I’m very pleased to see the formation of Atheist NI, an advocacy group that seeks to represent the views of atheists in Northern Ireland, and to work towards a rational, ethical and secular Northern Ireland, free from superstition and supernatural beliefs.
Northern Ireland has had as strange a relationship with its atheists as has the Republic of Ireland, both before and after the island was partitioned.
An atheist and a violent party man
In April 1859, a Belfast Presbyterian was horrified when he was accused of being an atheist. James McAldin had been removed from a jury panel in a court case, and he believed that it was because his name “had a Roman Catholic sound to official ears”. However, the Attorney General told the House of Commons that McAldin had been set aside because he was “an atheist and a violent party man”.
McAldin wrote a letter to the Times saying that “the charge of atheism is such an odious accusation that I trust to your sense of justice to permit me to repel it.” He was also upset by being called “a violent party man” but he described this accusation as being “not so damaging” as being labelled an atheist.
The churches owned all of the graveyards
Nearly 150 years later, in August 2008, a man was told that he could not bury his dead mother in Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland, because churches owned all of the graveyards in Donegal and none would bury an atheist. Therefore, unless Roy Greenslade was willing to compromise his late mother Joan’s beliefs by agreeing to a religious service, it was impossible for her to be buried.
She was eventually buried in nearby Derry, across the border in Northern Ireland. The city council’s cemeteries department said they had different areas in the municipal graveyard for Catholics, Protestants and even Muslims. Asked whether they were starting an atheist section for Mrs Greenslade the reply was: “No, we’re putting her in with the Protestants.”
The mission of the newly-formed Atheist NI
Today Northern Ireland finally has an advocacy group to challenge these and similar anachronistic views. This is its mission:
- We advocate an ethical and secular country where religion is not given privilege, support or endorsement by the State.
- We seek a rational and evidence based society without superstition and supernatural belief systems.
- We want to erase the negative global image of Northern Ireland by combating religious fundamentalism and all its nonsensical ideas and dangerous effects.
How you can help to support Atheist NI