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Mid-West Humanists send submission to Department of Education on strategy 2016-2018

The new government that formed in 2016 made a Program for Government. This includes chapter 10 (page 86) on Education.

The Department of Education and Skills asked people for submissions on the Program, to contribute to the Department’s strategy for 2016 to 2018. The strategy was online, but is not available since the date for receiving submissions. They published a survey form with their set of questions. They set Wednesday 08 June 2016 as the last day for submissions.

The Mid-West Humanists have sent a submission early on 08 June 2016.

Our submission concentrates on secular education, how this is more important than a greater variety or diversity of patrons for schools (that plan is in fact a mistake); and on how the Minister and Department of Education and Skills can make all National Schools fairly secular by instructing those schools to follow the System of National Education (as their leases oblige them), Rule 69 of the Rules for National Schools of 1965, and Article 44.2.4 of Ireland’s Constitution.

Submissions will be available on the Department’s website, but we also show our submission here.

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The Census should have the None option as the first option

The Mid-West Humanists and similar groups and people note that the order of replies to questions in the Census causes bias in how people reply

This applies to the question about a person’s religion, and to some other questions also.

You can read the 2016 Census form on the Central Statistics Office website.

There are 4 questions (of 11 questions) about the household on page 2 of the Census form, that have between 5 and 9 optional answers, with one answer being “none” or a similar word – central heating fuel, source of piped water, destination of sewage, and cars (or vans). Question H6 Central Heating includes “No central heating” as option 1. In the other 3, “none” is the last option.

There are 4 questions (of 34 questions) about each person on later pages of the form, that have between 7 and 11 optional answers, with one answer being “none” or a similar word.

Of these, only in the religion question (Q12) is the “none” option last.

Q19 Mode of travel daily, Q20 Time leaving home in the morning daily, and Q25 Formal Education all have the “none” option first.

So, if your house or other residence has no central heating, or if you do not travel daily to work, school, or college, or if you have never been to any school, you do not have to pore over several irrelevant options before finding the right answer for you (or your residence) at the end.

How putting the “None” option last causes bias

If you glance through 4 to 10 options which are all wrong, and you are a little bothered by filling the form, you may mark a box that is not true.

You may notice so much about the various options, that you do not notice the content of the last option. You may behave as if the set of answers forces you to pick one of the first few options, even though they are not true about you.

On seeing that of these 8 questions, the Central Statistics Office has put the “none” option first in 4 and last in the other 4, I wonder if the CSO thinks that there may sometimes be bias in having a particular option at either the start or the end.

I notice the confusion caused by having to read 4 to 10 options that do not fit yourself, so that you are not concentrating when your eyes reach the last option (which is the right one for you).

How non-religious groups and people have thought that the Census question of the last decades causes bias, and how to improve it

Atheist and humanist organisations have in recent decades said that the presence of several religions as the first few optional replies to the religion question leads to people thinking of a religion to which they subscribed in the past, and marking the box for that.

They have proposed splitting the religion question into 2 parts. First, Do you have a religion? (yes/ no). Second (if you wrote Yes), What is your religion?

It has been difficult to get the CSO to consider changing the question.

If the question does not become divided into 2 parts, to put the “none” option as the first option would a good step. The CSO are clearly not opposed to a “none” option being the first option in a census question.

When the census is complete, the Mid-West Humanists intend to write to the CSO to seek to have the religion question improved.

Census 2016 – mark box 7 “No religion” rather than free-text under box 6

This is about the reasons to mark box 7 “No religion”, and not to write your own words under box 6.

The Mid-West Humanists meet, one evening each month in the Absolute Hotel, Limerick, and at brunches and other social events. We meet so that we can talk and listen to other people who do not have a religion or believe in a god.
People come because they notice that society does not quite recognise that people might have NO religion (while society easily recognises people having a variety of different religions).

As well as society not fully allowing that quite a lot of people have no religion and do not think that there is an afterlife or any gods, the State and its services are quite clearly biased towards every person having a religion (the state, like society, easily recognises that people have a variety of religions).

The most important service from the state is Education. People with no religion generally want to let their children understand both no religion and the variety of religions that other people have. And they want their children not to receive ideas that are not facts but only some people’s beliefs as if they are facts.

You may also meet difficulty when making a legal declaration that what you say or write is true. On becoming a witness in court, people mostly have to ask to make the affirmation with no mention of religion. When you do this, the judge or jury now knows you are distinguished from most people by having no religion, and sometimes this lets them treat your evidence less fairly.

The State might come to recognise the substantial portion of the people who have no religion, and then treat them fairly in its services, if the state received more accurate information through the Census.

Here is the 12th question for each person in the Census 2016 form: –

Census IRL 2016 Q12 Religion

Census IRL 2016 Q12 Religion

The Central Statistics Office’s computer reads the marks in the boxes, and calculates the numbers in categories 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. The total of people who marked no 7 will be the CSO number of people with no religion. The more people who do not have a religion who mark box 7, the more the State must recognise that their numbers are substantial.

The religions (or non-religious titles) that people write in the 20 spaces under no 6 will be read by people in the CSO. From these the CSO will derive numbers of people with religions other than the five in the list on the form.
“Atheist”, “Humanist”, “Agnostic”, “No Religion”, and various other words that actually do not mean a religion will result in Census numbers for those titles, as if they are religions. The CSO presents them within a list of other religions (of which there are usually many hundreds). These numbers, which in the 2011 Census were in the tens of thousands, do not enter the public information as numbers of people with no religion.

So, the Mid-West Humanists suggest that people with no religion mark box 7 “No religion”; and do not write in the spaces under box 6.

The Mid-West Humanists also note that (as the CSO instructs enumerators) Question 12 on religion is about your religious belief, actions, or attachment NOW, not at any earlier time in life.
We ask people who are aware of their past attachment to a religion, but who now do not believe in that religion’s doctrines and/or do not attend that religion’s services, to mark box 7 to indicate that they do not have a religion in 2016.

There is a bias in a question if the “none of the above” option is last. The Census 2016 form has 4 household questions and 4 questions for each individual person that include a “none” option.
See The Census should have the None option as the first option

Election Candidates’ intentions on Secular Constitution, Laws, Regulations

The General Election is to be on Friday 26 February 2016.

The Mid-West Humanists suggest that voters who favour a secular society ask General Election candidates if they support the following changes to enable a Secular Society.

You can download the Mid-West Humanists’ leaflets from our Aims and Media page, if you wish to give a leaflet to a candidate.

You can read the particular Acts mentioned, and the Constitution, on the Irish Statute Book online.

Top Priority Changes

Secular Education

Does the candidate agree to vote for the following new laws, or to support the Minister for Education changing the regulations: –

  1. Repeal Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000. At present, this states that a school giving education in an environment that promotes religious values can prefer to take a child with a particular religion over others. If this section were repealed, Section 7(2) would prohibit discrimination in a school under the 9 grounds described in Section 2 of the Act. Religion or its absence is one of the 9 grounds.
  2. Amend Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act 1998. At present it allows an employer to prefer a job candidate over another candidate in a way similar to the Equal Status Act (above), if the employer is a religious, educational, or medical institution. Ask that “educational, or medical” be removed, and that “religious” as applied to an institution be defined strictly as when the institution’s only purpose is a religious purpose.
  3. Amend Section 15(2)(b) of the Education Act 1998 so that schools would not be required to have their own “characteristic spirit” (you may hear people speak of “ethos”), and that instead all schools would be required to respect the human rights of children.
  4. That the Minister for Education and Skills would send a circular letter to all National Schools, directing that Rule 69(b,c,d,e) in the Rules for National Schools 1965 is still in force, and thus that National Schools must follow the System of National Education (as each National School’s Lease directs). Rule 69 and the schools’ leases require that a pupil must not receive, nor be present at, any religious instruction of which the child’s parents or guardian have not approved; and that the timetable must make it easy for children to be absent from the school during such instruction.

Constitution

Does the candidate agree to vote for a referendum to let us the people decide the following: –

  1. Remove the sentence that makes Blasphemy an offence – Article 40.6.1.i, 3rd paragraph.
  2. Remove mention of a god from the declaration on starting work as a judge (Article 34.5.1), as President (Article 12.8), or one of the Council of State (Article 31.4). Tell the candidate that to give a judge a choice of a declaration with god and a declaration without god would be a mistake – judges would be marked as religious or not religious and some parties in court cases would see them as biased. Tell the candidate you seek one declaration with no mention of a god.

Other secular changes

Secular Health Services

Does the candidate agree to vote for new laws, or to support the Minister for Health changing regulations, so that all hospitals and professionals that receive public money to provide health services for people (which is generally without any reference to the religion of a patient) must provide all treatments that are within the law? This would stop hospitals, doctors, or pharmacists refusing to provide, for example, certain forms of birth control, by saying it is contrary to their ethics.

Constitution

Does the candidate agree to vote for a referendum to let us the people decide the following: –

  1. Remove Article 40.3.3 (the 8th Amendment, that prohibits nearly all terminations of pregnancy)
    This request, like the other requests for referenda, does not mean that either you as a voter or the candidate (if elected) would vote for removal on referendum day. In asking the candidate for a referendum, you are only asking for reasonable democracy.
  2. Remove the following words that involve god and religion
    1. Remove words about the Trinity and Jesus Christ from the Preamble.
    2. Remove power deriving under God from Article 6.
    3. Remove homage, worship, reverence, respect due to God, that is, remove Article 44.1.
    4. Remove the glory of god (glóire Dé) from the Epilogue.

You can read the particular Acts mentioned, and the Constitution, on the Irish Statute Book online.

You can download the Mid-West Humanists’ leaflets from our Aims and Media page, if you wish to give a leaflet to a candidate.

February meeting cancelled because of ROSA Limerick Election Candidates’ Debate

Special Notice on Cancellation of meeting 17 February 2016

We became aware only on 11 February of another meeting at exactly the same time, that would be of great interest to many Mid-West Humanists, connected with the General Election on 26 February. By Saturday 13 February we decided to cancel our meeting, so that Mid-West Humanists can attend-

General Election Candidates’ Debate (Limerick candidates for election to the Dáil) – organised by Rosa Limerick, who campaign for the reproductive health and other services for women.

Date                    :          Wednesday 17 February 2016

Time                   :          20:00

Place                   :          Pery Hotel, Glentworth Street, Limerick

One of Rosa Limerick’s 3 main subjects for the Dáil Candidates is about Public Services, “Do you think that in the areas of health and education the State should provide support to people of all faiths and none equally? How is that possible in the current system?”

This is an opportunity to put the case for secular education and health services to candidates for election to the Dáil. It is unfortunate for the Mid-West Humanists that this will not include candidates in Clare and Tipperary, but the message for secular services will receive some publicity.

Rosa Limerick have welcomed people such as the Mid-West Humanists to attend, people who would tell the candidates the value of secular education and health services, and people’s entitlement to these.

Minister’s public meeting 22 January on Patronage of Mungret Second-level school

On Friday 22 01 2016 there was a meeting in the South Court Hotel, Raheen, Limerick, about the process of choosing what group will be Patron of the Second-level school in Mungret, due to be open for pupils in 2017.

Jan O’Sullivan T.D. Minister for Education and Skills described the process to decide who will be the Patron, and answered questions about this from the people who filled one of the large conference rooms in the hotel.

The meeting was NOT about hearing people’s choice about which patron group they want, but about telling us about the process.

Department of Education’s process to choose a Patron for a new Second-level school

The Department will choose a group of people who will be independent from them. Just how to choose them, and which sort of people, was not clear.

Collecting the views of parents is up to a group that wants to apply to be the patron, and so is the method of receiving parents’ views. They should check parents by the electoral register.

The aspiring patron group or organisation would put its case to the independent deciding group near the end of 2016. Some people said this might not let the school be ready to take children in September 2017, and the minister said she would see about making this nearer the middle of 2017.

The new school would be part of the common application system for secondary schools in the Limerick area, and so the parents whose views are to be sought are all parents in this area.

A person attached to Educate Together (ET) spoke, and said that they will hold a public meeting at the South Court Hotel on Thursday 04 02 2016 at 20:00, as their process of receiving the views of parents. They distributed a leaflet about this, which says to go to Limerick Educate Together Second Level and fill an Expression of Interest form.

A person connected to the Eduation and Training Board for Limerick and Clare (ETB; previously called Vocational Education Committee, VEC) said they collect parent’s views by visiting schools in turn. They have already done one visit.

The applicants to be patron are to tell the independent deciding group their model of how they will operate the school, with an ethos, admission policy, and other features; and the parents’ views that they obtained. It was not clear that there is a mechanism to ensure that this admission policy will be identical to the one they told to the parents.

The Department of Education and Skills is already negotiating with Limerick City and County Council about the roads and other services to enable the school to be built and to operate.

Parents’ comments on the process to choose a Patron for a new Second-level school

About 10 or more people present commented on the procedure taking the views of parents in the whole Limerick second-level application system. Several of these mentioned children travelling long distances to schools outside their own area, and if the new school is not what a parent or pupil in the south-west suburbs of Limerick would prefer, many children will still be travelling far. The minister did not offer to change this rule.

While there is a limit to the money an applicant to be Patron may spend in taking parents’ views (on the screen at the meeting a limit of €300 was shown) the meeting did not hear of any monitoring of the money they spend. The chosen  patron must pay a €50,000 maximum contribution to the intitial construction or fitting of the school.

At least 10 parents said that their child is at an Educate Together primary school, and they have no choice for second-level school when the child reaches that age. Near the end of the meeting a parent said that schools with Roman Catholic patrons accept children of all religions and races, and the community of such schools is not full of racists. The minister’s next reply was that the meeting is to give information; and that one of the criteria in deciding which group will be patron of the new school is how big will be the diversity of second-level school patrons after the decision.

Mid-West Humanists thank Minister on Rule 68

The Mid-West Humanists met the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan T.D. on Friday 11 December 2015, to thank her for deciding to remove Rule 68 from the Rules for National Schools 1965.

Jack Little, Patricia Murray, Peter O'Hara at the Minister's clinic

Jack Little, Patricia Murray, Peter O’Hara at the Minister’s clinic

We show the text of Rule 68 at the end of this article.

From the meeting we learned that the Minister is considering whether to delete part 1 of Rule 69, as it favours asking the father rather than the mother about the religion of the child. Further, it is contrary to human rights conventions that parents should have to reveal their religion.

However, the Mid-West Humanists said to the Minister that the remainder of Rule 69, parts 2 to 5, should be retained, because these direct schools not to give to a child any religious instruction of which  the parents or guardians do not approve.

The Mid-West Humanists also said to the Minister that Rule 2 particularly should be retained. Rule 2 copies the guarantee, in almost identical words, of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, that a child has a right to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The Minister said that on deleting Rule 68, in January 2016, she will send a circular letter to each of the 3200 National Schools to inform them of the change. The Mid-West Humanists asked the Minister to consider in that circular letter reminding all schools that they are obliged to obey particularly Rule 2 and Rule 69.

You can obtain the Rules for National Schools 1965, as

Rules 1 to 51- Part 1
Rules 52 to 111- Part 2,
Rules 112 to 165- Part 3, and
Schedules 1 to 18- Part 4.

The Rules mentioned now follow.

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