The following article by Rónán Duffy appeared in thejournal on March 26, 2016:
THIS YEAR’S CENSUS is going to be held four weeks from tomorrow and there’s a campaign to make sure people think carefully about one particular question.
Question 12 asks people, What is your religion?
On its its specialised website Census.ie, the Central Statistics Office says that everyone should answer the question whether they have a religion or not, but it also gives some guidance about how they answer it.
The CSO says that the question is not about how often they attend church or how they are brought up, but rather how they feel.
“People should answer the question based on how they feel now about their religious beliefs, if any,” the CSO says.
The question is asking about the person’s current religion or beliefs and not about the religion the person may have been brought up with. If the person has a religion they can identify that religion by ticking one of the tick box categories, or by writing in a description of your religion or beliefs in the write-in boxes.
“If they do not have a religion, they should go to the end of the question and mark the ‘No religion’ box.”
One group encouraging people to tick the ‘no religion’ box if they don’t practice or believe in a religion is the Humanists Association of Ireland (HAI).
The HAI says that the census consistently underestimates the number of people who are non-religious.
Its director Terry Flynn argues that the question itself is poorly worded because it presumes people have a religion rather than asking if they do.
Also the way the answer is structured, it doesn’t give you Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, it immediately asks you if you’re Roman Catholic or Church of Ireland. They’re denominations of a religion.
Flynn says it should be a two-part question which first asks you if you practice a religion and, if you say ‘Yes’, only then should ask about the specifics.
“If you look at it, ‘No religion’ is at the bottom, really it should be at the top,” Flynn argues.
Even though the CSO says the answer should be based on how you feel rather than how you were brought up, Flynn says this isn’t made clear to people.
Flynn also says people mightn’t think about the consequences of the religious question. Specifically, how the government may use it in decisions regarding schools and hospitals.
People are unsure what store the government bodies or other people put into it and what policies that could affect. Like, is it just academic information or does it derive policy directly?
Speaking about humanism, Flynn says their members would be made up of atheists, agnostics and others with their members encouraged to have,
“an open and rational mind in our belief systems, no superstition and no supernatural”
The 2011 census found that 270,000 people classified themselves as ‘No religion’.