Catholic school bars atheist speaker

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

17 responses to “Catholic school bars atheist speaker”

  1. sailor1031 says:

    That catholic ethos must be a fragile thing indeed if after years of inculcation it is at risk from an hour of exposure to AI. Do the pupils not already know that there are atheists – even in Ireland?

  2. jay says:

    I can’t see getting upset over this. Sure it would be nice to get that exposure, but, realistically, it would be unlikely that they’d bring in something that so directly challenges their entire ethos.

  3. Newspaniard says:

    What are these rcc people afraid of?

  4. Broga says:


    “Sure it would be nice to get that exposure, but, realistically, it would be unlikely that they’d bring in something that so directly challenges their entire ethos.”

    I don’t agree. As a teenager my religious opinions, unthinkingly held over my young life, changed almost immediately when exposed to atheist writing. And that is the effect of a skilled atheist challenge. Suddenly, what was unthinkingly accepted is shown to be incredible. And the entire edifice of belief starts to fall.

    Religious preaching, on the other hand, requires years of indoctrination often allied to censorship and threat.

    The BBC Religious mafia are well aware of the devastating effects of people given a surprising new idea which leads them to think. That is why they cannot afford to have even an occasional atheist opinion on the dire Thought for the Day. Or amongst the dreary religious drivel and prayers that are stuck gratuitously into so many of their radio programmes.

  5. Angela_K says:

    Newspaniard. In answer to your rhetorical question: Hard, evidence supported facts and in one hour some of these students may learn that all the religious nonsense they’ve been told are true, are lies. Also students would be able to see that we are not the baby eating monsters described by the religious.
    I had a classmate who challenged our RE teacher about the Bible, this encouraged me to look further and what with studying the three sciences, by fifteen I was convinced of religion’s invalid hypotheses.

  6. barriejohn says:

    Jay: Further to Broga’s observations, it’s not the fact that an atheist speaker is bellyaching over a cancelled speaking opportunity, as that is just one of those things; it’s the fact that the information that these young people are presented with is seriously censored in favour of superstition and irrationality, just when they deserve to have their horizons expanded. This “ethos” business is absolute bullshit, and is just euphemistic for: “We demand the right to brainwash any children entrusted to our care”. And to add insult to injury, it now appears that Catholic schools are not even going to mention the Muslim faith in religious studies. As Newspaniard says: what is it that they are afraid of?

  7. barriejohn says:

    Recent comments by the bishop of Limerick on the subject of “ethos” have also attracted attention, and led to claims by some freethinkers that he has “let the cat out of the bag”regarding the object of “faith schools”:

  8. JohnMWhite says:

    I despise the term ‘ethos’. It is a code word used by vicious authoritarian bigots to get away with the enormous physical and psychological harm they see fit to inflict every day on the people they are supposed to be taking care of. The head teacher of my own school would repeat the word like it was a magic spell whenever he was asked why he let gay/goth/geeky kids get beaten up in the classrooms, or why he would tell lies about condoms letting AIDS through its pores, or why he would demand that girls wear skirts even in the 21st century. It is the very picture of using Deeply Held Beliefs™ as a cover for getting away with being an arsehole and hurting the vulnerable.

  9. Broga says:

    @JohnMWhite: I suppose the exemplar of the RCC ethos must be the Vatican. And what do we have there? Financial corruption; paedophile cover ups – the Vatican is a known bolt hole for paedophile bishops; sexual hypocrisy where senior clerics enjoy gay sexual experiences while condemning this in others; the besmirching of the current Pope because he is considered too liberal; censorship; repression and lies.

  10. barriejohn says:

    JMW: Well said. The following appeared on the NSS site on Friday:

    Theos is keen for us not to talk about ‘proselytisation’ because it thinks the word itself is loaded. In refusing the term, it claims “churches and FBOs are not attempting to obfuscate, using different words to talk about what everyone else calls proselytism, thereby dodging secular bullets” – but the whole report strikes me as an attempt to do just that.

    Theos is clearly attempting to carve out wiggle room to enable faith-based organisations delivering public services to be able to be more open about their faith ethos and use the opportunity to evangelise and ‘share the Good News of Jesus Christ’.

    Theos agree that there is “no justification for making the provision of aid or assistance conditional on expressing religious beliefs”, but would like to see those delivering public services to be able to “express their beliefs openly”.

    We can wax lyrical over definitions of proselytisation but we know it when we see it or experience it. At best it’s irritating and uncomfortable, and at worst it constitutes harassment. People accessing public funded services, many of them vulnerable, rightly expect to receive such services without the unwanted intrusion of other people’s religion.

    Exactly. We know what they’re up to.

  11. dennis says:

    Iceland, my ethos.

  12. tonye says:

    I believe that the problem arose, because one of the schools departments had recently decided to change name in order to appear less threatening.

    The Religious Education team were formally known as the Religious Indoctrination team………

    The clip below shows Jack Nicholson in the role of ‘Reality!’

  13. jay says:

    @barriejohn “: Further to Broga’s observations, it’s not the fact that an atheist speaker is bellyaching over a cancelled speaking opportunity, as that is just one of those things; it’s the fact that the information that these young people are presented with is seriously censored in favour of superstition and irrationality, just when they deserve to have their horizons expanded”

    It seems my point may have been misinterpreted. Of course, logic presents a threat to these people–but that’s exactly WHY we should not be surprised when they try to seal off their world. After all, it’s a CATHOLIC school.

    I’m not defending them, I’m just observing that I wouldn’t expect much different.

  14. Har Davids says:

    I’m pretty sure that many girls at this school are aware of the existence of other faiths and of people who don’t have any faith at all, and some of them may even be atheists themselves. The school’s behaviour is a bit childish: if we ignore it, it doesn’t exist. So much for the strength of faith.

  15. Brian Jordan says:

    “What are these rcc people afraid of?”
    Their jobs. They obviously thought it was a good idea but then the hierarchy found out.

  16. Sandra Duffy says:

    I also despise the word ‘ethos’. The word ‘supremacy’ is far more accurate. Irish school are engaged in Catholic Supremacy which is no different than white supremacy in my opinion.