Atheists tick off census for religious leaning Justine McCarthy

Atheists tick off census

for religious leaning

Justine McCarthy

Scientology adverts

See  Atheist article under Scientology article.

DUBLIN’S Dart commuters are to be urged to tick the “no religion” box in next month’s census. A two-week advertising campaign, costing €2,800, will begin later this month with the appeal: “If you don’t practise any religion then mark the ‘no religion’ box. It’s important.” The campaign is being mounted by the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), which has 600 members, and which claims the religion question on the 24-page census form is ambiguous. Atheist Ireland, which has 450 paid-up members, is running a separate online campaign, “Be Honest to Godless in the Irish Census”. Both organisations say the layout of the religion question is confusing and liable to produce an inaccurate result.

Question 12 in the April 10 census will ask: “What is your religion?” It is followed by six possible answers: Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Islam, Presbyterian, Orthodox and other. A seventh option, “no religion”, appears beneath two columns of 20 boxes provided to specify “other”. Humanists and atheists believe many respondents will not notice the seventh option until they have already ticked one of the boxes above it. Only one box should be ticked.

“The question assumes you have a religion,” said Bob Rees, the HAI’s membership secretary. “Those with no religion are likely to skip to the next question or to write in ‘atheist’ or ‘lapsed Catholic’ in the empty boxes. By the time they spot the ‘no religion’ box, it’ll be too late.” “They should ask: ‘Do you have a religion?’ and ‘If so, what is it?’” said Michael Nugent, the chairman of Atheist Ireland. “Most atheists don’t consider atheism a religion and wouldn’t tick the ‘other’ religion box. We believe the results are inaccurate, and that’s a serious issue because they’re relied on for political lobbying and state planning.” The HAI made an unsuccessful application to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in 2008 to have the formula changed for this year’s census. A pilot census was conducted in 2009 without any change to the religion question. In the April 2006 census, 186,318 respondents described themselves as irreligious, nonreligious, atheist or agnostic. It was the second-biggest category after Roman Catholic (3,681,456) and ahead of Church of Ireland (125,580). The choices are not listed in alphabetical order but, with the exception of the “no religion” option, in order of the largest responses in the last census. Gerard Bradley of the CSO acknowledged “no religion” was the second-biggest category in 2006. “Nevertheless, the question was laid out in the same manner,” he said. “It could be argued the layout of the form did not affect people seeing option seven.”

We in dialogue Ireland fully support the need to change the census. It is noteworthy that the shape of the questions is quite recent. See articles by Malcolm P.A. Macourt, Honorary Research Fellow, Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester given at the Spirituality conference in October 2009.  Macourt 1


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