The State has witnessed a 100 per cent increase in humanist ceremonies over the past 12 months, with some 1,000 events taking place this year.
Most of the growth has been in weddings, with 650 in 2014 compared to 80 seven years ago, according to the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI).
Marking its 21st anniversary in Galway at the weekend, the association also noted that there had been a tenfold increase in humanist funerals since 2007, while about 60 children will have had naming ceremonies in 2014.
Some 100,000 people will have attended humanist events hosted by HAI-accredited celebrants this year, the association’s president Prof David McConnell noted.
The HAI spearheaded a long campaign for legislative change to permit registration of humanist celebrants, and the first legal humanist wedding took place last year.
The trend is further proof of the need to continually survey the educational needs of parents, Prof McConnell and former chairman Dick Spicer told The Irish Times.
Speaking at the conference – on the theme of primary education's fitness for the 21st century – Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe noted there were now 74 multidenominational primary schools.
Educate Together’s first three second-level schools opened this year, with five more due by 2016, while a campaign has begun in Galway for second-level provision.
Redemptorist Community representative Fr Gerry O’Connor, who is parish priest in Dublin’s Cherry Orchard, expressed support for the multi-denominational model of education, as he believed that saying the secular model of schooling was “not unproblematic”.
“Parents often don’t want a secular education for the child,”Fr O’Connor he said, observing that. “aAttacking faith-based schools doesn’t help anyone”.
However, Catholics also needed to understand that in taking religion out of schools, they may still “flourish”, he said.
Irish National Teachers’ Organisation president Sean McMahon said he believed Irish primary schools were “among the most inclusive places on Earth” and disagreed with the argument that religion should have no place in school.
He said the best way forward might be “not to provide different schools”, but to provide “community national schools” which catered for all belief systems“under one roof”.
During discussion, Mr Rowe noted that enormous peer pressure was still exerted on parents in Ireland today to baptise children against their conscience to ensure access to schools.
Offering teenagers the opportunity to be confirmed as humanists has proven to be a very effective way of meeting societal pressures, Inger-Johanne Slaatta of the Humanist Association of Norway told the conference.The first such humanist confirmations took place in 1951, she said, and this year some 10,000 young people will choose this option – even though some 80 per cent of Norwegians are still officially attached to a State-based church.
It has become so accepted that it is now a type of “family tradition”, but one that allows young people to “breathe freely” , she said, while learning about ethics, human rights and critical thought.
The Humanist Association of Norway receives government funding, which supports tuition it runs for teenagers preparing for confirmation outside of school hours.
These teenagers did not represent an “elite”, as most of them were just “ordinary young Norwegians” , she said.