Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 in Law, Politics | 1 comment

The Dublin Declaration on Secularism

One important achievement of the global atheist movement is the Dublin Declaration on Secularism, which was developed at an international atheist convention in Ireland in June 2011. For whatever reason, this has not been given the ongoing citation, reliance, and publicity that I think it deserves. It is a major statement that I’d hope all significant shades of opinion within the atheist/skeptic/secularist movement(s) could broadly endorse.

Like all such documents, it is open to interpretation and to quibbling about the edges. Depending on how I interpret it, I might quibble about some things myself – however, I don’t think there is anything in the document that I disagree with as long as it’s interpreted in what seems to me a sensible way. A lot of work must have gone in to produce something like this that actually has “teeth” while also being acceptable (surely) to people with many worldviews, political viewpoints, and priorities. The expression is generally very clear without sounding bureaucratic, strong without relying on rhetorical flourishes.

I’m especially fond of the key point at 2(d): Government should be secular. The state should be strictly neutral in matters of religion and its absence, favouring none and discriminating against none.

And see the forthright liberal statement at 4(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.

Obviously each of us would have his or her favourite wording. Even 4(b) could be worded in a way that I might prefer for greater concision and clarity. Clearly, too, there is more to spell out for the purpose of any particular political debate, such as when private conduct can be taken not to respect the rights and freedoms of others. A manifesto such as this declaration should be supplemented with more detailed expositions of (and arguments for) useful political principles, such as freedom of speech and the harm principle.

Still, the Dublin Declaration on Secularism is something that I hope many of us could sign up to and promulgate – whether we are essentially secular or religious in our outlooks, and wherever we might locate ourselves on, say, economic policy. I encourage you to read it, cite it when relevant, and collectively imbue it with political force.