Give us this day our human rights

Joe Humphreys seems to think that Atheist Ireland’s campaign for our constitutional and human rights in Irish schools is counterproductive. Either that, or he isn’t aware of our years of comprehensive policies and patient lobbying on the issue, which seems unlikely, as he used to be the Irish Times Education Correspondent.

He seems to think that atheists demanding our rights is just too much in a democratic republic, and that it is producing an unnecessarily hostile tone. Maybe he is right. How did we get it so wrong?  Maybe if we had just begged for our rights, the powers that be would have indulged us and treated us as equal in this democratic republic?

Maybe we should have tried to ingratiate ourselves with the Catholic Church, so that the Church will look kindly on us and grant us favour. Maybe, as he also suggests, we are debating too much like Richard Dawkins and would be better looking to the late Richard Feynman, whose last autobiographical book was titled ‘What Do You Care What Other People Think?’

Let’s remind ourselves what is happening in Ireland. Atheist and secular families are discriminated against on religious grounds in state-funded national schools. Our children are obliged to attend schools where they are indoctrinated and evangelised into a religious way of life, and don’t even think about getting into the teaching profession without pretending to be Catholic. Also, it is made harder to change this, as we cannot take high office without swearing a religious oath.

The United Nations and the Council of Europe have recommended that this religious discrimination be removed immediately, that we are treated as equal before the law without discrimination, and that our right to freedom of conscience be guaranteed and protected. Over the years the UN and COE have made Recommendations over eight times.

Maybe their tone is unnecessarily hostile and counterproductive too, as they have been ignored as well. The Irish Human Rights Commission has also been ignored, as well as the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism. It must be all of their tones.

So, despite suffering the above religious discrimination and disregard for our rights, we would like to say that we are so very sorry for demanding our constitutional and human rights.

All we can say in our defence is that when the European Court (Hasan and Eylem Zengin v Turkey 2007), found that parents had a right to ‘demand respect’ for their convictions, we mistakenly believed that it applied to us. We also took heart from Article 42 of the Irish Constitution, again we were mistaken, we should have realised that it did not apply to us. We beg the indulgences of our masters in this matter, and will bow and scrape at will.

On a positive note, we would like to say that we will ask atheist and secular families to accept that the religious discrimination that they suffer is based on fundamental values, meaning and human purpose. We will also try our best not to look on this discrimination as undermining our human dignity.

We will now accept religious discrimination in access to education as ‘lawful over subscription criteria’, so sorry for viewing it as religious discrimination. Again we beg indulgences in this matter.

It is going to be very difficult to persuade atheist and secular families that religious discrimination is for their own good, and that they must beg and scrape for their rights or they will be perceived as being hostile. Many of them would very much like to be able to debate like Richard Dawkins with his bestselling books and his million Twitter followers, but we can address that by sending them all links to Richard Feynman videos.

Finally we will remind atheist and secular families of the moral benchmark that Joe attributes to Christians — “love your neighbour as yourself”– which we had mistakenly believed to be a common thread in many secular and religious ethical philosophies, and not a property of Christianity alone. We sincerely hope that it is attainable, and capable of inspiring benevolence in this instance.

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