Yesterday, Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland was supposed to speak to the final year class at an all-girls Catholic school. They had had a Muslim speaker earlier in the year, and Nugent was invited to talk about what his group believed and what they did. It was a wonderful gesture by the school to expose students to different perspectives. I’ve had the opportunity to do something similar myself and I really enjoyed the questions students asked me.
But at the last second, Nugent’s invitation was rescinded:
Your original invite said: “The school wholly welcomes you and looks forward to hearing about both Atheist Ireland and atheism as a system of non-belief.” Atheist Ireland was pleased by the progressive and inclusive thinking reflected by your invitation, and we were looking forward to having another positive story to announce, having earlier this year become the first atheist advocacy group to meet the Taoiseach in the history of the State.
The reason given by members of your school’s Religious Education team for cancelling the talk is: “that a non-religious perspective does not marry well with the school’s ethos/values, and it does not fit with the senior cycle programme that they presently have in place, i.e. it seeks to uphold and reflect a Catholic ethos. By extension, it does not wish to cultivate non-religious belief, in accordance with the school’s ethos. The school does however welcome children of all faiths and none, and recognises that non-religious belief is a perspective which some pupils may hold.”
They have every right to do this, but it makes you wonder what they’re so afraid of. Is the students’ faith so weak at the school that an hour-long talk (with Q&A) might wipe out all those years of Catholic education? It’s not like Nugent was going to talk about why Catholicism was horrible or make a case for why everyone should shed their faith. Why was his talk cancelled but not the talk by a Muslim before him?
Atheist Ireland didn’t publicize the name of the school as a courtesy. But there’s still plenty of time for school officials to fix their mistake here. This is an educational experience for the students. As Nugent said, these kids are on the “verge of adulthood.” They can’t live in a bubble forever and they’re going to meet atheists very soon if they haven’t already. Might as well do it in a classroom setting where those discussions can be moderated.
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