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World Blasphemy Day 2016

30 September 2016, a Friday, is World Blasphemy Day.

The Center for Inquiry of Amherst, N.Y., U.S.A., proposed this annual special day in 2009.

It is a day for all people in all parts of the world who value free expression to draw attention to laws that make blasphemy an offence and thus limit your free expression of ideas – either protesting at such laws in your own country, or in other countries, or both.

The End Blasphemy Laws campaign was started in January 2015 by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the European Humanist Federation, and Atheist Alliance International.

Mid-West Humanists at Thomas Street, Limerick for World Blasphemy Day

Several Mid-West Humanists will be at the corner of Thomas Street and O’Connell Street in Limerick on 30 September 2016 from about 12:00 until at least 14:00.

We will have a map of the world from the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, showing which countries have laws against blasphemy, coloured according to the penalty – death in some countries.

We will have pictures that could be offensive to adherents of some religions, all of them amusing (as long as humour is not contrary to your religion or to your non-religious life-stance).

Our interest is not in offending people, but in protesting at a Constitution and a law that prohibit free discussion on religion, whereas there is no law limiting public discussion on your cherished political party or sporting team (or any other idea which you hold dear).

We hope you will come by us, and we can give more information about laws against blasphemy, and the bad effects of such laws. We will give leaflets on the reasons to repeal the law and remove the relevant sentence from Article 40 of Ireland’s Constitution.

We hope this will be enjoyable for as many people as possible, including people with religion (many people with religion write their own jokes and satires about their religion).

September 2016 Meeting

The Mid-West Humanists meeting on Wednesday 21 September 2016 had a further discussion on abortion law in Ireland (that is, the Constitution, Article 40.3.3, added by the 8th amendment in 1983).

All those who attended gave views. There were several different views, all with supporting reasons.

As this is a very important matter, the whole of a future meeting will be devoted to abortion and the 8th Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution (1983).

The September meeting also resolved that several Mid-West Humanists will be on the street in Limerick on World Blasphemy Day 30 September 2016 – details here.

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.

Continue reading

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

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 ask Minister for Education not to entrench religious control of National Schools

A delegation from the Mid-West Humanists met Jan O’Sullivan T.D. Minister for Education and Skills on 24 April 2015, about the Leases of National Schools.

Our National Schools – origins and rules

Now most people believe that our National Schools are tied to principles of various religions (mostly the Roman Catholic religion).

Well, the popular awareness of the origin of National Schools is correct, that the United Kingdom government set them up from 1830 onwards. The government wanted Trustees for each school to include people of a mixture of religions. No such mixed Trustees volunteered, and only sets of clergy of a single religion became Trustees. From the religion of the Trustees, National Schools got called Roman Catholic schools, Church of Ireland schools, etc.

Historians have described the one-religion nature of every set of Trustees as the churches subverting the UK government’s plan. However the plan was subverted only in that the Trustees do not include a mixture of religions.

The Lease of each school vested the running of the school in Trustees, who thereby promised to run the school by the Lease and by the rules from the Minister for Education. From the beginning to the end, the Leases did not mention a religion.

The Leases write “…the object of the system of National Education is to afford Combined literary and moral, and Separate Religious Instruction to children of all persuasions, as far as possible in the same school, upon the fundamental principle that no attempt shall be made to interfere with the peculiar religious tenets of any pupil.”

This may be a surprise to readers, as our National Schools are indeed controlled by clergy of religions – and to most people this includes the idea that those clergy as Trustees run the schools in the style of that particular religion, and that they are entitled to run them in a religious manner. This is actually contrary to the statement in the Lease that we just mentioned. Continue reading