Opting out of religion is a condition of state funding of schools
According to an article in the Irish Catholic, the Iona Institute has said that removing religious education as a compulsory subject in schools would undermine the rights of parents. This was also a perspective echoed by the theology department of Mary Immaculate College (teacher training college). The Iona Institute is a registered charity. It exists to promote religion.
The Article in the Irish Catholic states that:-
“The issue of parental rights, Dr Finegan pointed out, also touched on recent calls, led by Atheist Ireland, for religious education to be removed completely as a compulsory subject at secondary level.
“The goal of removing religion and faith from all schools is completely misguided,” he said. “Parents have a right to educate their children according to their own religious convictions, and this includes the right to choose schools that give expression to the faith they wish to pass on.” Removing religious education he said “attacks the rights of parents who want a faith education for their children”.
This was a perspective echoed by Fr Eugene Duffy, of the theology department at Mary Immaculate College. Parents’ rights need to be respected,” he told this newspaper. “If they choose to send their children to faith-based schools this needs to be recognised.”
Referring to the campaign by Atheist Ireland, which has received backing from some in the Evangelical and Muslim communities, Fr Duffy warned that “there is no neutral ground to which we can all migrate” as any alternative, even secular, to religious education, is bound to be fraught with inherent biases.”
It really is difficult to understand where these people are coming from. Surely removing religion as a compulsory subject would protect the rights of parents, not undermine them. Opting out of religion is a requirement of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. Why on earth do they believe that compulsory religion protects the rights of parents? How does forcing all students to take religion uphold the rights of parents and protects the ethos of a school?
Opting out of religion is a requirement of the Constitution, the Education Act 1998 and the European Convention as well as all other UN treaties. It is a condition of state funding. The Constitution envisages minorities attending state funded schools that have religious education. That is why there is an opt out.
There is simply no reason why students cannot choose another subject if they have a right to opt out of religion, especially when it is a condition of state funding.
Parents do not have a choice of education for their children. Nearly all primary schools are run by religious patrons, and at second level all schools including the ETBs have religion classes. The European Court in the Louise O’Keeffe case found that there was no choice in reality.
Why do religious bodies such as the Iona Institute and Mary Immaculate College want publicly funded schools to deny parents the right to choose to opt out of religion? It is time that the State did something to protect the rights of all parents and their children in the education system. Ceding control to private religious bodies has undermined the rights of parents and the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief.