Irish Activists Seek To Add Atheism To School Curricula

A small but growing group of atheists is working with an NGO that is introducing multidenominational education in a country where over 90 percent of schools are Catholic.

What's the Latest Development?

Last month's announcement that Ireland's education minister would begin work with organizations on increased religious diversity in school curricula was welcomed by the members of Atheist Ireland, a group whose growth reflects an increasing tolerance towards atheism over the past five years. The group has been working with Educate Together, an NGO that operates 68 multidenominational elementary schools across the country, to create a program that will add atheism to religious education as a valid "belief." Atheist Ireland founder Michael Nugent distinguishes the word from "faith": "Belief is something you think true that is supported by evidence. Faith is something you believe true disproportionately to the evidence for it."

What's the Big Idea?

As one of the most resolutely Roman Catholic countries in the world, Ireland's church-and-state relationship has always been rather tight: Despite the fact that the state does not define curricula, over 90 percent of schools are Catholic, and school districts are run by local bishops. A political writer, Nugent also founded New Consensus, which campaigned for peace during Northern Ireland's religion-based conflicts. Atheist Ireland represents an evolution from that work, he says: "We think religious education should be about giving [students] information and saying, you make up your own mind."

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