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'Ireland is slowly discarding its age-old loyalty card attitude toward established religions'

Laws, government policies and the public funding of services should benefit all members of Irish society, writes Terry Flynn.

AS EASTER CELEBRATIONS continue, the surge in non-religious in last week’s census results, where “no religion” is now the second largest category behind Roman Catholics, marks a progressive evolution.

The government will need to accommodate it through constitutional, legislative and State practice change.

One in ten people now have “no religion”. For the non-religious and humanists, those with no religion almost doubled to 468,400. This is a massive 73.4% increase.

Why the figure could have been higher

Another interesting statistic is that 125,300 people declined to answer the religion question at all, so the increase of those with “no religion” may have been higher.

And we would suggest that the “no religion” figure could have been even higher still. Why? The census form designers historically assume that most Irish citizens have a religion by asking the rather loaded question: “What is your religion?”

One would have thought a more sensible way of framing the question might have been ask: “Do you have a religion?”

But this suggestion, made by the Humanist Association of Ireland following an invitation by the Central Statistics Office for suggestions regarding improvements to the census form, was rejected on the basis that it would make historical comparisons difficult.

Do Irish citizens identify as being Catholic even though they no longer practice?

Secondly, it seems odd that the number of Catholics has only declined by 3.4%. The evidence on the ground, that is, the meagre numbers entering the priesthood, and the steady decline in church attendance would suggest that, while many still identify as being Catholic, fewer actually practise the religion on any regular basis.

The figures would appear to overestimate the strength of established religions.

What the census figures do reveal is that existing barriers to non-religious in education, public office and practices in the provision of publicly funded services will now need to keep in step with this changing Ireland.

Religious oaths

For example, 45% of those who marked “no religion” are in the 20-39 age group.

Should this cohort ever aspire to high office like the presidency, or wish to become a judge, or be appointed to the Council of State, under current rules they can be excluded because of the need to take a religious oath.

Discriminatory Employment Law based on religious ethos

Antiquated laws like Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act, which allow workplaces to discriminate in terms of employment in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution, should be assigned to the past and repealed completely.

Our hospitals and health service need to reflect the philosophical change as indicated in the census, and allow medical science and patient’s individual choice to thrive in the delivery of public services.

Furthermore the current baptism barrier where children of parents with no religion are discriminated against even though their parents pay the same taxes as a parent of religious affiliation should be scrapped immediately.

Government decisions should be based on empirical evidence rather than religious beliefs

The Humanist Association of Ireland believe that laws, government policies and the public funding of services should benefit all members of Irish society, not just those who adhere to a particular religious faith, even when that religion holds a majority position.

As such, all government decisions should be based on empirical evidence rather than religious beliefs.

What these latest census figures reveal is that Ireland is slowly discarding its age-old loyalty card attitude toward established religions.

The increased percentage of non-religious should now be reflected in an increased voice for the non-religious person in Irish society, particularly in equality, work and education.

Terry Flynn is a committed Humanist, member and volunteer of the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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