Dawkins urges constitutional reform to remove church role

FREEDOM OF expression and of religion “should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others”, according…

FREEDOM OF expression and of religion “should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others”, according to the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life, adopted unanimously at the World Atheist Convention yesterday.

The declaration also states that “the sovereignty of the State is derived from the people and not from any God or gods”.

Speaking to The Irish Timesyesterday, well-known atheist Prof Richard Dawkins said the Irish Constitution should be reformed to "remove all influence of the Roman Catholic Church and all other churches . . . incorporating tolerance for all religions".

Referring to the oath that must be taken by Irish presidents and judges, he said they might as well take an oath “to Zeus or Thor” as to God.

He “rejoiced” at the growth of secularism in Ireland and when he read the papers “about the pathetically diminished number of priests”.

He hoped the churches would “wither away”, describing the Catholic Church as “an evil institution . . . by far the worst where the churches are concerned”.

The three-day convention also launched Atheists Alliance International, a newly restructured umbrella group for atheists worldwide, whose first chairwoman is Tanya Smith of the Atheist Foundation of Australia.

Keynote speakers included Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, American science blogger PZ Myers and Iranian activist Maryam Namazie, of the British Council of Ex-Muslims.

Other speakers included Prof Dawkins, Danish neurobiologist Lone Frank and Indian author Aroup Chaterjee.

Organised by Atheist Ireland, the convention was attended by 350 delegates, many of them Irish, with a preponderance of young people in their 20s.

On education, the Dublin declaration says State education should be secular and “children should be taught about the diversity of religious and no-religious beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours”.

Children should also “be educated in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge. Science should be taught free from religious interference.”

It says “freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited” and that all blasphemy laws should be repealed. “There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law.”

Under the heading “Secular Democracy” it says: “The only reference in the Constitution to religion should be an affirmation that the State is secular.”

Public policy “should be formed by applying reason, not religious faith, to evidence” and “the State should be strictly neutral in matters of religion, and its absence, favouring none and discriminating against none”.

Religions, it says “should have no special financial consideration in public life, such as tax-free status for religious activities, or grants to promote religion or run faith schools” and that “membership of a religion should not be a basis for appointing a person to any State position”.

Where law is concerned it says “there should be one secular law for all, democratically decided and evenly enforced, with no jurisdiction for religious courts to settle civil matters or family disputes”.