ERB and Ethics: do we now need to opt our children out of this new subject?

The introduction of a new course in Primary Schools about Religions, Beliefs and Ethics has the potential to undermine further the Constitutional and Human Rights of minorities. The legal framework is not in place that would ensure that the course is delivered in accordance with human rights so that the rights of all parents and their children will be guaranteed and respected.

This new course has the potential to make things worse for us, not better, given the fact that the Irish State supports religious discrimination against minorities in the education system. If the Education Act 1998 is not amended to protect reflect the Constitutional and Human Rights of minorities then we must continue to campaign to ensure that we can opt out children of this new subject.

Forum on Patronage says State is responsible

The Recommendation from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism regarding the introduction of Religions, Beliefs and Ethics reads as follows:

“The Advisory Group is of the view that all children have the right to receive education in ERB and Ethics, and the State has the responsibility to ensure that this is provided.

The Advisory Group requests that the NCCA, with assistance from the partners and mindful of existing programmes, should develop curriculum and teacher guidelines for ERB and Ethics, in line with the Toledo Principles85, the RedCo86, and the Cambridge Primary Review87.

The Advisory Group has a particular concern for those children who do not participate in religious programmes in denominational schools. They may go through their primary schooling without any ERB and ethical education. For these children, the proposed programmes in ERB and Ethics are of central importance.

For other children, where programmes, already in existence, provide for some ERB and Ethics, the proposed NCCA programmes can be supplementary and the amount of the new programmes provided may be flexible within existing timetable provision.

Each Patron Body will have a duty to examine its provision in this field in the light of the ERB and Ethics programmes and will need to satisfy the State Inspectorate that appropriate provision in this field is made available. The proposed ERB and Ethics programmes are in no sense intended to supplant faith formation education in denominational schools.

The Advisory Group does not see its role as being prescriptive about time allocation but urges consultation between patron bodies, NCCA and DES about appropriate time arrangements. “

It is clear from the Recommendation that the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism believes that all students have a right to an education about Religions, beliefs and ethics.

State has a constitutional responsibility

This Recommendation is a reflection of Article 42.3.2 of the Irish Constitution, which reads:

“The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social. “

The Irish State has failed in its Constitutional duty to ensure that all children get a basic moral education in schools, because it cedes control to the interests of private Patron bodies, who are nearly all religious.

In these schools, morals are taught through a particular religion so those children that attend their local publicly funded National school with a religious ethos must opt out of this teaching.

Diversity of schools will not solve the problem

The solution to this failure of the State to fulfill its Constitutional obligation cannot be in providing diversity of schools. The reason for this is that it cannot and will not provide a particular type of school for every family in the country. It is simply not going to happen so we must accept that diversity of school choice is not the solution to the state fulfilling its obligation under Article 42.3.2 of the Irish Constitution.

The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism stated this clearly:-

There are approximately 1,700 Stand Alone schools, outside urban areas, where the nearest school is approximately 3km away. There are approximately 310 schools where the nearest school is 5km away.

As has been stated, the inherited tradition of Irish school patronage has resulted in 96% of schools being denominational, most of these under Catholic patronage. As the Commission on School Accommodation pointed out, “The first objective of the DES must be that a school place is available to every child. Therefore, where there is only one school, A Stand Alone school, to serve a small population it is clear the provision to diversity through a choice of school under another patron is not an option. The wishes of parents as individuals need to be balanced against the common good.”

The solution to the State fulfilling its obligations under Article 42.3.2 of the Constitution is not in diversity of school provision because that simply cannot guarantee children access to their rights.

The Constitutional and Human Rights problem with providing ETB and Ethics to all students is that this subject can be delivered according to the ethos of the various patron bodies.

The Catholic Church objects to the teaching of Religion, beliefs and ethics in an objective, critical ad pluralistic manner. It is against their educational philosophy to teach this subject in this manner.

Solution proposed by Irish human Rights and Equality Commission

The Recommendation from the Forum on the ERB and Ethics Course is that the course be in line with the Toledo Guiding Principles. The Catholic Church has rejected these Guiding Principles and they were the only state out of 56 States to do so.

There is a Recommendation from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission that could solve the problem and ensure that the Constitutional and Human Rights of all students and their parents were guaranteed in the education system.

The Commission has Recommended that the Admission to (Schools) Bill be amended to:-

The Commission recommends that the new section 62(6) to be inserted into the Education Act should be amended to the effect that, in setting out the characteristic spirit and general objectives of the school, outside the specific context of faith formation and religious instruction which parents wish to avail of and where exemptions apply, regard shall be had to providing information in relation to religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination, in accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

Do we now need to opt our children out of this new subject?

Unless the above amendment from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is inserted into the new Admissions to Schools Bill making its way through the Oireachtas at present, then minorities will have no choice but to opt their children out of this course on ERB and ethics.

Opting our children out of religion is our Constitutional and Human Right, and we will be left with no choice to to exercise this right. Unfortunately it could mean that our children will be left sitting around in their publicly funded National schools for hours on end, while Church and State evangelise the rest of the population.

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