Atheist Ireland begins ongoing dialogue with Government at historic first meeting with Taoiseach

by Michael Nugent on February 11, 2015

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Atheist Ireland had a breakthrough dialogue yesterday with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, at the first ever formal meeting between an Irish Prime Minister and an atheist advocacy group in the history of the State.

We were represented by myself as chairperson, our human rights officer Jane Donnelly, and our blasphemy law campaign coordinator John Hamill. We also brought an atheist parent, an atheist student at and an atheist teacher to give first hand accounts of the religious discrimination they face.

The Government was represented by Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, and senior officials from the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The meeting lasted more than twice its scheduled time as we explained our philosophy, our aims, and our work in promoting an ethical secular State based on human rights.

It marks the start of an ongoing dialogue process, in which we will have detailed follow-up meetings with Department officials and Ministerial advisors about the changes that we believe are needed to respect our fundamental rights.

After several of these follow-up meetings, we will be in a better position to judge how positive the dialogue has become in practical terms. However, we believe that the Government’s understanding of our position became greater as yesterday’s meeting went on.

As with many of our discussions with politicians, it took some time for us to get across that we are addressing not merely specific changes in laws, but also the fundamentals of human rights, including freedom of conscience, as the foundation of democracy.

Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education ended the meeting saying that they had learned a lot that, they had previously been unaware of, about the nature and scale of problems faced by atheists in Irish society.

Atheist parent, student and teacher

At the meeting, an atheist parent, an atheist student and an atheist teacher explained the religious discrimination they have experienced in the education system. Their first hand accounts had a major impact on the meeting.

The atheist parent, Derek Walsh, told of his problems getting his five-year-old son admitted to a local school this year. A principal told Derek that his son, as a non-Catholic, was a “Category 2 boy”, to only be considered if there were any places left over after all the “Category 1” Catholic applicants had been considered.

The Taoiseach agreed that no child should be labelled a “Category 2 child”. We showed him other schools’ admission criteria that also discriminated against atheists, including one school where the children of atheists were labeled “other” and were category 12 on the list of preferred beliefs.

The scale of the problems was reinforced by the fact that the atheist student and teacher chose to remain anonymous, because of fear of further recriminations in their schools if it became known that they were complaining about the discrimination that they have faced.

The atheist student outlined how they are isolated and even bullied in their school, where a lot of social activity is organised through religion class. The atheist teacher outlined how they have been told to not only convey Catholic teaching to their pupils, but to convey it as if was their own personal opinions.

We don’t want to go into detail about these experiences, to protect the anonymity of the people concerned, but their experiences are not unique, they conveyed them effectively, and the Minister for Education apologised for what they have had to go through.

Invisible discrimination

Perhaps the hardest part of the meeting from our perspective was helping the Taoiseach to appreciate the existence, never mind the scale, of the discrimination, which is so normalised in Irish society that it can seem invisible to people who are not the target of it.

We tried to convey this by asking him to consider alternative hypotheses that we are not actually seeking. What if there was even one school actively teaching students that there is no God, and even one set of Catholic parents were forced to send their child to that school?

What if the President and Judges and Taoiseach had to swear that there is no God, instead of swearing a religious oath? How did the Taoiseach feel sitting across a table from six citizens who could not aspire to hold the office he holds?

We wouldn’t dream of running other public services on the basis of the religious beliefs of citizens. A police station would not turn away an atheist crime victim until they had first dealt with all religious crime victims. Why should a publicly funded school be allowed to do this?

Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education ended the meeting saying that they had learned a lot that they had previously been unaware of, about the nature and scale of problems faced by atheists in Irish society.

Constitutional and human rights of atheists

Jane Donnelly addressed the rights of atheists under the Irish Constitution and human rights law. This was the first time that anybody has put these arguments to an Irish Taoiseach, and we will be following up on them in the meetings with Department officials that were agreed at the meeting with the Taoiseach.

The Irish Constitution (Article 42.1) protects atheist and secular families who have exactly same inalienable rights as religious families to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.

There is a positive obligation under the Article 42.1 of the Constitution to protect the inalienable right of atheist and secular families in the education system. Successive governments over the years have interpreted the right to respect for our philosophical convictions as a negative right (the right to opt out) when there is also a positive obligation to respect our rights. The European Court recognises this positive right to respect for our philosophical convictions.

The European court of Human Rights has said that secularism is regarded as a philosophical conviction protected under Article 9 (the right to freedom of conscience) and Article II of Protocol 1 (the right to education). This means that the State has a positive obligation to respect and protect our rights. If our Constitution does not respect and protect our rights then Ireland will be in breach of all its international obligations. We are already getting criticised by the UN and the Council of Europe.

The European Court found in the Louise O’Keeffe case and that the state cannot absolve itself of the obligations to protect Convention rights in Irish National Schools and delegate that to private bodies and individuals. We have a human right to an effective remedy to vindicate our rights. This is a huge issue, as schools are not considered ‘organs of the state’ within the meaning of the European Convention on Human Rights Act. This means that there is the possibility that a case can go directly to the European Court of Human Rights such as the ABC case and not be required to exhaust domestic remedies by going through the Irish courts. We believe that it is now just a matter of time before a parent will challenge this issue through the courts.

We want to opt our children into an education that is objective, critical and pluralistic. We have had enough of a primary school curriculum that seeks to promote the moral and spiritual development of our children through religious education as this breaches our Constitutional and human rights. If the State curriculum was promoting the moral and spiritual development of all children through atheist education, we would never hear the end of it and would immediately recognise that this was breaching the rights of religious families.

The State would not contemplate a situation where hospitals were permitted to give preference to the children of religious families and would immediately see this as discrimination, but Section 7-3 (c) of the Equal Status Act sees children refused access to their only local publicly funded National school on the basis of their parents’ religious convictions. It is forbidden under human rights law to discriminate against children in this manner.

Atheist and secularists must hide their convictions in order to gain employment as teachers, and this applies to religious minorities as well. Atheist and secular teachers have very limited employment opportunities in Ireland at both primary and second level and are trained by institutions to teach the doctrine of mainly one particular church. Again the UN and Council of Europe are putting pressure on Ireland to stop discriminating in this manner.

Constitutional and legal changes needed

We highlighted several specific proposals in two briefing document that we prepare for the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education. We will follow up on these issue in the in the meetings with Department officials that were agreed at the meeting with the Taoiseach.

The State has a positive obligation to respect the rights of atheists

  • Acknowledge that human rights apply to individuals, and cannot be denied by majority votes, as the Minister for Justice accepted at the UNHRC. Amend Article 40.1 on equality before the law to include principle of non-discrimination.
  • Remove religious oaths (which includes Taoiseach and others), in a way that respects the right not to have to reveal your religion or belief in public, as required by UNHRC.
  • Remove or amend all Constitutional clauses that give preference to religious over nonreligious beliefs.
  • Repeal the eighth amendment to enable the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.
  • Stop amending laws that discriminate against atheists, in ways that they discriminate against fewer people on other grounds, but still discriminate against atheists (e.g. Admission to Schools, Employment Equality, Civil Registration, age of President).
  • Amend the Defamation, Charities, Equal Status, Juries, Electoral, relevant healthcare and other laws. End State payments to chaplains, loaded census question, religious oaths and symbols in court, polling booths and councils, and daily Christian prayer in Oireachtas.
  • Human-rights-proof all planned legislation with the IHREC.
  • Immediate First Steps: Campaign vigorously to ensure marriage equality is passed. Include removal of religious oaths for public office alongside Presidential age vote. Within lifetime of this Government, hold a referendum to remove blasphemy.
  • Amend the Civil Registration Act, that discriminates against atheists in favour of religions and humanists. Until it is amended, enforce it with integrity, and ensure all nominating bodies are compliant with the law.

Why must our children leave their human rights at the school gates?

  • Vindicate inalienable right of atheist/secular parents to respect and protection for their philosophical convictions, in educating their children in publicly funded schools. (Art 42.1)
  • Vindicate right of parents to not have their conscience and lawful preference violated by being forced to send their children to certain types of school. (Art 42.3.1)
  • Vindicate right to a moral education for all children, separate from religion. (Art 42.3.2)
  • Acknowledge the State’s direct responsibility to protect the human rights of children in schools, in accordance with the Louise O’Keeffe judgment at the European Court.
  • Increase access to secular education, by divesting religious patronage and establishing non-denominational (not multi-denominational) schools, as required by UNHRC.
  • Amend primary curriculum, and remove rule 68, to ensure a neutral education, even in denominational schools, outside of opt-out religion classes, as required by UNHRC.
  • Ensure that all schools comply with Toledo Guiding Principles by teaching about religion and beliefs in a objective, critical and pluralistic manner.
  • Immediate First Steps: Lead by example. Make all changes to respect human rights in the Model Schools that Department of Education runs directly as Patron.
  • Amend Admissions to Schools Bill, to prohibit all discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion or belief, as required by UNHRC.
  • Amend Section 37 Employment Equality Bill to ban religious (and not just sexuality-based) discrimination in education and health, as required by UNHRC.
  • Remove Section 7.3(c) of the Equal Status Act.

Blasphemy law

One of our most important issues is that Ireland is the only European country to have introduced a contemporary blasphemy law. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2009, Pakistan proposed the adoption of precise wording from the Irish blasphemy law, as part of efforts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to limit Human Rights on freedom of conscience.

As Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, has advised Atheist Ireland to convey to the Constitutional Convention: “I wouldn’t expect any harsh verdicts being handed down in Ireland, but those countries that continue to have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy.”

At the meeting we gave the Taoiseach an open letter about the Irish blasphemy law, signed by more than forty Irish and international scientists, philosophers, writers, comedians, politicians and activists. The Guardian has published the letter.

You can read the letter and the list of signatures here.

Summary

We are happy to have started an ongoing dialogue with the Government, at the first ever formal meeting between a Taoiseach and an atheist advocacy group in the history of the State.

After several follow-up meetings with Department officials and others, we will be in a better position to judge how positive the dialogue has become in practical terms.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 citizen_wolf February 11, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Excellent work Michael. I really hope that the Taoiseach learned something yesterday and wasn’t just paying lip service to the idea of equality for citizens. His actions from here on will determine that question.

2 milesnagopaleen February 11, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Hearty congratulations! This is a huge step forward.

3 James February 11, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Another leap and bound. Well done to all involved.

4 Ewan Duffy February 11, 2015 at 9:40 pm

“Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education ended the meeting saying that they had learned a lot that, they had previously been unaware of, about the nature and scale of problems faced by atheists in Irish society.”

thereby proving their unsuitability for public office.

5 Jan Steen February 11, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Most of the attention is focussed on the blasphemy law, and understandbly so, because it is such an obvious absurdity. It is a dubious distinction to set an example for a religious hellhole like Pakistan.

But more important in the long run are reforms in the education system. Let religious indoctrination make way for true religious education. Atheism should become part of the curriculum. Kids have to be taught that there is a perfectly respectable alternative to religion.

Ireland needs to catch up with the rest of Europe. The stranglehold of the Catholic Church needs to be broken once and for all.

These meetings are important steps in the right direction. Atheist Ireland is doing great work.

6 chill chick February 12, 2015 at 3:57 am

Sounds like it was a very successful meeting. Congratulations to Michael and Atheist Ireland, and best wishes for your continuing efforts.

Question: do you believe the existing constitution can be reformed, or will it ultimately need to be replaced?

7 John Morales February 12, 2015 at 11:12 am

From the OP:

Atheist Ireland had a breakthrough dialogue yesterday with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan […]

We were represented by chairperson Michael Nugent, human rights officer Jane Donnelly, and blasphemy law campaign coordinator John Hamill.

[…]

We are happy to have started an ongoing dialogue with the Government, at the first ever formal meeting between a Taoiseach and an atheist advocacy group in the history of the State.

… by Michael Nugent on February 11, 2015.

I infer that this is clearly not a personal blog post, but rather one wherein Michael speaks on AI’s behalf on his personal blog.

8 Michael Nugent February 12, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Thanks for the feedback.

Citizen_Wolf #1, this is just the start of a process, and we won’t be able to judge how effective it is until later.

Jan #5, yes, we are putting a great deal of focus on education. Half of our agenda was on education, the other half on the Constitution and laws and practices.

Chill Chick #6, Ideally I think the constitution should be replaced, but in practice I think we will have to try to get amendments passed one at a time.

John #7, It is a bit of both. It is Atheist Ireland’s response to the meeting, as published on our website, and it is also my personal opinion. Publishing it on both sites means more people get to read it. I’ve changed the part you refer to avoid any confusion this may have caused to you.

9 John February 12, 2015 at 3:09 pm

No one is stopping these whining atheists from having their own schools. The sooner the better. Any delays are due to their own inability to attract the numbers they hope. However, in Dublin and other urban areas there is now growing availability for the relatively small minority who want non-Catholic education. What needs to be made clear to these people, however, is that while every effort should be made to accomodate this minority, they will NEVER NEVER NEVER be allowed to take away the rights of those who want their children educated at Catholic schools. The schools patronage survey in 2013 showed that the vast majority of parents in Ireland want to retain Catholic patronage of the schools they send their children to. I look forward to the day when there is both a thriving Catholic schools sector and a sector for those who want non-Catholic education. I have no doubt that, when that happens, the Catholic sector will be achieving far better results, just as in N. Ireland, U. Kingdom, U. States and other countries today.

10 flyingalexf68 February 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

@ John, why can’t we just have local schools for children that all children go to together? Let the schools teach the important stuff like reading and writing and maths and geography etc.

For religious education, how about Sunday school? Catholics go to catholic sunday school, protestants go to protestant sunday school, other religions run something similar. Atheist kids can just watch tv like they already do on Sunday morning….

11 Ewan Duffy February 12, 2015 at 6:38 pm

@John – What about rural Ireland where population would realistically allow only one school per village. If the majority happened to be atheist, would you be happy for Catholics to be “forced” to go there?

The other point I would make is that I assume you consider Roman Catholics in the early 19th Century to have been “whining” also as they advocated for Repeal of the Penal Laws.

12 John February 12, 2015 at 9:18 pm

Anyone who thinks that local schools that all children attend would be neutral wrt religion is mad. They’d be run by atheist-dominated unions. They’d be as hostile to Christianity as the Irish media is today. Given the depth of anti-Catholic fanaticism amongst liberals in Ireland, Catholics simply will never trust them. Period. The hostility directed at Christians, and Catholics in particular, by the liberal mob in the media, on twitter etc is so great, that there is simply no way Catholics will have anything to do with them. There are very few villages in Ireland that support only one school, given that almost everywhere in rural Ireland pupils are drawn from the adjoining countryside. I fully support the right of atheists and others who don’t want Catholic education to have their own schools. The sooner they do it the better. There is nothing new in this. Protestants have always had their own schools. Atheists can do likewise. Given that they are always boasting about their numbers, it should be no problem for them to have their own schools, financed in the same way as Catholic and Protestant schools. Apart from the religious aspect, there is also the important matter of the quality of education. Catholic schools provide superb education. In N. Ireland Catholic schools completely outperform state schools. Likewise in the UK and US. Generally, the state is useless at providing services. This is true of all states, but the Irish state is particularly useless. Look at Irish Water. Catholics have no wish to exchange the superb education their children receive in Catholic schools for the third-rate education any system run by the Irish state would provide.

13 Citizen Wolf February 13, 2015 at 12:08 am

@John
I see you believe that the state is useless at providing education. Where do you think most of the funding for all the ‘catholic’ schools in Ireland comes from? It comes from taxes that I and everyone else pays. I want my taxes to be used in a way that treats all equally. At the moment catholics discriminate against non-catholics.

You don’t want the state involved in the education of your kids? Fine. Of you go and form your own schools and don’t be using my taxes to discriminate in favor of you and against me.

Remember what it was like back in the bad old days of the hedge-schools when catholics were denied proper education. That wasn’t very fair, now was it. Should that same sort of discrimination continue today just because catholics are in the majority?

14 John Morales February 13, 2015 at 8:05 am

Michael Nugent, I appreciate you making those changes; as a result, I think that my observation above is no longer applicable.

15 John February 13, 2015 at 8:40 am

I fully agree that atheists should be allowed their own schools. Its in the news today that they are getting some more. This is good. Equality doesn’t require a state system where everyone attends the same school. Equality can be provided by allowing all groups to have their own schools, with rules for funding applied equally. Based on experience in Ireland in other areas, if the school system was run entirely by the state, the standard of education would collapse. At present, Ireland scores very highly in PISA rankings. And in N. Ireland Catholic schools greatly outperform the state system. Catholics are simply not going to give up their school system. End of story. And if Nugent thinks any major political party is going to put a state takeover of Catholic schools in their election manifesto, he needs to think again.

16 James February 13, 2015 at 8:45 am

@John

“No one is stopping these whining atheists from having their own schools.”

Should we also set up other government funded services for ourselves? Do we need atheist police stations and atheist hospitals?

“Anyone who thinks that local schools that all children attend would be neutral wrt religion is mad.”

So why isn’t that the case in every other western country in the world then? What makes Ireland especially unique in this regard?

“In N. Ireland Catholic schools completely outperform state schools.”

In Northern Ireland catholic schools are private schools. Private schools have all sorts of means to improve their statistics that state schools, and (rep. of) Irish catholic schools don’t have. This includes more funding, ability to reject students based on academic performance and all sorts of other decisions made that are not necessarily in the students’ best interest but can bolster their position on the league tables (like focusing resources on talented students).

What else ya got?

17 James February 13, 2015 at 9:17 am

“I fully agree that atheists should be allowed their own schools. Its in the news today that they are getting some more.”

Those schools are not atheist schools. They are multi-denominational schools. Nobody here is looking for atheist schools to be set up except you it would seem.

18 John February 13, 2015 at 9:22 am

You know nothing about education in N. Ireland. The idea that Catholic schools in N. Ireland pick and choose the best pupils is baloney. Until the end of The Troubles, virtually the entire Catholic community attended Catholic schools. It wouldn’t have been safe for them to do otherwise. Nowadays the vast majority do, but some of the more liberal-minded parents send their children to state schools or integrated schools. These are mostly better-off parents. The overwhelming majority of working-class Catholics in N. Ireland send their children to Catholic schools. The vastly superior education they get there has been well-documented as one of the main causes of angst in the Protestant working-class population, who unfortunately receive a much inferior education from the state.

I suggest you read this.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/protestant-schoolboys-left-at-the-bottom-of-the-class-with-results-only-slightly-better-than-travellers-or-roma-children-30152342.html

No doubt the Dublin 4 liberals who provide the backbone of the atheist movement would be quite happy to see the working-class south of the border reduced to the same abysmal education level as the Protestant working-class in N. Ireland.

19 Ashling O'Brien February 13, 2015 at 11:35 am

John, after decades of sectarianism on the island of Ireland, what would be so terrible about having all our children attend the same schools together and to learn about all world religions rather than being taught any one religion as truth?

If parents then wanted their children to follow any particular religion they would arrange for that education to take place outside of the classroom through their church/mosque/temple etc.

20 Jan Steen February 13, 2015 at 11:41 am

Even in Catholic schools the kids should be taught about other religions and about atheism. The state should require such teaching and set standards for it.

Most religions depend on indoctrination of children for their survival. What adult person who had never learned about religion would later in life convert to Catholicism or any other religion? It’s not that religion makes a lot of sense, when you think about it with a clear mind.

21 John February 14, 2015 at 10:09 am

Ashling O’Brien, the sectarianism wasn’t caused by the education system, but by British invasion, plantation and occupation, then followed by discrimination in N. Ireland by the anti-Catholic government. Fortunately, things are much better now and Catholics in N. Ireland are far more respected north of the border than south of the border, where the dominant official ideology, perpetrated ad nauseum by the media, is a fanatical hatred of Catholics. That is one of the reasons why support for a United Ireland among northern Catholics has collapsed. Do you seriously think N. Ireland Catholics are likely to place themselves under the rule of the likes of Aodhan O’Riordan, Ivana Bacik, or Michael Nugent?

The responses show why Catholics will never hand over control of their schools to these people. You have a perfect right to your own schools. The sooner the better. No one is preventing you having them. Any delays are simply due to your difficulty in attracting sufficient numbers. But, you have no right whatever to tell Catholics how to run their schools. None. So, get used to it. You will never get your hands on Catholic schools and, if you think otherwise, pray tell me how you intend to achieve it? Do you seriously think any political party in rural Ireland is going to put a state takeover of their cherished schools in its election manifesto?

I notice no one has anything to say about the link I posted, highlighting the abysmal education levels of the N. Ireland protestant working-class, who have had the misfortune to be ‘educated’ in the sort of state system that liberals/atheists want to impose south of the border. What has Nugent got to say about this link?

22 John February 14, 2015 at 10:26 am

Regarding the other items on Nugent’s absurdly-long hit list, he must be totally deranged to think any political leader in Ireland is going to agree to his insane demands. Let’s just suppose Enda Kenny did. How many votes do you think Kenny would then get in Mayo come election time? Maybe 50, or 100 at most. Kenny may be a fool, but he’s not that big a fool. But, I admire Nugent’s nerve. Atheists make up 5-6% of the population, yet Nugent apparently thinks the whole of Irish society should be modelled on his beliefs. No doubt Nugent would like Ireland to be a version of the pre-1990 Soviet Union, which Nugent was such an admirer of before its demise. Anyway, southern atheists should consider themselves lucky. Atheists in N. Ireland have far more reason to whine. For a start, they actually have the word ‘God’ in their national anthem. And at the FA Cup final, they sing the Christian hymn ‘Abide With Me’. Oh, the cruelness of it! If they did that at Croke Park, southern atheists would be demanding a UN Task Force to bring it to an end.

23 Ashling O'Brien February 14, 2015 at 10:52 am

Hi John, thanks for your response. You’ve raised many points there on the nature and history of sectarianism in Ireland but you have avoided answering my question. I asked “what would be so terrible about having all our children attend the same schools together and to learn about all world religions rather than being taught any one religion as truth?” I ask this question in light of the sectarian history of our island.

I’m genuinely interested in your answer to this.

24 John February 14, 2015 at 11:44 am

Because children should be taught Truth. I believe the Christian religion is Truth, so I want children of parents who believe the Christian religion is Truth to be taught that it is Truth. And to be taught to live as far as possible in accordance with The Ten Commandments, which entails teaching them it is wrong to take life (even in the womb), or to cheat on their spouse, or to euthanise their elderly parents because they are impatient for their inheritance.

However, I fully accept that others may disagree. That is their prerogative. And, if they don’t wish their children to be taught that the Christian religion is Truth, I have absolutely no problem with that. Good luck to them. They can have their own schools where their children are taught that Christianity is bunk, that abortion is absolutely spiffing, that it is perfectly fine to create a child by buying sperm that some Russian junkie has masturbated into a jar in Vladavostic to pay for his next heroin shot, and so on. I have no wish to interfere in any way with what atheists teach their children about right and wrong. And I strongly believe that they should be given the same financial support, in accordance with their numbers, as all other groups in society, such as Catholics, Methodists, Muslims et al.

But, the differences between those who believe that Christianity is Truth and those who believe it is bunk are so great, that there is no possibility whatever they can be accommodated equally in one school system. There is also the additional problem that southern Ireland atheists are so bigoted against Christianity, that they could not possibly be trusted to run a fair school system in which all beliefs were accorded equal respect. Do you seriously think that Catholics would trust a state-run school system with Ivana Bacik as education minister? About as much as atheists would trust a state-run school system with David Quinn as education minister.

Then, there is the secondary problem that Catholic schools achieve far better education results than state schools. Look at Ireland’s PISA results compared with our near neighbours Wales. Ireland near the top. Wales near the bottom. Given the cultural similarities, the only explanation I can see for this is that Ireland’s schools are far better. And I notice you haven’t responded to the link I posted, highlighting the abysmal education levels of the N. Ireland protestant working-class.

25 John February 14, 2015 at 11:59 am

As Nugent himself says: “Vindicate right to a moral education for all children, separate from religion. ”

This, of course, is the nub of the problem. Nugent wants children to be taught what is right and what is wrong (moral education). Fine. The problem is that different people have different views about what is right and what is wrong.

Christians believe abortion is wrong, most atheists don’t.

Christians believe euthanasia is wrong, most atheists don’t.

Christians put far more emphasis on the traditional family than atheists.

and a host of others.

I am not saying here which one is right and which wrong (although it should be obvious from my other posts what I think). Both are entitled to their point of view. I am saying that the differences are so great that there could not possibly be any ‘moral education’ that both subscribe to. I strongly suspect that in any state-run system in Ireland, it would be Nugent’s view of morality that would be taught. That is one of the reasons Catholics won’t have it, and there is nothing Nugent can do to make them have it. So, I suggest he stops wasting his time and limit his ambitions to having a sector of education that caters for people that share his beliefs (which no one, certainly not I, has any objection to him going), rather than dismantling the entire education system.

26 Michael Nugent February 14, 2015 at 4:00 pm

John #22

No doubt Nugent would like Ireland to be a version of the pre-1990 Soviet Union, which Nugent was such an admirer of before its demise.

I’ll reply to your other points later, but what on earth are you basing this opinion on?

27 Ashling O'Brien February 14, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Hi John, again a lot of information there, it is clear you are very passionate about the topic of education.

I’ve read through what you have written and I just want to check that I understand where you are coming from. Please do correct me if I am wrong, thanks.

You accept that there are other belief systems which the adherents to would hold to be true, but you believe that Christianity is the one true belief system – is that correct?

If the answer to this is ‘yes’ then, in theory at least, you would not object to the children of parents who belong to the various different creeds of Christianity being educated together in the same schools as they are all subscribing to the truth (Christianity)? That is children whose parents creed is/belong to; Adventist, Anabaptists (Mennonite), Anglican, Arminian, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Congregational, Christian Church – Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Puritan Congregational, Reformed, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Fundamentalist Evangelical, Amish, Holy Ghost Fathers, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Salvation Army, Waldensian Evangelical Church etc. etc.

Also, I think that most (if not all) of these Christian creeds would be in agreement with the positions you outline in #25 with regards to abortion, euthanasia, the definition of family so there really should, in theory anyway, be no conflict of ideas as to what you feel should be covered in a ‘moral education’

28 Jane February 14, 2015 at 4:46 pm

@John

The National school system in Ireland was never meant to segregate children but to educate all children of the community together. The Article in the Constitution that permits the state funding of schools under religious patronage has conditions. One of those conditions is that all children can attend the school and another is that parents can opt their children out of religious instruction.

Over the years those conditions have been ignored and particularly with the introduction of the religious integrated curriculum in 1965.

It is not legally possible to set up non denominational schools in Ireland given the state curriculum which seeks to promote the moral and spiritual development of all children and bring them to acknowledge of God. Rule 68 of the Rules for National schools obliges schools to integrate religion into all subjects under the curriculum and a religious spirit must inform and vivify the whole work of the school. The Education Act obliges schools to comply with the state curriculum. A non denominational school could not comply with these legal conditions.

There are now over 126 different religions in Ireland and the Constitution does not oblige the state to fund a particular type of school to cater for all the different religious and belief systems now in the country. The state is obliged to respect the inalienable rights of all parents . No state could possibly fund a school system for all the various religions. In reality no state would want to do this as it is segregation and not a way to promote pluralism and inclusion.

The Irish state respects the inalienable rights of secular parents and religious minorities by providing for the education of their children in publicly funded schools with a religious ethos. It legally obliges these parents to send their children to religious schools. It has put in place laws that permit schools with a religious ethos to discriminate in access and it obliges schools to promote the moral and spiritual development of all children and bring them to a knowledge of God.

I’m sure you can appreciate that in reality this could not be described as respecting the inalienable rights of all parents to ensure that the education of their children is in conformity with their convictions. If we had a school system that promoted the moral education of your children through atheist education I would support you in campaigning against such a system because I realise that this is a breach of your inalienable rights as a parent. It would also be a breach of your right to freedom of conscience, your right to be free from discrimination and the right to equality before the law.

29 Jan Steen February 14, 2015 at 4:48 pm

@John,

I notice no one has anything to say about the link I posted, highlighting the abysmal education levels of the N. Ireland protestant working-class, who have had the misfortune to be ‘educated’ in the sort of state system that liberals/atheists want to impose south of the border.

Didn’t it occur to you that the socio-economic status of the parents may have a big influence on the educational success of their children? When parents are poorly educated they will be less able to help their children with their homework, will often be less motivated to encourage them to study, etc. Schools with many children from such backgrounds will be at a huge disadvantage compared to schools where the majority of the pupils have parents who are well-educated and/or financially better off.

If you make a fair comparison, with children from comparable socio-economic backgrounds, there is no evidence that Catholic schools provide better education. See for example the study discussed here:

http://www.livescience.com/41066-catholic-equivalent-to-public-schools.html

30 Jan Steen February 14, 2015 at 5:30 pm

@John,

I believe the Christian religion is Truth, so I want children of parents who believe the Christian religion is Truth to be taught that it is Truth. And to be taught to live as far as possible in accordance with The Ten Commandments, which entails teaching them it is wrong to take life (even in the womb), or to cheat on their spouse, or to euthanise their elderly parents because they are impatient for their inheritance.

I take it that you, or your Ten Commandments, are also against the assisted suicide of people who are slowly dying a painful death from an incurable disease and who merely ask to be spared days or weeks of agony? Because this is what euthanasia is about in reality. It’s not about cold blooded murder of elderly parents by their greedy children, as you pretend to believe. That kind of thing is still considered murder in more enlightened countries where euthanasia is legal.

Your deliberate misrepresentation seems to me a breach against the ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Tut, tut.

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