Saturday 11 June 2011

Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life | Atheist Ireland

"On Sunday 5 June 2011, the World Atheist Convention in Dublin discussed and adopted the following declaration on secularism and the place of religion in public life. Please discuss and promote it with your friends and colleagues, and if you are a a member of an atheist, humanist or secular group, please discuss and promote it with your fellow members, and with the media and politicians."
The Declaration is here:

It's worth looking briefly at the four sections of this succinct document:

1. Personal Freedoms

(a) Freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited. Freedom to practice religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others.
(b) All people should be free to participate equally in the democratic process.
(c) Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.
Freedom of conscience, democracy and freedom of expression — universal rights encapsulated in a few short sentences.

2. Secular Democracy

(a) The sovereignty of the State is derived from the people and not from any god or gods.
(b) The only reference in the constitution to religion should be an assertion that the State is secular.
(c) The State should be based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Public policy should be formed by applying reason, and not religious faith, to evidence.
(d) Government should be secular. The state should be strictly neutral in matters of religion and its absence, favouring none and discriminating against none.
(e) Religions 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.
(f) Membership of a religion should not be a basis for appointing a person to any State position.
(g) The law should neither grant nor refuse any right, privilege, power or immunity, on the basis of faith or religion or the absence of either.
As concise a summary of secular principles as I've seen.

3. Secular Education

(a) State education should be secular. Religious education, if it happens, should be limited to education about religion and its absence.
(b) Children should be taught about the diversity of religious and nonreligious philosophical beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours.
(c) Children should 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.
Glad to see education given specific focus — the future of human civilisation depends on it.

4. One Law For All

(a) 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.
(b) The law should not criminalise private conduct because the doctrine of any religion deems such conduct to be immoral, if that private conduct respects the rights and freedoms of others.
(c) Employers or social service providers with religious beliefs should not be allowed to discriminate on any grounds not essential to the job in question.
Obvious though this may be, it's threatened in the UK by law-making judges who may give special exemption to religious discrimination (though so far the judges have generally been sensible about this). It also addresses the idea of different laws for specific groups of people, as Sharia is supposed to for Muslims. Such agreements to be bound by a subset of national law should only be in the same sense as an agreement — by all parties in a dispute — to arbitration, which itself must be within the law.

If I have a (pedantic) quibble it's that 4(b) seems syntactically ambiguous — it could be read as saying that since religious doctrine deems some conduct immoral, that conduct shouldn't be criminalised, which is nonsensical. I know that's not what it's supposed to mean, but perhaps in this instance they've made it a little too concise.