Atheist Ireland Submission to Catholic Schools Partnership on Catholic Schools in the Republic of Ireland – A Position Paper
Despite Bishop Murray recognising that the Constitutional Right to opt out of Religious Instruction classses in Catholic schools is not observed in practice there is nothing in this position paper that acknowledges this. Nor is there any suggestions on how the Constitutional Right to opt out of religion might be achieved in practice.
Submission to Catholic Schools Partnership on Catholic Schools in the Republic of Ireland – A Position Paper
1. The obligation on the Irish State under Article 42.4 is to ‘provide for’ free primary education. As the Irish State ‘provides for’ the education of minorities in Catholic Schools, Atheist Ireland welcomes the opportunity to make this Submission to the Catholic Schools Partnership.
2. The Education Policy of Atheist Ireland is based on the human right to be educated without being indoctrinated with religion, based on international human rights law. It should be noted that the Irish State informs both the UN and the Council of Europe that Catholic education respects the human rights of minorities. The Irish State also maintains that the Irish Education system fully complies with all its international obligations.
3. The UN Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations in 2008 (CCPR/C/IRL/CO/3)[i] stated:-
“22. The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education. (arts. 2, 18, 24, 26).
The State party should increase its efforts to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of the State party, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.”
Article 2 is Freedom from Discrimination, Article 18 Freedom of Conscience, Article 24 the Rights of the Child and Article 26 Equality before the Law.
4. Non-religious parents are coerced by force of circumstance to send their children to Catholic Schools as they simply have nowhere else to go. Educating children at home is not an option for many parents so for the non-religious it is a Catholic education or no education at all.
5. The religious integrated curriculum (ethos) that the UN refers to is protected by legislation, Section 15(2) (b) of the Education Act 1998. Because of this legislation non–religious parents cannot exempt their child from the elements of religion that is integrated into all the various subjects under the curriculum. Because of the integrated curriculum there are potential areas of all subjects that they could legitimately consider likely to give rise in their children to a conflict of allegiance between the school and their own values and therefore non-religious parents cannot guarantee that the education that their children receive is in conformity with their own convictions. Despite the guarantees under the Irish Constitution on parental rights, non-religious parents are denied basic human rights in Catholic Schools.
6. Catholic Education breaches the Human Rights of non-religious parents and children. It is not possible to on the one hand to breach the human rights of non-religious parents and then to maintain that Catholic education respects them at the same time.
7. On 22nd May 2009 Bishop Donal Murray, Chair of the Bishops’ Department of Catholic Education and Formation stated in a speech that:-
“The increasing number of pupils whose parents do not wish them to receive religious instruction that is designed for Catholic children can make the logistics of this difficult, but since the right is recognised in the Constitution, one would hope that the Government might make possible the conditions to enable it to be recognised in practice. This might require additional space, additional supervision, or the employment of part‐time teachers to provide instruction in the faith or values system of the families concerned[ii].”
8. Despite Bishop Murray recognising that the Constitutional Right to opt out of Religious instruction classes in Catholic Schools is not observed in practice there is nothing in this Position Paper that acknowledges this. Nor are there any suggestions on how the Constitutional Right to opt out of religion might be achieved in practice. The funding of Denominational schools under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution is conditional on minorities opting out of religious instruction class.
9. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination has recently raised concern with regard to Article 2 of the Covenant which obliges the State to take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists. Due to the ‘intersectionality’ between racial and religious discrimination Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act causes the segregation of children on the grounds of race as well as religion. (CERD/C/IRL/CO/3-4 – 10th March 2011)[iii].
“The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (CERD/C/IRL/CO/2) and notes with concern that the education system in the State party is still largely denominational and is mainly dominated by the Catholic Church. The Committee further notes that non-denominational or multi-denominational schools represent only a small percentage of the total and, regrets that, according to reports, there are not enough alternative schools, and students of the Catholic faith are favoured for enrolment into Catholic schools against students of other faiths in case of shortage of places. The Committee further expresses its regret that the provisions of the Equal Status Act give the power to schools to refuse to admit students to denominational schools on grounds of religion if it is deemed necessary to protect the ethos of the school (articles 2, 5(d)(vii) and 5(e)(v))
Recognising the ‘intersectionality’ between racial and religious discrimination, the Committee reiterates its previous concluding observations (CERD/C/IRL/CO/2) and recommends that the State party accelerates its efforts to establish alternative non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to amend the existing legislation that inhibits students from enrolling into a school because of their faith or belief. The Committee further recommends to the State party to encourage diversity and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs in the education system by monitoring incidents of discrimination on the basis of belief.”
10. If Catholic Schools respected diversity the United Nations Committee on the Eliminations of All Forms of Racial Discrimination would not be recommending that the State party accelerate its efforts to establish alternative non-denominational schools.
11. Freedom from discrimination is part of the human right to education. The prohibition on discrimination is subject to neither progressive realisation nor the availability of resources. It is an absolute right. (UN General Comment on Article 13 para 31 of the ICESC, The right to Education : 08/12/99. E/C.12/1999/10)[iv]. In Ireland the State ‘provides for’ the education of minorities in schools that can legally discriminate on the grounds of religion.
12. The Right to Respect for the philosophical convictions of parents under Article II of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights is an absolute one and not to be balanced against the rights of others or one which can be gradually achieved. Yet it is a human right that non-religious parents do not have in Catholic Schools.
13. The European Court of Human Rights has also linked the Right to Education under Article II of Protocol 1 of the European Convention with:-
Article 8 the right to respect for Family and Private Life,
Article 9 the right to Freedom of Conscience and
Article 10 the right to Freedom of Expression.
Article 14 of the European Convention forbids Discrimination and obliges the State to secure the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property birth or other status.
The legitimate interest of non-religious parents take second place to the interest of religious parents in Catholic schools despite the European Court finding that the duty of the State to “respect” was an absolute right rather than one that had to be balanced against the rights of other or which could be gradually achieved. (Campbell and Cosans v the United Kingdom  ECHR).
14. The term ‘respect’ for the religious and philosophical convictions of ALL parents under Article II of Protocol I of the European Convention on Human Rights means the following:-
“The verb “respect” means more than “acknowledge” or “take into account”. In addition to a primarily negative undertaking, it implies some positive obligation on the part of the State. The term “conviction”, taken on its own, is not synonymous with the words “opinions” and “ideas”. It denotes views that attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance (see Valsamis, pp. 2323-24, & 25 and 27, and Campbell and Cosans, pp. 16-17, & 36-37)”(para 84-c – General Principles Folgero v Norway ECHR 29th June 2007).
15. Catholic Religious Education does not respect the human rights of minorities as Catholic teaching requires that religion is integrated into the curriculum and the daily life of the schools. Minorities have a human right to opt out of Catholic religious education as it is not delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. It is simply impossible for non-religious parents to opt their children out of religion that is integrated into every subject and in the general milieu of the school.
16. The European Court of Human Rights has stated that:-
“The second sentence of Article 2 (P1-2) implies on the other hand that the State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner”[v].
17. The Religious Education that is integrated into the curriculum is not delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. This type of Religious Education fits into the Evangelising Mission of the Catholic Church[vi]. This simply does not constitute respect for minorities under human rights law. Minorities have a human right to opt out of any kind of evangelising while they are accessing their human right to education. Non-religious parents have a human right to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. This is very difficult to achieve when their children are subject to the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church.
“From the Christian community’s perspective, religious education and faith formation, though distinct, are always connected.”[vii]
18. If parents cannot opt their children out of the elements of faith formation that are integrated into the curriculum then this cannot be considered as anything else but indoctrination, disrespect for their philosophical convictions and consequently a breach of their fundamental human right to freedom of conscience.
19. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) have issued guidelines called the Toledo Guiding Principles[viii]. These Guidelines provide an overview of the human rights framework and legal issues to consider when developing curricula about religions in order to ensure that the freedom of thought, conscience and religion of all those touched by the process are respected.
20. Out of the 56 participating States in the OSCE the Holy See is the only one that has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles. Two United Nations experts and one from the Council of Europe contributed to this project[ix]. No other Church has rejected these Human Rights Guidelines on teaching religious education in schools.
21. Catholic Church teaching and human rights law are incompatible as it is Catholic Church teaching that religion must be integrated into all subjects even in state schools. It is also Catholic Church teaching that if religious education is limited to a presentation of the different religions, in a comparative and “neutral” way, it creates confusion or generates religious relativism or indifferentism. This teaching does not constitute ‘respect’ for religious minorities and the non-religious under human rights law. It cannot therefore be claimed that Catholic education is respectful of difference.
22. A Change of patron does not necessarily mean a change of ethos. There are nine Model Schools under the patronage of the Dept of Education. In 2008 the State informed the UN Human Rights Committee that five of these were Catholic and four Protestant. At second-level the courts have described Community Schools as denominational in character. Despite this they are referred to in Ireland as multi-denominational when they like Designated Community Colleges operate a specific religious ethos. Once any school operates a specific religious ethos they are religious schools where the non-religious are denied their basic human rights. In fact Community schools are either Protestant or Catholic and it is hard to understand how they can be referred to as multi-denominational.
23. On page 7 of the Position Paper it is claimed that the religious education in Catholic schools is philosophically justified, is based on well established educational principles and it fully respects the human rights of all involved.
Despite the concerns of the :-
UN Committee on the Eliminations of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2005,
the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006, the Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 2007 (Council of Europe),
the UN Human Rights Committee in 2008 and the UN CERD Committee again just last March there is no recognition in this Position Paper that there is any issue with the basic human rights of minorities and Catholic education. Nor is there any acceptance that Catholic education and human rights law are incompatible as Catholic education denies minorities their basic fundamental human rights.
[ii] Address Bishop Donal Murray, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick 22nd May 2009 page 10
[v] Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen, Denmark – 7th December 1976 ECHR
[vi] Circular letter from the Vatican 2009
[vii] Page 156 – Share the Good News – National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland.
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