Church and State; Undermining the human rights of parents and their children

There are basic human rights principles in relation to the teaching of religion in schools. The human rights Guiding Principle is that religion must be delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic in order to ensure respect for parents’ religious or philosophical convictions. If the teaching of religion is not objective, critical and pluralistic the European Court has said that it is “pursuing an aim of indoctrination by not respecting parents convictions”.

If the teaching of religion is not objective, critical and pluralistic then parents have a right to opt out their children. The critical thing to take on board here is that the Catholic Church objects to this teaching on fundamental grounds. They don’t want this principle in schools with a Catholic ethos, state schools or ETB Community National Schools. The Catholic Church believes that teaching religion in an objective manner will put at risk the faith of children from Catholic families. The Church would never hand over any school to the ETB if it did not reflect their educational philosophy.

If the Catholic Church is handing over schools to the ETB to open up Community National Schools it is because the CNS teaches religion in accordance with the rules of the Catholic Church. In order to comply with the rules of the Catholic Church the language in relation to how religion is taught in Irish schools is being manipulated.

The various terms used in relation to the teaching of religion and beliefs in Irish schools are as follows:-

  • Religious instruction
  • Religious education
  • Faith formation
  • Belief nurturing
  • Belief specific
  • Celebrating religion
  • Education about religions and beliefs

 

You can appreciate manipulating the terms used for how religion is taught in schools means that parents are not aware of the fact that this teaching is not objective, critical and pluralistic and in compliance with human rights law. Educating about Religion and Beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner is the only category that would comply with human rights and ensure respect for all parents’ religious and philosophical convictions.

Manipulating language in relation to the teaching of religion in schools means that the Catholic Church can continue to have control over teacher training to ensure that only teachers approved by them teach the children from Catholic families. It also means that they can continue to evangelise all children contrary to their parents convictions. What can you say about the Education & Training Boards? Is there nobody in that organisation that will stand up for the human rights of parents and their children who simply want access to a human rights based education for their children.

A recent Dail Response by the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton to a  question from Richard Boyd Barrett will give you an idea of how the use of language is being used to ensure that the teaching of religion in Irish schools is in compliance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and not human rights law.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked:-

47. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for religious education in the community national schools in view of the reports that 11 out of 13 of them are opting out of the Goodness Me, Goodness You programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24775/17]”

The Response of the Minister for Education Richard Bruton:-

“Community National Schools are multi-denominational schools which provide for belief nurturing during the school day. There are eleven such schools in existence at present. They aim to accommodate parents who wish to have their children learn about different faiths and beliefs while at the same time nurturing children in their own beliefs.

‘Goodness Me, Goodness You’ (GMGY) is the patron’s programme that underpins the characteristic spirit of CNS schools. GMGY is a common programme suitable for pupils of all faiths and beliefs and none.

In Junior Infants to 2nd Class, the children follow the GMGY programme together for the majority of the school year, exploring common themes. There is a belief-specific aspect of the programme. In the junior classes only, children have been grouped for a four week period during GMGY time according to their faith or belief tradition, in line with the wishes of their parents. Lesson content was designed specifically for each grouping. In 3rd to 6th class, children remain in their class groups throughout the year and learn about different faiths and religions together. Belief-specific teaching is integrated into GMGY for these classes.

The manner in which schools deliver belief-specific teaching in Junior Infants to 2nd class has evolved. The majority of CNS schools no longer group children according to their beliefs for the four week period. Instead, these schools have integrated belief-specific teaching so that all children learn about different religions and beliefs together and all class groups remain together throughout. However, they continue to follow the GMGY programme. I have previously indicated that I see merit in this approach.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is to commence a review of the GMGY programme for Junior Infants to 2nd class, starting in September 2017. As part of that review, the belief-specific teaching aspect of the programme will be examined. The Education and Training Boards, as patrons, are also looking at how GMGY can be delivered on the ground in the most inclusive fashion possible. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these processes.”

What an absolute load of nonsense, it really is a disgrace for any Minister for Education to give such an answer. Belief nurturing and belief specific education is not objective, critical and pluralistic. Integrating this into learning about religions and beliefs is not objective.   Parents have a right to opt their children out of this teaching and there is case law at the European Court that reflects this. Pretending that it is suitable for all religions and none is undermining the rights of parents and their children. Not once does the Minister say that parents have a right to opt their children out of this type of education because it is not objective and in accordance with human rights law. Has he not read the Recommendations of the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission?

It is totally unfair to parents and their children to use language in relation to the teaching of religion that is clearly defined.  The very reason that the European Court has defined the Guiding Principles in its case law is because of the type of nonsense answer to a specific question about the teaching of religion in schools that the Minister gave. Again the reason for the manipulation of language in relation to religion in schools is to ensure that religion is taught according to the educational philosophy of the Catholic Church. Richard Bruton is not about to challenge the Catholic church and is actually facilitating the undermining of the rights of parents and their children in Irish schools.

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