The right to die, the right to live, and Marie Fleming’s High Court judgment

Tom and MarieMarie Fleming has lost her High Court case seeking the right to die with the assistance of her partner Tom Curran. The family are now considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. They are an inspiration to all of us who are affected by this painful dilemma.

My wife Anne Holliday, who died of cancer in 2011, had made preparations to take her own life if she needed to. Like many who make that decision, Anne died naturally at the end, having had the peace of mind of knowing that she could avoid suffering if she needed to.

Last night I discussed the right to die on RTE’s Prime Time with Regina McQuillan of the Irish Association for Palliative Care. I agree with all of what Regina says about the importance of palliative care, and avoiding people feeling pressurised to die.

In my opinion, both of these issues are complementary. People who choose to live or who are not of sound mind should be given every help to stay alive, with the maximum possible quality of life. And people who are of sound mind and terminally or seriously ill, and who choose to die on their own terms, should also be given help to do that.

Marie Fleming’s High Court judgment

Marie Fleming is an inspirational woman. The High Court judgment said that she was in many ways the most remarkable witness which any member of this Court has ever been privileged to encounter.

Marie was looking for the right to be assisted to die on two constitutional grounds. Under Article 40.3.2, the State must vindicate the personal autonomy of every citizen. And under Article 40.1, she has the right to equality, but able-bodied people can legally commit suicide without assistance, while she requires assistance to do so because of her illness, and assisting suicide is a crime.

The Court accepted that the ban interferes with her rights, but found that the interference is not disproportionate. It found that the risks of liberalization is that it would be impossible to ensure that there would not be abuse by other people of vulnerable people.

There were similar bans upheld in Canada, US, UK and Europe. In one case in Canada a different decision was taken, but on reviewing the same evidence, the Irish court disagrees with the Canadian decision about the existence of abuse.

The Court found that the DPP cannot give Marie and Tom advance guidelines as to whether any proposed way of dying would be breaking the law. However, it would be different if the DPP gets a list of factors after the event.

The Court found that the fact that recent UK guidelines exist must surely inform the exercise of the discretion of the DPP here. The Court felt sure that the Director in this of all cases would exercise her discretion in a humane and sensitive fashion.

Reading between the lines, it seems like a traditional ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’, although this time based on compassion. It could be interpreted as the Court saying that we cannot allow you to do this, but you are unlikely to be prosecuted if you do.

Whether this satisfies the needs of Marie and Tom and their family is for them to decide.

The right to die and the right to live

Last night I discussed the right to die on RTE’s Prime Time with Regina McQuillan of the Irish Association for Palliative Care. I was speaking on behalf of Right to Die Ireland, a recently founded advocacy group seeking to change the law to enable assisted dying.

I agree with all of what Regina McQuillan said about the importance of palliative care, and avoiding people feeling pressurised to die. It is important that people who campaign for the right to choose to die also campaign for the right to choose to live.

However, the right to die is not just about dying. It is also about the peace of mind and quality of life that you have while you are still alive. Because of her decision, my late wife Anne had a year of quality life free of the worry of suffering at the end.

This is an issue where the Courts and the legislators have to catch up with reality. The courts are not in control of what terminally ill people will choose to do, because terminally ill people have their own ethical priorities and their own autonomy.

One sad impact of assisted dying being illegal is that some people will die earlier than they otherwise would, because they cannot wait for the stage when they need help to do so. And people will die abroad instead of the comfort of their own home.

This is a difficult issue to deal with, because people on both sides of the argument are coming from a place of compassion.

My contribution this morning to the Irish parliamentary hearings on abortion law

Jane Donnelly and I were witnesses today at the Irish parliamentary hearings on abortion law, along with representatives of six Irish religions. Here is my opening contribution to the session.

There is also a video version of this here.

The 1983 amendment

We are here because the 1983 amendment has constrained our public ethics.

We should not need three days of parliamentary hearings to discuss how the law should allow a doctor in a hospital to save the life of a dying woman.

That is the absolute minimum rock-bottom ethical standard that we should automatically expect from our healthcare system.

The ABC case requires you to vindicate this right. It does not require you to limit yourself to only doing this.

Please do not ignore the suffering of pregnant women whose health is at risk, who are victims of rape or incest, or whose foetus has fatal abnormalities.

Please recommend removing the 1983 amendment, so that you can democratically decide on appropriate laws for the people of Ireland today.

Freedom of conscience

As atheists, we ask that you respect our human right to freedom of conscience.

As atheists, we each form our own individual ethical beliefs, including on abortion, but one belief does unite us: we do not get our morality from gods.

And so our laws should not be based on what other people believe that the creator of the universe is telling them to impose on us.

‘The creator’

For example, Cardinal Brady has explicitly told you that, while acting as our legislators, you should remember that the right to life is conferred on us by ‘the creator’.

Please think about the enormity of that claim, the lack of evidence to support it, and its irrelevance to your deliberations and duties as lawmakers.

Because even if you believe that there is a creator, as many of you do, there is no pathway from believing this to taking any particular ethical position.

You cannot argue that the universe had a beginning, therefore it must have had a creator, therefore you cannot legislate for abortion.

There is no cause and effect between these ideas.

We do not get our morality from religion, we apply our natural morality to religion.

Secular ethics

So what is Atheist Ireland asking you to do?

Whatever laws you pass, please base them on human rights and compassion, and on applying reason to empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines.

Please respect that individual ethical decisions should be made on the basis of personal autonomy and individual conscience, while not infringing on the rights of others.

Please respect that individual ethical decisions about pregnancy should be made by a pregnant woman in consultation with her medical team.

Human Rights

Please also consider these human rights issues.

In X, the Court said that the risk to life must be be ‘real and substantial’ but it need not be ‘inevitable or immediate’.

In ABC, the Court said that that obtaining an abortion abroad constitutes a significant psychological burden on pregnant women.

In D, the Irish Government said that it is an open question as to whether a pregnant woman with a fatal foetal abnormality has a right to an abortion.

Ireland is obliged, under various international conventions, to respect the equal right of women to health and to physical and psychological integrity.

The 1983 amendment is incompatible with our human rights obligations, and it discriminates against women on the grounds of physical and mental health.

Threat of suicide

Finally, the X case has already ruled that a suicidal woman has a right to an abortion in Ireland. You have a duty to legislate for that right.

Please don’t pass a restrictive law that assumes that pregnant women are lying, or you run the risk of another tragedy.

A suicidal woman may be denied an abortion, she may commit suicide, there may be public outrage, and the law may be changed. But it would be too late for that woman.

It took a raped teenage child to establish the right to an abortion in Ireland. It has taken the death of a miscarrying woman to bring about these hearings.

Please stop this unethical pattern of lawmaking by response to personal tragedies.


Please do not limit yourselves to the minimal possible response to X and ABCD and the Expert Group.

Please legislate comprehensively based on human rights and compassion.

Please respect the right of religious people to believe in their gods, and to act in accordance with their own religious values, but not to impose their own religious values on pregnant women who do not share those religious values.

I will be speaking this morning at the Irish parliamentary hearings on abortion law

I will be speaking this morning at the Irish parliamentary hearings on abortion law, along with representatives of five Irish churches.

The session runs from 9.30 am to 11.30 am. There will be five-minute opening statements, followed by an hour and a half of questions from TDs and Senators.

It is broadcast live:

These are today’s three sessions:

Session 1: 9.30-11.30

  • Irish Catholic Bishops Conference (Rev. Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin; Fr. Timothy Bartlett)
  • Church of Ireland (Most Rev. Dr. Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin; Mr. Samuel Harper)
  • Presbyterian Church of Ireland (Dr. Trevor Morrow, Dr. Roy Patton)
  • Methodist Church of Ireland (Ms. Heidi Good)
  • Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (Dr. Ali Selim)
  • Atheist Ireland (Mr. Michael Nugent)

Session 2: 11.45- 13.45

  • Pro Life Campaign (Ms. Caroline Simons; Dr. Berry Kiely)
  • Youth Defence (Dr. Eoghan de Faoite; Dr. Sean O’Domhnaill)
  • Family & life (Mr. Patrick Carr, Mr. David Manley)
  • Iona Institute (Ms. Breda O’Brien)

Session 3: 14.45 – 16.45

  • Choice Ireland (Ms. Jacinta Fay; Ms. Denise Ryan)
  • National Womens Council of Ireland (Ms. Orla O’Connor, Director, Ms. Jacqueline Healy)
  • Action on X (Ms. Ailbhe Smyth; Ms. Therese Caherty)

Arizona State University explains role of homophobic and sexist pastor guest speaker

Arizona State University has replied to my query about why they gave Pastor Steven Anderson (the man who asked his parishioners to pray that God would kill President Obama with brain cancer) a platform to preach homophobic and sexist hate speech to its students.

Here’s a video that Anderson published on YouTube last year, in which he tells ASU students that homosexuals are already doomed to hell, and that it is a myth that God loves everybody. As an aside, there is an amusing tell at about 4:30 when he starts talking about animals being homosexual, and his legs start involuntarily swinging from side to side under the table.

Anderson used video titles on YouTube such as “ASU: Born That Way?” and “ASU: A Woman’s Place is in the Home.”

The University was aware that this class had been videotaped, but was unaware that it had been posted on YouTube with these titles.

The University has now asked Anderson to change the titles to accurately reflect that he was guest speaking at the University. Anderson has done this with the written video titles, but the original titles still remain within the videos themselves.

The University has also clarified the context in which he was guest speaking. Unsurprisingly, Anderson himself does not highlight this context.

Anderson was actually a guest speaker in a class titled “Religious Extremism: Science, Sex and Violence.”

The course explored religious extremism, with the object “to gain a deeper understanding of the epistemic, metaphysical, and moral assumptions and arguments underlying the ideas and actions that strike those outside of extremist communities as ‘crazy’ and ‘irrational’”.

I would like to thank Arizona State University for clarifying this matter. It is a constructive response that reflects well on the University and its policies, and it counters the misleading spin that Pastor Anderson put on his guest speaking about his religious extremism.

Below is my letter to the University, the University’s reply, and some quotes (unrelated to this incident) by Pastor Steven Anderson to illustrate the extent of his homophobia and sexism, and his general detachment from reality.

Continue reading “Arizona State University explains role of homophobic and sexist pastor guest speaker”

Update: Atheist Ireland invited to parliamentary hearings this week on abortion law

Update: Atheist Ireland has been invited to take part in this hearing. We would like to thank the Oireachtas Health Committee for its prompt and courteous response to our request.

Atheist Ireland has asked to be invited to parliamentary hearings this week on abortion law. Please let your TDs, and the Health Committee, know that you support this request by emailing them at the addresses below.

The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children will hold three days of hearings this week to discuss the Government’s decision to legislate and regulate for abortion law in the aftermath of the ABC judgement in the European Court of Human Rights. Appropriately, they will hear from medical and legal bodies, and advocacy groups for and against the choice to have an abortion.

Atheist Ireland has asked to be be invited to take part in the morning session on Thursday 10 January, when the committee is hearing from the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Methodist Church of Ireland, and Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland.

Sadly but predictably, the Health Committee has failed to invite any nonreligious body that promotes secular ethics to this session. Ideally, there should be no need to hear any specifically religious or nonreligious ethical views, but if they are hearing religious ethical views, then they should also hear nonreligious ethical views.

How we want to contribute

Atheist Ireland wishes to outline the case for the Government to approach this issue from an ethical secular perspective, and not on the basis of theological beliefs.

Our policy is that society should address ethical issues based on human rights and compassion, and applying reason to empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines; and that individual ethical decisions should where possible be made on the basis of personal autonomy and individual conscience, while not infringing on the rights of others.

We wish to discuss with the Committee the implications of such an approach in assisting the Government in the drafting of the Heads of Bill on this issue.

Also, as one example, Roman Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady has recently asked people to tell their public representatives that the right to life is conferred on human beings by ‘the creator’. We want to explain why we believe the Government should not legislate or regulate on the basis of imposing such theological ideas on citizens who do not share them.

Continue reading “Update: Atheist Ireland invited to parliamentary hearings this week on abortion law”

Retraction and apology to WB

This article was originally titled ‘Publisher of video flagged for bullying admits Melody Hensley has been harassed and bullied’ but WB has since clarified that she does not admit this, so keeping that title would be misleading and unfair to her.

I apologise to WB for attributing this admission to her. She had intended her words to be interpreted as an implied quotation, and I mistakenly heard them as a direct assertion.

While WB and I clearly do not agree on the substantive issues being discussed, it did not help for me to add to the problem by misrepresenting her about this.

I would also like to thank Rocco2466 for bringing this mistake to my attention and discussing it in a reasoned way in the comments. I have left the original article as it is below, along with the comments.

Michael Nugent

Original article follows

The publisher of a video about Center For Inquiry Director Melody Hensley, that was flagged on YouTube for bullying, has published a new video responding to my article yesterday that referred to this issue.

Midway through the new video, WB explicitly admits that Melody Hensley has been harassed and bullied, and she associates her own original video about Melody Hensley with that harassment and bullying.

From 6:28 to 7:32, WB says:

“Anyways, he goes on to say: ‘Melody then asked her friends on Facebook to flag as ‘bullying’ a video about her, because she was tired of dealing with constant online harassment and bullying.’

Well, you know, like I said, she was tired of online harassment and bullying. But that was the harassment and bullying she got after she had publicly announced her intentions to mass block people.

These are people who didn’t even know who the fuck she was up until that point, myself included. I didn’t know who the fuck she was until she started publicly tweeting all of her dirty laundry. Like, really.

And then she publicly posts on Facebook crying about my video that I made, which was a response to her public tweets, by asking people to flag it so that YouTube would take down and then I would be silenced.”

So this means that:

  • WB is admitting that Melody Hensley has been harassed and bullied.
  • WB is justifying harassment and bullying as an acceptable response to a person publicly tweeting that they will block people on Twitter.
  • WB is in various ways associating her original flagged video with what she describes as ‘the harassment and bullying’ that Melody got.
See full video above for context.

Thunderf00t’s inflammatory video of misleading personal attacks on atheist feminists is not helpful

Note: Some people are not seeing the comments on this post, other than the first comment. The comments may become visible after you post a comment. I will delete this note when this problem is resolved.

Thunderf00t’s new video of personal attacks on named atheist feminists is inflammatory, misleading and unhelpful to the international atheist and secular communities. As he is now making this a formal campaign, aimed at conference organizers and leaders in secular groups, I have decided to respond to it.

TF is asking us as conference organizers to ostracize named atheist feminists who he describes as toxic parasites who are dripping poison, as well as spanners and muppets, and he is asking his viewers to forward the video to leaders of secular groups to help to make this happen.

I know that TF is criticizing behavior that he sincerely believes is harming the atheist and secular communities, but his personal attacks are disproportionate to his concerns, they are unfair to those who he is attacking, and they are not helping to resolve the issues that they address.

He is also illustrating his concerns with factual misrepresentations, and I hope that this article will provide a counterbalance to those misrepresentations. I also hope that Thunderf00t will reconsider his approach to this issue, because I believe that it is not constructive.

1. Ideas that I agree with in the video
2. Recent performance of the secular community
3. Personal attack on Amy Davis Roth
4. Personal attack on Rebecca Watson
5. Personal attack on PZ Myers
6. Attack on the Skepticon harassment policy
7. The meanings of the word atheism
8. The right to say things that offend people
9. Personal attack on Melody Hensley
10. My response to TF’s requests

1. Ideas that I agree with in the video

There are two important ideas in the video about which I agree with Thunderf00t:

People should have the right to robustly criticize other people’s beliefs and ideas and behaviors, even if doing so causes offence.

Participants at conferences should not be subject to restrictions on personal behavior that are not necessary to prevent harassment.

These are genuine concerns that TF is obliged to express, if he believes that these rights are being eroded, on important issues of freedom of expression and personal autonomy. I believe that his fears about these rights being eroded within the atheist and secular community are misplaced, but they are important issues and TF is right to highlight them. His personal attacks on named people, as well as being ethically wrong, also distract from our attempts to address these important concerns rationally.

2. Recent performance of the secular community

Thunderf00t begins his video by saying:

“To be quite honest, I have been sickened by the recent performance of the secular community.”

That is an unusual reaction to the ongoing work of a mostly voluntary community, that has been actively lobbying around the world to protect the human rights of atheists and others, not only against political attacks on freedom of conscience and expression, but also against physical attacks including imprisonment, beatings and murders, and that has combined this challenging and often dangerous work with promoting reason, science and ethical secularism, as well as providing social and moral support for atheists living in often overwhelmingly religious societies.

TF then says that:

“The problem is that many in leadership positions have managed to get themselves bullied or cajoled into this bullshit PC appeasement position by people who are conspicuous in that they proudly label themselves as feminists.”

Behind this description, he scrolls a list of people, including me, who wrote articles for Skepchick last year, on the topic of speaking out against hate directed at women. Did TF even read those articles, I wonder? Because, if he did, I am unclear as to why he would choose to describe them in these terms.

These are articles encouraging people to behave in an ethical, compassionate way towards the women in our community, and to stand alongside those women when they face verbal or physical threats either online or in real life. What possible reason could TF have to be sickened by these appeals?

Even if everything else in his video was 100% accurate, even if the people he is attacking were actually worse than he believes them to be, TF should still support appeals for people to speak out against hate directed at women. That is is a very basic, rock-bottom, minimalistic ethical position that he should be able to publicly support alongside his other concerns about some people’s behavior.

3. Personal attack on Amy Davis Roth

Thunderf00t starts by calling Amy Davis Roth:

“Folk who find T-shirts like this offensive enough to reduce them to tears. Folk who think that the abusive use of copyright law to stifle free speech is a valid tactic. Folk who think that fake jewellery, and not offending people, should be classed as forms of harassment at conventions on a par with physical groping.”

He then plays an audio extract of Amy saying:

“We’re not asking for anything crazy, just basic rules so that we can say, you know, the sort of things like, making fake jewellery and intentionally offending people is not okay, nor is grabbing someone’s ass.”

So let’s examine TF’s personal attack on Amy.

Amy is a decent, kind person who devotes much of her time and creativity to doing good things. She runs fundraisers and contributes money from her ceramics to provide grants for women going to secular conferences who otherwise could not afford to go. At the conference in question, some people tried to make Amy personally feel unwelcome in various ways, including but not limited to designing imitations of her ceramics mocking her. Also, somebody wore a t-shirt mocking Skepchick generally but not specifically Amy. The combination of all of this caused Amy to feel upset, because she is a person with the same emotional vulnerabilities as most people, and she and her mother left the conference early.

TF has responded by mocking this natural human vulnerability, making fun of somebody for being upset to the extent that she cried, and minimising to the point of misrepresentation the reason that she was upset. I can’t speak for TAM, but if somebody like Amy had funded grants for people to attend an Atheist Ireland conference, and if some people were actively trying to make her feel unwelcome at the conference in this way, I would be doing my absolute best to ensure that she did feel welcome. Combatting actual physical harassment is the minimum that we as conference organisers should aim for: we should also be aiming higher, trying to help people to have a positively enjoyable and worthwhile time.

TF inaccurately claims that Amy said making fake jewellery is on a par with physical groping, which Amy never said. TF then criticizes Amy’s decision to use copyright law, to try to prevent people from creating parody images of her jewellery to mock her. As a general principle, I tend towards agreeing with TF about this, although artists are of course entitled to legitimately use copyright law to protect their work.

I assume that TF is unaware that Amy has since reconsidered that decision, and has said that she had made mistakes in her handling of the situation. She has explained that she had put so much time and love and energy into creating those pieces that she found it difficult to separate herself from her work when angry people started using her images to mock and belittle her. And she has since decided to release all of her photographs of her jewellery under a non-commercial creative Commons license, which means that anyone can share, copy or even adapt the images to make new art, under the terms of that license.

In doing this she is rising above the hate directed at her, and channelling her reaction into a positive outcome for herself and others.

Continue reading “Thunderf00t’s inflammatory video of misleading personal attacks on atheist feminists is not helpful”

Why it is still important to speak out against hate directed at women

Thunderf00t has published a video in which he includes me on a list of people who he claims have been “bullied or cajoled” into what he calls “a bullshit PC appeasement position” regarding feminism.

In my case he is referring to an article I wrote last August for Skepchick, without being either bullied or cajoled, as part of a series on speaking out against hate directed at women.

I’m republishing that article here, because it is still important to speak out against hate directed at women, regardless of your opinions about the internal politics of the atheist movement.

Speaking out against hate directed at women
First published August 2012

We should not tolerate, in any of our online or offline communities, any sexual harassment or abuse or threats of violence against women that we would not tolerate if they were directed against our family or close friends. On the Internet, many women face a pattern of online sexual harassment, including rape threats, in the technology, business, entertainment, atheist, skeptical, pop culture, gaming and many other online communities.

This can cause women to feel hurt and frightened, to hide their female identity online, or to retreat altogether from the Internet. And this can in turn affect other aspects of their lives. Our online identities and online networking are increasingly important to our social lives and careers. And our friends and employers may see this hate speech when searching online for information about us.

Professor Danielle Citron of University of Maryland school of law has written extensively on this issue. She says that cyber gender harassment can involve a perfect storm of threats conveying a desire for physical harm, doctored photographs, privacy invasions, lies, and technical sabotage. She reports that, from 2000 to 2010, more than seven in every ten victims reporting cyber harassment were women. And when men were harassed, it was often for being or seeming gay. She argues that legal changes were crucial in the battles against domestic violence and
workplace harassment, and that we should reframe cyber gender harassment as a civil rights violation.

We must actively tackle this problem in each of our own communities. Doing this is one part of how the atheist and skeptical communities can start to become more inclusive, safe and supportive, and I’ve written elsewhere in more detail about how we can discuss this reasonably. We should also create a united front of online activists from different online communities, to properly research the impact of this abuse across all online communities, and to work together to find the best ways to eradicate it.

Most men have no idea of the relentless nature of this type of online abuse, and how devastating the cumulative impact can be. Because most men don’t get the same type of sexual abuse as women do, and because the Internet can seem to be an artificial environment, we can easily become desensitized to abuse that would outrage us if it was aimed at our sisters or friends or daughters or wives or mothers.

You may sincerely believe that people are exaggerating the scale and impact of this abuse, or that it is prudish or victorian to be concerned about it. Or you may see it as a trivial problem that goes away when you turn off your computer. If any of these thoughts cross your mind, you should consider some actual examples of what this abuse really looks like, and imagine experiencing this from the perspective of the victims.

Continue reading “Why it is still important to speak out against hate directed at women”

Psychic mediums, people who lie to state inquiries, and debt defaulters can solemnise Irish marriages – but not atheists!

You can legally solemnise marriages in Ireland if you are a psychic medium, tarot card reader, public entertainer, ghost whisperer or ghost buster (Ministers of the Spiritualist Union of Ireland); or if you oversee a culture of covering up child sex abuse, or lie to and positively mislead a state inquiry into child sex abuse, or swear victims of child sex abuse to silence (Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church); or if you default on six-figure debts, or fail to file income tax returns (Pastors of the Abundant Life Christian Centre and Victory Christian Church).

Any religious body can nominate its members to legally solemnise marriages in Ireland, but Atheist Ireland can not, because a new law passed on 20 December discriminates on the ground of religion. Secular bodies must have fifty members, must be five years in existence, must be on the charitable tax exemption list for five years, and must not promote a political cause. This is supposedly to ensure that secular bodies are ‘stable, longstanding and reputable’, while the only criteria for religious bodies is that they meet regularly for common religious worship.

Government seeks to justify discrimination

The Irish Government does not disagree that this law discriminates on the ground of religion or belief. Instead the Government seeks to justify the discrimination with implausible arguments, none of which are necessary to protect the human right to practice freedom of religion or belief, and none of which reflect a proportionate relationship between the aim that the Government describes (protecting the institution of marriage) and the means it is employing to pursue that aim (discriminating against nonreligious citizens).

On 20 December, Government Minister Joan Burton told the Dail that the reason why secular bodies are required to fulfill more criteria than religious bodies is “to ensure the institution of marriage is protected by applying a rigorous set of rules regarding the type of body that can be deemed eligible. In this regard, it is important that the criteria should be robust so that the authority to solemnise marriage would be granted only to stable, long-standing and reputable organisations.” She said this despite the fact that this authority is currently granted to religious bodies that do not fulfill these criteria.

Minister Burton also told the Dail that “Another concern I had about some of the material in the submission from Atheist Ireland is that we must be specific about the criteria because there are places in the United States where the criteria for solemnising are very broad and, as a result, an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas can perform wedding ceremonies. None of us wants anything like that here. There is all-party agreement on that point.” She said this despite the fact that there is nothing in the Atheist Ireland submission that remotely suggests that we are proposing this.

Spiritualist Union of Ireland

Update: Tom Colton has since been jailed for two and a half years.

The Spiritualist Union of Ireland has five solemnisers on the list, including two Ministers and three Officiants. The two Ministers are Tom Colton, ‘one of Ireland’s leading Psychic Mediums’, and Mary Murphy Losty, ‘Psychic Medium, Tarot Cards, Facilitator.’ Tom Colton also has a personal website and Twitter account (Irelands Medium Tom @irishmedium), both of which he uses to promote his spiritual services and the sale of a pseudoscientific water ionizing machine.

The Spiritualist Union of Ireland advertises ‘Spiritual Weddings – Married by a Medium’ in which dead relatives are invited to attend the ceremony. They say that “As part of the spiritual ceremony we can invite those from spirit world to be present with us to share your special day and remember those who have passed to spirit world in a special way not traditionally seen at a wedding ceremony.”

On the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, Tom Colton explained how the Spiritualist Union of Ireland started doing spiritualist weddings, and he described it as being a nondenominational service that is not primarily about spiritualism but more about avoiding family disputes where people have different religions.

“I got a phone call from a lady who wanted to have a spiritualist wedding, and the issue was that she was of one religion and her partner was of another, so they wanted to go for a nondenominational service, and that is essentially what as spiritualists we do. We don’t look at religion or what backgrounds people come from, be it a Jew, a Protestant, a Catholic or whatever religion, or Buddhist, we don’t recognise a religion as such, we just believe that we can communicate with spirit, with those who have passed on to spirit world, and people see this as a way of getting over the issue of having one religious wedding over another, because it can cause a lot of tension in the family, so people would look to a nondenominational service. And that was the first inquiry we got, it was from a lady who wanted a nondenominational service.”

Continue reading “Psychic mediums, people who lie to state inquiries, and debt defaulters can solemnise Irish marriages – but not atheists!”

Cardinal Brady lobbies on abortion, while marriage law silences secular groups

The privileged position of the Catholic Church in Irish law was highlighted by the political campaign launched by Cardinal Sean Brady on Christmas Day, seeking to influence the forthcoming law on abortion from an explicitly theological Roman Catholic perspective.

To rub in the discrimination against nonreligious citizens, this overtly political move took place just days after the Dail passed a new law forbidding secular bodies from promoting political causes if they want to legally solemnise marriages.

Cardinal Brady said in his Christmas message that

“I hope that everyone who believes that the right to life is fundamental will make their voice heard in a reasonable, but forthright, way to their representatives, reminding them that the right to life is conferred on human beings not by the powerful ones of this world but by the creator. There is no more important value than upholding the right to life in all circumstances.”

This statement reflects the essence of the problem of church interference in political affairs. In a society where different people have different religious and nonreligious beliefs, decisions on public policy should be made by applying reason to evidence.

When religious authorities throw in inflexible dictates based on supposed revelations from an imagined creator of the universe, that distorts and corrupts the ethical debate that is needed to address political issues collectively.

‘Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship’

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has produced a detailed document called ‘Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship’ which outlines Catholic teaching on this issue. Among other things, it states that:

9. The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

10. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square.

11. Some question whether it is appropriate for the Church to play a role in political life. However, the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ.

13. In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. . . . As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (nos. 1913-1915).

This combination is particularly dangerous. Catholic citizens are not only obliged to participate politically, but must do so according to a conscience that is formed in accordance with the dictates of the Catholic Church. And then it explains how that conscience is formed:

17. The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right” (no. 1778).

18. The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgments.

The discrimination in the Irish marriage registration law

As the most recent law passed by the Irish parliament shows, there is one law for the religious and another for the nonreligious.

Churches, including the Catholic Church, can insist that their members behave politically according to theological dictates, while nonreligious bodies who want to seolemnise marriages on the same basis that churches do must remain silent politically.

The Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill, requires, among various rules for exclusion, that nonreligious nominating bodies can not promote a political cause. But neither this Bill nor the Principal Act applies any of these rules for exclusion to religious nominating bodies.

Furthermore, this particular exclusion seems to be a deliberate choice. The entire wording of the section on exclusions is transcribed, word for word, from the definition of “excluded body” in the Charities Act 2009, with just one difference.

The Charities Act qualifies “(b) a body that promotes a political cause,” by saying “(b) a body that promotes a political cause, unless the promotion of that cause relates directly to the advancement of the charitable purposes of the body.”

There is no good reason why this Bill should have removed that qualification from the definitions that it has transcribed from the Charities Act.

But more fundamentally, any restrictions, along the lines of any of the Charities Act exclusions, should either be applied equally to all nominating bodies, or else not be applied to any.