Atheist Ireland

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Atheist Ireland
AtheistIrelandLogo2012.png
Motto Building a rational, ethical and secular society, free from superstition and supernaturalism.
Formation 30 November 2008 (2008-11-30)
Region served Ireland
Chairperson Michael Nugent
Affiliations Atheist Alliance International
Website Atheist.ie

Atheist Ireland is an association of atheists based in Ireland. The group was initially founded by members of Atheist.ie, an online community which had been set up by Seamus Murnane in June 2006. Its current chairperson is writer and activist Michael Nugent.[1] Atheist Ireland is a member of the Atheist Alliance International.[2]

Background[edit]

Ireland has a long history of religiosity and religious conflict between its mainly Catholic and Protestant communities (a conflict which was based primarily on political reasons). The religious conflict between these two groups in Ireland is now almost non-existent. According to the census conducted by the Central Statistics Office of Ireland (CSO) in 2011, 3,905 people, (0.085%) of the population claimed to be Atheist. [3]

In Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church retains an influence in public funded state services such as the provision of education and health care. Atheist Ireland oppose this influence.

Formation[edit]

The website atheist.ie, was set up in 2006 by Seamus “Catherder” Murnane. By the end of 2006 the website had over 50 members, over 500 by the end of 2007, and more than 1,000 by the end of 2008.[4] During 2008 some members started to meet socially.[5][6] In October 2008, three members ("planewaves", "dickspicer" and "FXR") independently suggested founding an atheist campaign group.[7][8][9]

Seamus Murnane emailed all members about the idea[10] and the response was overwhelmingly positive. "Boreas" started a discussion about what the aims of the organisation would be,[11] and "lampshade" collated the results.[12] Murnane arranged committee volunteers,[13] while "CTR" scheduled the inaugural meeting of the group[14] and “FXR” booked a hotel room for it.[15] Murnane arranged the agenda[16] and roles[17] for the day. Michael Nugent drafted a constitution.[18] Over 100 members voted on the group’s name.[19][20][21]

Atheist Ireland was founded at a meeting in the Central Hotel in Dublin on 30 November 2008. Its aims were to promote atheism, reason and ethical secularism.[22][23] The meeting elected the following as officers (atheist.ie usernames in brackets): Chairperson – Michael Nugent ("MichaelNugent"), Secretary – Colin Jennings ("Colin"), Finance Officer – William Hanly, Membership Officer – Frank Robinson ("FXR"), Communications Officer – Paul Lavin ("IrishKnight"), Public Events Officer – William Quill ("whig"), and Regional Officer – Grania Spingies ("Ygern").[22] After a week Robinson resigned, citing a lack of time and ability, and asking people to support the committee. He was replaced by Seamus Murnane ("Catherder").[24]

In the news[edit]

Not long after its formation, members of the Atheist.ie community were featured prominently on radio station Clare FM to discuss the role of atheism in Irish culture.[25]

In light of amendments to Ireland's Defamation Act proposed by Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, including changes which rendered the crime of blasphemous libel prosecutable for a fine of up to €100,000 (US$135,000). This was later reduced to €25,000 (US$33,700),[26] Atheist Ireland launched a campaign of opposition to the concept of the law.[27] The group received support from author and scientist Richard Dawkins, politician Ivana Bacik, and writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, among others.[28]

Chairperson Michael Nugent described the law as "silly and unjust", and highlighted other areas of the Irish Constitution which he felt were anomalous. He pointed out that to become a judge, a member of the Irish Council of State, or President of Ireland, a candidate must first swear a religious oath, and said that amendments were immediately required to address all such issues.[29]

On 1 January 2010, the date on which the law came into effect, the group published a series of potentially blasphemous quotations on its website and vowed to challenge any resulting legal action. It also said that it would be holding a series of public meetings to launch a campaign for secular constitutional reform.[30][31]

Campaigns[edit]

Repeal of the Blasphemy Law[edit]

Defamation Bill[edit]

The Defamation Bill 2006 was being actively developed before coming to fruition in 2009 subsequently being renamed The Defamation Bill 2009. The bill was the brainchild of Irish Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan originally however a shuffle in the cabinet meant Dermot Ahern would later inherit the responsibility of being the bill's steward. It was signed on the 9/7/09 with a stipulation that it would come into effect on 1 January 2010. The law indicts the act of blasphemy as follows, A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000. He or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.[32]

The justification for re-defining the law now that has been in the Irish constitution since 1937[33] was "A spokesman for Mr Ahern maintained that under the Constitution the Minister must have a crime of blasphemy on the statute books. 'The Minister’s hands are tied in this,' said the spokesman."[34]

In response Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland spoke out publicly against the bill. He argued the proposed change was "silly and dangerous" and "incentivises outrage" .[35][36]

25 blasphemous quotations[edit]

Atheist Ireland in response to the proposed law published 25 quotations from popular culture, the quotes were attributed to a wide range of sources including senior Irish politicians, highly popular artists and authors, Jesus Christ and Muhammed. 12 of the quotes were by people not resident in Ireland and 10 were by people deceased or fictitious. Atheist Ireland claimed the goal was to demonstrate the laws ineffectiveness legally as well as its intention to protect religious belief as "the legislation is so ambiguous that it’s impossible to tell how it will be interpreted by the authorities. If they attempt to prosecute us [Atheist Ireland], we will take a constitutional challenge to the courts. ”.[37] New York Times columnist Robert Mackey described Atheist Ireland's efforts as seeming "particularly tame". In an article on the Lede blog he said:

"What makes the Irish group’s attempt to break the law seem particularly tame is that it came on the same day last week that an axe-wielding man in Denmark tried to attack a cartoonist who offended millions of Muslims by publishing a drawing thought to show the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Say what you will about the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which intentionally published 12 cartoons mocking Islam in 2005, but that publication certainly showed how to cause the kind of outrage described in Ireland’s new law.

If the Irish atheists had wanted to make sure that they were breaking Ireland’s new law, they could simply have republished those cartoons, as the blogger Andrew Sullivan did last week in response to the attack on the cartoonist."

[38]

Members of Atheist Ireland themselves did not make any potentially blasphemous statements after the law was passed and no prosecutions or charges were ever considered or brought by the authorities.[citation needed]

"The proposed law does not protect religious belief; it incentivises outrage and it criminalises free speech. Under this proposed law, if a person expresses one belief about gods, and other people think that this insults a different belief about gods, then these people can become outraged, and this outrage can make it illegal for the first person to express his or her beliefs."[39]

The publication received a lot of international attention to the law.[40][41][42][43]

Shortly afterwards Pakistan began to adopt the wording of the Irish definition of blasphemy in a submission to the UN. "the uttering of matters that are grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage to a substantial number of adherents to that religion."[44]

Proposed referendum[edit]

In March 2010, Ahern's press officer said the minister might ask the cabinet to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution in autumn 2010, at the same time tentatively planned for a referendum on an amendment relating to children's rights.[45] Asked about this in the Dáil, Ahern did not offer any commitment, but said:[46]

the programme for Government did indicate the possibility of referendums on a number of issues ... If we were to have a number of referendums on one day, it would be appropriate to put to the people a question on the section of the Constitution relating to blasphemous and seditious libel.

In the event, no referendums were held before the dissolution of the 30th Dáil in January 2011 and to date no referendum on the blasphemy law has been held.

25 day walk[edit]

Atheist Ireland member Paul Gill in protest of the blasphemy law walked the length of Ireland i.e. from Mizen head to Malin head, to bring attention to the issue and encourage people to vote "yes". The walk began on the 6/5/10 (International Day of Reason) and finished 31 May 2010 taking him his goal of 25 days to achieve.[47]

Secularising the Irish Constitution[edit]

In its current form the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann)[48] stipulates many preferences for theism over atheism but more specifically for Christian religions over other religions. Throughout the document there are references to God, religious offences and the Holy Trinity; some act as barriers to public offices and other references restrict the document's protection of non-Christians.

  • A legal requirement recognising crime of blasphemy as mentioned in Article 40, 6. 1° i)[49]
  • A religiously worded oath to be sworn by the President or a Judge in Article 12, 8. "In the presence of Almighty God I, do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me."[49]
  • The preamble of the constitution asserts all authority is derived from the Holy Trinity and all actions are done in the name of it. In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ . . .[49]

Atheist Ireland wishes for a referendum(s) that remove these references from the constitution.[50][51]

Secular education[edit]

There are approximately 3,300 primary schools in Ireland.[52] The vast majority (92%) are under the patronage of the Catholic Church who state "Catholic schools seek to reflect a distinctive vision of life and a corresponding philosophy of education, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ".[53]

and that "Religious education, prayer and worship form an essential part of the curriculum, functioning at its core. Such learning is founded on faith and inspired by wonder at the transcendent mystery of God revealed in the complex beauty of the universe."[53]

A small minority of (1.2%) are under either multi or inter denominational schooling under the patronage of Educate Together. The remainder of the schools are stewarded by other minority religions.[52] This system contrasts to Ireland's agreement to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights in which a UN Human Rights Committee drew attention to the Irish Government not upholding: Freedom from Discrimination (Article 2 of the Covenant); Freedom of Conscience (Article 18); the Rights of the Child (Article 24); and Equality before the law (Article 26).[54][55]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Nugent – Happiness, Atheism and Life Welcome to Atheist Ireland. Retrieved 3 December 2008.
  2. ^ http://www.atheistalliance.org/affiliates.html
  3. ^ Central Statistics Office – 2011 Census details
  4. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/memberlist.php?mode=&sk=c&sd=a
  5. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Darwing Day athiest.ie First Annual Dinner. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  6. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Tomorrow 5 October HAI Bushwells Hotel. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  7. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – The atheist bus. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  8. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – The atheist bus. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  9. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Is it time to start an Irish Atheists Association?. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  10. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Is it time to start an Irish Atheists Association?. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  11. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1644
  12. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1759
  13. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1656
  14. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Our First meeting, where we can trash out the details. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  15. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – First Proposed Irish Atheists Group meeting booked. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  16. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1669
  17. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1687
  18. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1671
  19. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1674
  20. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1725
  21. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1750
  22. ^ a b http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=1815
  23. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1817
  24. ^ http://www.atheist.ie/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=1863
  25. ^ Audio of Clare FM interview. Atheist.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  26. ^ Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill – Irish Times, Wednesday, 29 April 2009
  27. ^ Atheists fight to keep God out of Irish law – The Guardian, Sunday, 3 May 2009
  28. ^ Blasphemy law a return to middle ages – Dawkins – Irish Times, Monday, 13 July 2009
  29. ^ Blasphemy law is silly, dangerous and unjust – Irish Times, Friday, 10 July 2009
  30. ^ Irish atheists challenge new blasphemy laws – The Guardian, Friday, 1 January 2010
  31. ^ Irish atheists challenge blasphemy law – BBC News, Saturday, 2 January 2010
  32. ^ Defamation Bill 2006 [Seanad] (No.43 of 2006) – Tithe an Oireachtais. Oireachtas.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  33. ^ History of Irish blasphemy law. Michaelnugent.com. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  34. ^ "Ahern defends blasphemy changes". The Irish Times. 4 April 2009. 
  35. ^ RTÉ News http://www.rte.ie/podcasts/2009/pc/pod-v-290409-54m02s-liveline.mp3 |url= missing title (help). 
  36. ^ "Blasphemy law is silly, dangerous and unjust". The Irish Times. 7 July 2009. 
  37. ^ McInerney, Sarah. "Atheists challenge blasphemy law". The Times (London). 
  38. ^ Mackey, Robert (4 January 2010). "Attempt to Break New Irish Blasphemy Law". The New York Times. 
  39. ^ Reidy, Padraig (9 July 2009). "Who asked for Ireland's blasphemy law?". The Guardian (London). 
  40. ^ 25 Blasphemous Quotations | Atheist Ireland. Atheist.ie (2 January 2010). Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  41. ^ McDonald, Henry (1 January 2010). "Irish atheists challenge new blasphemy laws". The Guardian (London). 
  42. ^ "Irish atheists use Bjork, Mark Twain to challenge blasphemy law". CNN. 2 January 2010. 
  43. ^ Adam, Karla (3 January 2010). "Atheists challenge Ireland's new blasphemy law with online postings". The Washington Post. 
  44. ^ http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/racism-racial-discrimination-xenophobia-and-all-forms-of-discrimination.pdf
  45. ^ Coulter, Carol (17 March 2010). "Ahern to propose blasphemy amendment". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  46. ^ "Referendum on Blasphemy". Parliamentary Debates (Official Report – Unrevised). Dáil Éireann. 25 March 2010. p. 11. Archived from the original on 11 October 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2010. 
  47. ^ 25-day walk for Irish blasphemy referendum. blasphemy.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  48. ^ "Constitution Of Ireland – Bunreacht Na hÉireann". All Party Oireachtas Commission on the Constitution. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. 
  49. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  50. ^ "Secular Constitution". Atheist Ireland. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  51. ^ McDonald, Henry (3 May 2009). "Atheists fight to keep God out of Irish law". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  52. ^ a b "Minister Hanafin announces intention to pilot new additional model of Primary School Patronage". Department of Education and Skills. 17 February 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 
  53. ^ a b "A Vision for Catholic Education in Ireland". Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 
  54. ^ Donnelly, Jane (18 March 2009). "In my opinion: Trouble looms for State over schools' religious ethos". Irish Independent. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 
  55. ^ "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights". United Nations. 16 December 1996. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 

External links[edit]