SIXTY years ago this month, the Angelus was first broadcast on Radio Éireann at the request of then Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid.
When the television station opened in the early 1960s, the practice was further extended to include visuals to accompany the sound of the bell tolling.
The practice has been a constant source of debate as to whether the state broadcaster should broadcast, twice daily, a single religious expression of devotion, specific to one religion, to the exclusion of all others.
For example, former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble once famously characterised Ireland as the only country in Europe where the six o’clock news begins at one minute past the hour.
Acknowledging the 60th anniversary of the Angelus on RTÉ, chairman of Atheist Ireland, Michael Nugent, said the Angelus has no place in a modern pluralist Ireland and despite changes rebranding it as a pause for reflection, the Angelus amounted to a free advert for the Catholic Church.
“If RTÉ was to broadcast a minute of atheist propaganda at prime time every day, most people would intuitively realise that this would be inappropriate. And the problem would be made worse by illustrating atheist propaganda with religious images.
“In a religious state, the state broadcasting system would be promoting religion. In an atheist state, the state broadcasting system would be promoting atheism. In a secular state, it would do neither, and that is what Atheist Ireland wants to see happen,” he said.
However, a spokesman for RTÉ pointed out that despite a “low level” campaign to discontinue the Angelus, its Religious Programmes department has not received a single complaint in recent times about the broadcast from other faiths.
“The view has been taken that the broadcast of the Angelus provides an important space for reflection in our schedules for a significant proportion of our audience. It appears that its broadcast is an issue only for a quite small number of people. In these circumstances and in the context of an overall religious programming policy which is accommodating diversity our plans are to continue broadcasting the Angelus,” he said.
RTÉ also pointed out that support for the continuation of the broadcast tradition has been expressed by the secretary of the Clonskeagh Mosque in Dublin, by the outgoing Chief Rabbi and by the Church of Ireland broadcast committee.
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