishing “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to atheism, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of atheists…”
Imagine if 96% of our primary schools were run with an explicitly atheist ethos – not a neutral, secular ethos, but an explictly atheist ethos – where children were taught that there is no god, and that ethos was permeated throughout the entire curriculum.
Imagine if the UN Human Rights Committee repeatedly told us that this was infringing on the human rights of religious people, and the state said they would set up a forum to discuss having a small number of agnostic schools, but still no religious schools.
Imagine if our hospitals were run with an explicitly atheist ethos, with signs on the walls saying that there is no god, and with atheist ethics committees, and with the danger of a dying patient being told ‘this is an atheist country’
Imagine if the Equal Status Act and Employment Equality Act allowed atheist schools and hospitals and training colleges to explicitly discriminate in favour of atheists in order to protect the atheist ethos of their institutions.
Imagine if the state funded atheist chaplains in our schools and hospitals and army, at a cost that could provide more teachers and nurses and doctors.
Imagine if atheists were automatically allowed to solemnise state marriages, but religious people had to undergo a series of legal and political tests to satisfy the State that they were suitable people to do so.
Imagine if atheist groups were exempt from paying tax, and if the Charities Act included ‘the advancement of atheism’ as a charitable purpose, but excluded the advancement of religion.
Imagine if the default oath in our courts was that you were asked to swear as an atheist to tell the truth, and that you had to openly object to that in order to avoid doing it.
Imagine if the Juries Act exempted representatives of atheist bodies, but not of religious bodies, from jury duty.
Imagine if an atheist group that runs most of our schools had been found by various tribunals to have been abusing children, and covering up the abuse of children, for decades.
Imagine if an international atheist group, to which that atheist group was affiliated, that acted as if it was also a state, had been involved in moving atheists who abused children from country to country to avoid facing up to the legal responsibilities of their actions.
Imagine if our state continued to have diplomatic relations with that association, and exchanged ambassadors with it as if it were a legitimate State.
Now, that sounds outrageous. And it is outrageous.
But it is just as outrageous in the current circumstances, where all of those things apply, but the other way around.
Imagine if there was even one explicitly atheist school in Ireland – not a secular school, but an atheist school, that explicitly taught that there was no god.
Imagine that even one set of religious parents was forced by circumstances to send their child to that school.
We would never hear the end of it until it was resolved.
But in Ireland we have multiple times that discrimination continuing without anyone even thinking that it is a problem.
Why do you believe that your religion is more important than our atheism?
The State certainly should not believe that.