Catholic school bars atheist speaker
A Dublin-based Dominican girl’s secondary school is being asked to reconsider its decision to cancel a talk due to be delivered on November 5 to final years students by Atheist Ireland chairperson Michael Nugent, above.
Nugent, according to AI’s website, had been invited to address the pupils, but the school suddenly got cold feet, and informed Nugent that its Religious Education team:
Feel that in hindsight, their decision to welcome a representative of Atheist Ireland to speak was made in haste, and that upon reflection, they reached the conclusion to cancel it.
Had the talk gone ahead, it would have been the first time that a representative of an atheist advocacy group had spoken at a Catholic school in Ireland.
The original invitation said:
The school wholly welcomes you and looks forward to hearing about both Atheist Ireland and atheism as a system of non-belief.
AI responded to the cancellation in a letter to the school, saying it was:
Pleased by the progressive and inclusive thinking reflected by your invitation, and we were looking forward to having another positive story to announce, having earlier this year become the first atheist advocacy group to meet the Taoiseach in the history of the State.
The reason given by members of the school’s Religious Education team for cancelling the talk was that:
A non-religious perspective does not marry well with the school’s ethos/values, and it does not fit with the senior cycle programme that they presently have in place, ie it seeks to uphold and reflect a Catholic ethos. By extension, it does not wish to cultivate non-religious belief, in accordance with the school’s ethos. The school does however welcome children of all faiths and none, and recognises that non-religious belief is a perspective which some pupils may hold.
AI’s letter continued:
Atheist Ireland is now asking you to reconsider your decision on the following basis:
Clearly your school has the right to invite who you wish to speak to your students.
However, having formally made the invitation, you are now engaging in open religious prejudice and discrimination in your stated reason for cancelling it, even though you accept that some of your students are atheists, and even though the students are in their final year and on the verge of adulthood. How is that respecting the atheists in your school community? …
Your stated reason for cancelling the invitation is to uphold and reflect the Catholic ethos of the school. But are you actually upholding a Catholic ethos, or are you just selectively discriminating against atheists? Your school has previously had a Muslim speaker, and Islam formally rejects many of the key theological tenets of Catholicism.
How does inviting a Muslim speaker, and uninviting an atheist speaker, uphold and reflect a Catholic ethos? You also say that having an atheist speaker would ‘cultivate non-religious belief’. If so, was the school not ‘cultivating Islamic belief’ by inviting a Muslim speaker?
AI’s letter pointed out that the school’s Mission Statement and Religious Education Policy is overtly Catholic. It says that:
Students experience our Catholic ethos and values in the day-to-day running of the school and not just in RE class.
However, it also says:
We encourage the development of a healthy self-image, whilst teaching the student to respect the backgrounds, traditions and beliefs of all those with whom she comes into contact.
This, said AI:
Clearly does not include respect for atheists they may meet … Now it seems that, even in their final year of school, as they prepare to transition to their adult lives in university or careers, your students won’t have an opportunity to evaluate the philosophical beliefs and ethics of atheists.
That could of course change if you reinstate your original invitation, which we are asking you to do. As this issue raises public policy concerns, we will be publishing details of it. We have chosen not to publish the name of your school, and we will refer to you as a Dublin-based Dominican girl’s secondary school. We hope this will facilitate you in considering your response, and will also help to protect any of your staff who were involved in inviting us from any potential further repercussions.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn