There was a full house at Belfast Castle on Wednesday evening for the official launch party for Northern Ireland Humanists, a section of the British Humanist Association (BHA) working for a fairer and more secular Northern Ireland. Sun streamed in through the ornate windows of Belfast Castle as guests heard from BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Northern Ireland Humanists coordinator Boyd Sleator and patron Tim McGarry, and Alliance for Choice spokesperson Kelly O’Dowd as part of an evening toasting a growing movement in Northern Ireland to guarantee human rights for all citizens, without religious interference.
Since forming in early 2016, Northern Ireland Humanists has grown significantly, taking in hundreds of new members and training dozens of new humanist celebrants, non-religious pastoral carers, and school speakers who can help teachers plan lessons on Humanism. Notably, the section has intervened at the Supreme Court in defence of abortion rights, inspired UN demands that Northern Ireland reform its abortion and collective worship laws, supported a grassroots movement to give young people an opt-out from worship in schools, produced in-depth grids and tables comparing party policy ahead of Northern Ireland assembly elections, and sent copies of a new educational book on Humanism to every school in Northern Ireland. It has also won support from religious representatives and politicians for broad, inclusive reforms of the Northern Ireland religious education curriculum.
Most recently, Northern Ireland Humanists made headlines by supporting its member Laura Lacole and her fiancé Eunan O’Kane in a legal bid to ensure access to legally recognised humanist marriages throughout Northern Ireland. This follows on from several years of campaigning by the BHA for the UK Government to legalise humanist marriages in England and Wales.
Commenting on the celebrations, Northern Ireland Humanists coordinator Boyd Sleator said ‘Already in the space of a year, we have made enormous advances in Northern Ireland towards a country where the non-religious have a real say over their lives and how they choose to live them. Already, our celebrants are helping people to mark life’s big moments with authenticity, and our trained and accredited carers are making the difference to people facing a tough time in prisons and hospitals. Already, we’ve supported dozens of schools across the country to inspire children to be more curious about the world and to explore for themselves whether or not they believe in a religion.
‘Last night’s event showed that our movement is in rude health and that we have the energy, enthusiasm, and drive to fight on and make this country a fairer place not just for humanists, but for everyone who wants to enjoy freedom of choice in a free and fair society.’
Northern Ireland Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association, the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.