Ireland Allows First Meeting Between Government and Atheists

Atheist Ireland

The first official meeting between the Taoiseach and members of an atheist group in the history of Ireland took place earlier this month. The meeting, which was held on February 10, was part of a structured dialogue that the Irish government promised to have with churches, faith groups and non-confessional bodies in 2007. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, education minister Jan O Sullivan, Atheist Ireland representatives Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent as well as an atheist teacher, an atheist student and an atheist parent were present at the meeting.

At the high-profile meeting, the advocacy group explained to the ministers how Ireland is responsible for breaching the human rights of as many as 340,000 people in the country, who according to a 2011 census, have refrained from identifying with any particular religion. They also went on to illustrate how the constitution, education system and legal practice in Ireland systematically discriminates against atheists.

The changes sought by Atheist Ireland include equal respect for the rights of all citizens to freedom of religion and conscience, freedom from discrimination and equality before the law. Relevant international human rights treaties, constitutional articles and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which highlight what the country needs to do in order to fulfill its obligations towards its citizens, were brought to the table during the historical meeting. The group also called for the removal of religious oaths for those individuals who want to assume public office as well as a referendum during the lifetime of the current government to eradicate blasphemy from the constitution.

Reportedly, Atheist Ireland called for the prohibition of admission to schools based on religious belief and a ban on religious discrimination in workplaces, especially those related to education and health. The atheists argued that these changes should be made immediately in the case of model schools that receive patronage from the Department of Education.

While announcing the process of dialogue at Dublin Castle on February 26, 2007, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had said:

“Ireland must equally be alive to the rights and position of those who do not subscribe to religious faith. Many have contributed to building up Irish society and to the quality of our democracy, and the humanity of our society, from a philosophical basis which owes little or nothing to religious belief or practice. It is a special care for governments in a society like ours – where religious belief and practice has shaped so much of our culture and institutions – to respect and provide for, and engage with and listen to, those who articulate public positions from such a perspective. The dialogue process, which we are inaugurating today includes, as a core and defining feature, engagement with that important and growing section of Irish society. … We live in a pluralist society, where doubt and disbelief exist side-by-side with an increasing diversity of faiths.”

Before the high-profile meeting between Ireland’s government and atheists commenced on Tuesday, a briefing regarding issues that would be discussed at the meeting was held for all participants at Buswells Hotel in Dublin.

Photo Credits: Atheist Ireland

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