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Mid West Humanists’ Submission to Minister for Education and Skills on admission rules to National Schools

On 16 January 2017 the Department of Education sought submissions from interested persons and groups on the role of denominational religion in the school admissions process and possible approaches for making changes.

The Mid-West Humanists today 11 March 2017 have sent the following submission to the Department.

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Mid West Humanists                                                           March 2017

 

To Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Education and Skills

Contents

  1. The Mid-West Humanists make this submission
  2. Who the Mid-West Humanists are
  3. Mid-West Humanists’ reasons to meet includes the problems with education for those with no religion
  4. The plan we submit will benefit also people in religions with less numerous adherents, and will make governing the State and keeping peace easier
  5. Subjects that the Consultation Paper and the Minister mention, which this Submission uses
    5.1. Lower admission priority and the pressure to baptise are not fair to families and parents
    5.2. Ethos is a part of Approach 4(2) – so this Submission addresses ethos
    5.3. Understanding the different religions in the community and including all children with respect
    5.4. The Constitution of Ireland, parts relevant to education and State schools
  6. Principles of the Mid-West Humanists on which their view how to run National Schools is built
    6.1. A society fair to all people, and no rights for institutions
    6.2. Children’s rights,
    1) to develop intellectually, that adults and the State not blur their differentiation of ideas based on evidence and reason from ideas that people believe without evidence
    2) to know all the variety of people among whom they live/ will live, to feel at home in society
  7. The Mid-West Humanists’ view on the Paper’s 4 or 6 suggested approaches to admissions to schools
    7.1. General – all 4 or 6 approaches are unreasonable
    7.2. Approaches 1, 2, 3, 4(3)
    7.3. Approach 4(2) – pressure to agree to ethos is the same as pressure to baptise, unfair
    7.4. Approach 4(1) – children’s rights will be infringed after admission unless ethos is secular
  8. The Mid-West Humanists’ own view on the best admission rules, and the correct ethos
    8.1. Repeal the Equal Status Act 2000 Section 7.3(c) entirely
    8.2. Teachers must teach all the religions together to all children together, fairly and neutrally
    8.3. To not blur distinctions of basing on evidence, teachers not to state religious ideas as true
    8.4. The Constitution gives the teaching of religious doctrines to parents and not to the State
    8.5. The State makes children attend school, so it must be fair and make schools secular
  9. Replies to the 4 questions that the Consultation Paper asks about all approaches
    9.1. It is unfair that any religious group have State-funded schools
    9.2. The Constitution mandates the State removing religious influence in schools which it funds
    9.3. The legal support for National Schools and the Minister’s power to change how they run
    9.4. Unintended impacts of our approach are not a problem
  10. Additional ideas
    10.1. The value to society of all schools being secular, with no discrimination on admission
    10.2. Constitution and international conventions support secular ethos and no discrimination
    10.3. Misconceptions about National Schools’ legal status, and the real status
  11. Conclusion
    11.1. Changes needed and the power to make changes: the changes are constitutional
    11.2. Reasons for changes: children’s rights to development and to be at home in society

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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

Mid-West Humanists say YES to Marriage Equality

On Friday 22 May 2015 is the Referendum on Marriage irrespective of gender.

Vote YES to Marriage Equality

Humanism means that people compose their own moral rules, and choose which rules to adopt. This means choosing rules by reason, and not by supposed revelation from a god.

There is no sensible reason that the State should not register and recognise every person’s partnership in life, whether the partner is of the other sex or the same sex as the first person. The idea that only a person of the other sex can be a marriage partner gets its largest and least rational support from sources that some people believe came from a god.

So the Mid-West Humanists say Vote YES to Marriage Equality on Friday 22 May 2015.

Mid-West Humanists say YES

Mid-West Humanists say YES

If you think the Referendum should be passed, then just as you are responsible for choosing moral rules, you have equal responsibility to each of the other 3 million voters. So go out on Friday and vote. If you want it to pass, but you don’t vote and it is defeated, you as well as any others who don’t vote will be responsible.

Please, if you want it to pass, go out and vote.

Mid-West Humanists’ letter to Minister for Education and Skills on National School Leases and the model Deed of Variation

The Mid-West Humanists met Jan O’Sullivan T.D. Minister for Education and Skills on 24 April 2015.

We asked the Minister not to change the Leases of National Schools via a 1997 model Deed of Variation.

In another post we explain about National School leases.

We show here the letter which we gave to the Minister, in which we explained our concerns.

 

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24 April 2015

To Jan O’Sullivan TD, Minister for Education and Skills

Deeds of Variation should not be applied to National School Leases

Dear Minister O’Sullivan

 

Summary

  1. We seek information on whether (and if so, when) the Department of Education and Skills plans to apply the Deeds of Variation to the leases of schools, Deeds that were first drafted about 1997.
  2. We ask that the Leases of Primary (National) Schools not be altered as in the model Deeds of Variation of 1997 or as in any similar model. The schools are now managed by persons or groups of persons who belong to particular religions, and, contrary to popular belief, their leases (which are their agreements with the Department) do not restrict the operation of the schools to fit with those religions, and are quite neutral about religion. (The Education Act 1998 requires a school to have a characteristic spirit, but this is not solely about religion, and the schools’ leases of which we know do not determine any aspect of the characteristic spirit.)

We seek that the leases not be changed according to the model Deed of Variation of 1997 or similar model, because the present leases would allow a school to be secular in many aspects, and the varied leases would make each school tied to the particular religion. Between 1997 and 2015 society in Ireland has become more secular; it has not become more religious. Continue reading

Respect for persons; no respect for ideas; Limerick school was right to let Charlie Hebdo in the classroom

While I would like to vote in a referendum to remove the sentence from Ireland’s Constitution that makes blasphemy a crime, I am writing now to help distinguish between (1) respect for humans and their rights, and (2) culture and ideas (including religious culture and ideas) having no rights to respect. Instead, ideas should be open to criticism, and people have rights to make criticism and to live in a society where other people make criticisms too.

Especially when you are a child, but also throughout all of life, a really good society is one where various people are making criticisms of various ideas and elements of culture and society, with no long intervals between such criticisms both in the public news and in your private life. In so far as I have a right to have a good society in which to live, I have a right to such criticisms going on all the time.

 

The Limerick Leader reported on 05 February 2015

that a teacher at Limerick Educate Together School recently asked pupils to bring in matter relevant to the French Revolution of 1789 and freedom of speech; and a pupil took in a copy of the Charlie Hebdo of 14 01 2015, which the teacher showed to the pupils, and this offended a pupil who is Muslim;
and –
that a parent of this second pupil, as well as complaining to the school, gave the following view to the Limerick Leader – that the cover picture has caused great insult within the Islam community in Ireland and the world; and that the child was “subjected” to seeing the magazine; and that parents teach children to have respect for all peoples and for their cultures and for their religions, of which educators should be mindful. This read as if the magazine being shown in the class took away from such respect.

I agree fully with respect for all people, but disagree entirely with the idea of an obligation to have respect for any culture.

1. I favour respect for all persons and their legal, constitutional, and human rights, and the special rights of children: and special rights means, because they are growing up, that children need both protection from dangers AND open availability of information so that they can grow into good citizens, which includes understanding the cultures of the society in which they live.

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Blasphemy outlawed in the Constitution – why we should remove this urgently

Pakistan quotes Ireland’s law against blasphemy to defend against democratic countries urging them to abolish it. Laws do maintain culture within a society, and the culture in Pakistan against blasphemy has resulted in the murder of – people released from a blasphemy charge, a lawyer who defended an accused, a judge who did not make the popular decision, and a state governor who had spoken in public of the problems with this law and favoured repealing it.

These murders contribute to views that to kill people who blaspheme (and anyone who favours the “blasphemers”) is right and reasonable. This contribution probably extends, at least indirectly, to those who did the murders on 07 01 2015 in Paris.

To prohibit blasphemy does not add to freedom of religion; it reduces it

Religions have rules. There are usually rules about what you will think or believe, mostly about the god and related people or things. A second set of rules tell you to do some things, and also not to do some other things.

Freedom of religion in democratic societies means you are free to join a religion, and also free not to join a religion; to choose which religion; and to leave the religion at any time.

When you choose a religion you can agree to follow its rules (otherwise, you are not bound by such rules.) If a thousand million people thereby undertake not to draw pictures of Mohammed, that does not create a right for any of those people to stop the other six thousand million people on earth drawing and publishing what they choose. A law against blasphemy is not about freedom of religion: rather it lets some people stop other people exercising freedom of religion and some other freedoms.

Continue reading