My speech at the OSCE human rights conference
Jane Donnelly’s speech at the OSCE human rights conference
Jane Donnelly and I spoke at the OSCE’s international human rights implementation conference in Warsaw, Poland, last week. This annual conference monitors how OSCE states are implementing their human rights obligations under international treaties.
We highlighted ongoing breaches of the human rights of atheists to freedom of conscience and belief, freedom of expression, equality before the law, freedom from discrimination, the rights of the child and the right to a secular education.
We spoke at the session on freedom of religion, belief and conscience. We also attended two side events on freedom of expression, and we met privately with the Irish Government and Vatican delegations and various NGO bodies.
Our speeches and recommendations will be published on the OSCE website, along with the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and Religion in Public Life and the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and Empowering Women.
We are following up on this with political lobbying at national and international level. We encourage our members, and other atheist and secular advocates and groups, to raise these human rights issues with your politicians and governments.
My speech as Chair of Atheist Ireland
Last year we reminded you that you had hosted events to combat discrimination against Christians, Muslims and Jews. We requested a similar event to combat discrimination against atheists. This has not happened. We now repeat that request.
Last year we warned about the European Union and Islamic states together insisting that we respect all religious prophets. We again ask you to publicly oppose such undemocratic State proselytizing, and to strongly oppose all blasphemy laws. People have rights; our beliefs do not.
Last year we highlighted that Irish parents are denied secular education for our children. We are still denied that right.
Last year we warned that the OSCE chair at the time, Eamon Gilmore, would have to swear a religious oath in Ireland to a god that he does not believe in. He has since been legally obliged to swear that oath. Can you imagine the reaction here if anybody, anywhere, had to swear an oath that there was no god, in order to take up a public office?
This year the chameleon-like Vatican – sometimes a state, sometimes a religion – having already hindered Ireland’s fight against clerical child sex abuse, is now trying to undermine a new Irish abortion law that allows doctors to save the lives of dying pregnant women.
Today we ask the OSCE to support the recommendations made by international atheist advocates in the Dublin Declarations on Secularism and Religion and Public Life, and on Secularism and Empowering Women put together by atheist advocates internationally. These will be published on the OSCE website.
Jane’s speech as Human Rights Officer, Atheist Ireland
Atheists are denied the same legal recognition that is given to religions in Ireland. The Constitution does not discriminate between religions, but it is allowed to discriminate between religions and atheist bodies.
The United Nations has recommended that nondenominational schools be widely available throughout Ireland, and we ask the OSCE to support this.
To clarify a point from this morning, there are no non-denominational schools in Ireland. There are over 3000 religious schools, 6060 multi-denominational schools, and no non-denominational schools.
The Irish state takes no positive steps to protect secular parents and their children from religious discrimination in the education system.
Religious schools can legally give preference to co-religionists in order to uphold their religious ethos. Parents are required to produce a Catholic baptismal certificate when enrolling their child at the only local school.
Schools in Ireland are publicly funded but essentially private.
Catholic schools in Ireland operate a religious integrated curriculum. Religion is integrated into the curriculum and the daily life of the school. Parents are responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religious instruction classes. However, it is impossible to opt out of religion that is integrated into all subjects under the state curriculum.
The UN human rights committee has raised concern regarding the religious integrated curriculum in Catholic schools in Ireland. They stated that it denies parents access to a secular education for their children. They said it was discrimination, breached the right to freedom of conscience, the rights of the child and the right to equality before the law.
Again, we ask the OSCE to support the UN recommendation to open up secular non-denominational schools throughout Ireland.
My speech at the 2012 conference
This is my speech at last year’s conference, some of which is referred to in this year’s speeches.
The OSCE has hosted events to specifically combat discrimination against Christians, Muslims and Jews. We request a similar event to specifically combat discrimination against atheists and agnostics.
For example, in Ireland, atheist parents are denied secular education for our children. We cannot become president or a judge in Ireland, because we have to swear a religious oath.
Eamon Gilmore, the current chair of the OSCE, is a member of the Irish Council of State. To take up this office he is obliged to swear an oath before a god that he personally does not believe in.
Our second recommendation is that the OSCE should strongly oppose all blasphemy laws.
The European Union and the Islamic States have recently insisted, in a joint statement, that we respect all religions and all prophets.
Respecting all prophets would mean respecting not only the prophets of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but also respecting David Koresh at Waco, and David Icke who believes that George Bush is a space lizard.
This is clearly absurd. We can respect your right to believe, while not respecting the content of your beliefs. You have rights. Your beliefs do not. That is the essence of freedom of conscience.
I do not respect any belief about reality that is not based on sufficient evidence, and I do not respect any belief about morality that oppresses women, or gay people or other minorities.
Unsurprisingly, this recent EU statement has resulted in the Islamic States at the UN reintroducing their attempts to make blasphemy a crime internationally. The OSCE and all civilized states should oppose this attempt to move us backwards in terms of freedom of conscience.
If you would like to discuss how to combat this danger, please attend our side event at lunchtime in meeting room 3.