Protecting the human rights of atheists – my contributions to the annual OSCE human rights meeting in Poland this week

by Michael Nugent on October 3, 2014

This is video and text of my contributions to the annual OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this week.

Contribution to Session on Discrimination

The OSCE Guidelines for reviewing laws about freedom of religion or belief, stress the ‘or belief’ part of that phrase. That’s the part that protects us as atheists.

In July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists.

Our rights are being breached in education, employment, healthcare, politics and law.

We do not have freedom of conscience, equality before the law or freedom from discrimination.

The UN Committee chairperson said that a common factor in this discrimination is the institutional belief system that has predominated in Ireland, by which he meant the Roman Catholic Church.

I was pleased to hear the Holy See refer earlier to the intrinsic value of every person.

That’s certainly an advance from a few years ago, when Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor told the BBC that atheists are not fully human.

I will end by asking you for a measurable outcome.

The OSCE has already hosted events to specifically quantify and combat discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians and members of other religions.

Please host a similar event to specifically quantify and combat discrimination against atheists.

Contribution to Session on Freedom of Religion or Belief

In July the United Nations Human Rights Committee told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists.

The Catholic Church runs 90% of our State-funded primary schools, and can lawfully discriminate against atheist families and teachers.

Two new Government Bills – one on schools admissions and one on jobs – will actually reinforce that discrimination.

Our President, Prime Minister and Judges must swear religious oaths to take office. Can you imagine telling a Christian or Muslim to swear that there is no god before they took office?

Pregnant women have had their pelvises broken without their consent, in order to avoid Cesarean sections that might have led to a demand for contraception or sterilisation.

Women are denied an abortion on health grounds, despite the United Nations telling Ireland that majority votes cannot be used to deny human rights.

A new law on secular marriage discriminates against atheists openly, and creates a State monopoly for private entrepreneurs to sell ceremonies.

The Government said in Parliament that the reason for discriminating against atheists was to avoid Elvis impersonators solemnising marriages.

We are finally planning to remove our new blasphemy law – the one that Pakistan praised us for passing.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has told Ireland, very sternly, to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and indeed of minority faiths.

We ask the OSCE to repeat and reinforce that call, and to treat Ireland like any other State that defies its human rights obligations.

Religious States promote religion. Atheist States promote atheism.

We want a secular State that promotes neither, that respects equally the human rights of all of its citizens.

We want freedom of conscience, religion and belief; equality before the law; and freedom from discrimination.

Only a secular State can provide that.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous Teacher Afraid of Reprisal October 3, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Michael,
Thank you for all your hard work on other’s behalf. You will be rewarded with many virgins and rivers of wine in the afterlife.

2 Shatterface October 3, 2014 at 7:18 pm

One of the biggest threats to ‘human rights’ is moves to extend the concept of ‘human’ to institutions which may be composed of human beings but which are not, in themselves, human: religious bodies, corporations , etc.

And wackjobs on the other side who want to extend human rights to apes and other ‘non-human animals’

3 piero October 3, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I’m amazed at the bacwardness of Irish laws. It’s a bloody theocracy!

@Shatterface:

…extend the concept of ‘human’ to institutions…

Too late. It’s been done long ago. Corporations are “persons”.

And wackjobs on the other side who want to extend human rights to apes and other ‘non-human animals’

I find it very hard not to think of chimps, gorillas and other apes as human. Obviously, the human rights charter does not apply to them in its entirety (religious freedom? Come on…) but I believe we owe them some protection, at least from the more egregious forms of abuse.

But first things first. Human rights for human beings should certainly be our priority.

4 Ewan Duffy October 3, 2014 at 8:02 pm

@Piero – “Too late. It’s been done long ago. Corporations are “persons”.” Not necessarily so in Ireland. The Irish courts did not follow the US model but took an ambiguous middle ground that said “maybe” – it depends on a case by case basis but generally no, they are not human.

5 Shatterface October 4, 2014 at 6:37 am

I find it very hard not to think of chimps, gorillas and other apes as human. Obviously, the human rights charter does not apply to them in its entirety (religious freedom? Come on…) but I believe we owe them some protection, at least from the more egregious forms of abuse.

You don’t need to extend human rights to apes to protect them : that’s why we have animal rights.

And I don’t know what you mean by I find it very hard not to think of chimps, gorillas and other apes as human. Would you allow them to drive on public roads? A right to free education? Access to national health care? Employment rights? Pensions? The right to walk the streets unaccompanied?

If you allow them some human rights but not others you are rendering human rights no longer universal.

6 piero October 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

@ Shatterface:

You’re right. I should have made myself clearer.
What I should have said was that apes are so close to us that they are likely to experience very similar emotions. Wthin reason, I am in favour of protecting all mammals, but I think we should afford apes extra protection.
As for animal rights in general, I am not particularly fond of invertebrates, so I think a line should be drawn there. I just cannot empathise with things that don’t have a face.

@Ewan:
It’s a good thing that Ireland did not follow the US model.

7 noelplum99 October 4, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Michael,
I will be honest, I was somewhat ignorant to the situation over in Ireland until I got into an exchange with Ashling. At that point I tried to spend a little time reading around the situation more generally as it affects atheists in Ireland (our disagreement revolved solely around abortion).
It is strange that this is effectively on my own doorstep and yet I was almost entirely ignorant of it. I almost feel a pang of guilt at my ignorance, to be honest.

I am not sure there is much a voice from England could do to help (antagonise maybe, help, not so sure!) but I want you all to know I am full with admiration for the work you are doing- real tangible stuff representing a large number of people over issues where their representation is invaluable.

Jim.

8 Michael Nugent October 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm

I think we are part of a continuum of life, and that we should apply the same ethical considerations to non-human animals as we do to ourselves.

That doesn’t mean that we treat every sentient being as having exactly the same rights as every other sentient being, but we should try to apply consistent principles in terms of minimising suffering, respecting the desirability of autonomy, etc.

9 Michael Nugent October 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Thanks, Noel. I’ve replied to you by email.

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