Proposed changes to religious education will not stop evangelisation in schools
It is reported in the Irish Times that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has made a recommendation to remove Religious Education as a core curriculum area in the Primary School Curriculum. This will not protect minorities from the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church in the education system. At present the Religious Education Curriculum in place in the vast majority of publicly funded National Schools is the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland (approved by the Vatican).
Nothing will change on the ground unless the Education Act 1998 is amended to ensure that the curriculum is delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.
Religious Education is one of the core areas of the State Curriculum. The other core areas of the state curriculum were developed by the NCCA, but in the case of Religious Education, each patron body delivers their own programme.
As the vast majority of publicly funded National schools are under the control of the Catholic Church, it is Catholic Religious Education that is taught in schools.
The other six core areas of the State Curriculum are: Language; Mathematics; Social, Environmental and Scientific Eeducation (SESE); Arts Education; Physical Eeducation; and Social, Personal and Health education (SPHE).
All areas of the curriculum are integrated. This means that Catholic Religious Education is integrated into all other core subjects and it becomes impossible to opt out of it.
Religious Education in the Curriculum
There is no State curriculum for Religious Education. However, one of the specific aims of the Primary School Curriculum is:
“To enable children to develop spiritual, moral and religious values.” Page 34
In the main, this specific aim is achieved through Catholic Religious Education, as the Church has control over the vast majority of schools in Ireland. The State ‘provides for’ the education of minorities in schools with a Catholic ethos, and that is not going to change anytime soon.
Telling parents to send their children to other schools is nonsense. The figures simply do not support this, and the State is not going to fund alternative schools in every town and village in the country. Segregating children into different school because of their religious or philosophical backgrounds is not in the common good.
This leaves the Catholic Church in a position whereby they have control over the teaching of morals to the majority of children regardless of their religious or nonreligious backgrounds. Moral values are taught through the Catholic religion, even though the Constitution obliges the state to ensure that all children receive a basic moral education, not a basic moral education based on Catholic values.
Constitutional rights of all parents
The Constitution also obliges the State to respect the inalienable rights of all parents to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. At present, the State enables the Catholic Church to evangelise all children, regardless of their religious or philosophical backgrounds. This undermines religious liberty and the rights of all parents to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.
The Primary School Curriculum (page 58) states:-
In seeking to develop the full potential of the individual, the curriculum takes into account the child’s affective, aesthetic, spiritual, moral and religious needs. The spiritual dimension is a fundamental aspect of individual experience, and its religious and cultural expression is an inextricable part of Irish culture and history. Religious education specifically enables the child to develop spiritual and moral values and to come to a knowledge of God.”
This is one of the ways that the Catholic Church evangelises. The very purpose of publicly funded National Schools with a Catholic ethos is to evangelise. Schools fit into the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church, and this Republic enables them to achieve that mission.
This is not just about atheist, secular and religious minorities opting out of Catholic Religious Education. As a matter of conscience, not all Catholics believe in everything that their Church teaches. Regardless of this, the Church is still evangelising their children into all aspects of the moral values of the Catholic religion.
This undermines parental rights and the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. It is the institution of the Catholic Church that the state is enabling, while failing to protect the individual rights of parents and their children.
Teachers may also need to pre-evangelise
“For many children, the curriculum of Religious Education in the Catholic Primary school supports their catechetical education and ongoing initiation as baptised Christians (GDC, 51; SGN 102, 152).
Some baptised Catholics may not have been fully evangelised and other children may be preparing for Baptism (SGN 32). As a result, teachers may need to integrate approaches to pre-evangelisation, evangelisation and catechesis at different times for different pupils in the Catholic school.”(page14)
“The curriculum has been written in conformity to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in accordance with the vision outlined in Share the Good News: Nationals Directory for Catechesis in Ireland”(page 9)
Religious Integrated Curriculum
The core areas of the Primary school curriculum are all integrated. This means that Religious Education is integrated into the other core subject areas of the State Curriculum in the vast majority of schools.
Introduction to the Primary School Curriculum (page 16):-
“For the young child, the distinctions between subjects are not relevant: what is more important is that he or she experiences a coherent learning process that accommodates a variety of elements. It is important, therefore, to make connections between learning in different subjects. As they mature, integration gives children’s learning a broader and richer perspective, emphasises the interconnectedness of knowledge and ideas and reinforces the learning process.”
It is impossible for minorities to opt out of a religious integrated curriculum. It is one thing to opt out of a specific religious instruction class, but quite another thing to opt out of religion that is integrated into the other core areas of the State Curriculum.
The Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland (page 19) states that:-
“This Catholic Religious Education curriculum is structured in a manner that correlates with the rest of the primary school curriculum in the Republic of Ireland. The curriculum model chosen provides teachers with a curriculum formula similar to the other six areas of the primary school curriculum in order to facilitate educational planning and integration with other areas of the curriculum.”
Some of the Desired Outcomes of the Catholic Religious Education curriculum are (page 31):-
Children will, in a way appropriate to age, maturity, and faith development.
come to know God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Spirit
Value self as loved and gifted by God
become aware of the religious, spiritual and moral dimensions of their own being
come to a knowledge and understanding of the truths about human life, its origins and purpose as revealed by God and taught by the Church
develop virtue, personal and social responsibility, ecological consciousness and the ability to act in accordance with an informed conscience when making moral decisions as a child.
There is no doubt that the State is enabling the Catholic Church to evangelise minorities, and also Catholic parents who do not agree with all the teachings of the Church. The State is failing in its Constitutional duty to respect the inalienable rights of all parents. As it stands now the Primary School Curriculum is a reflection of the grip that the Catholic Church has over our education system in this Republic.
The State is failing in its Constitutional duty to respect the inalienable rights of all parents. As it stands now, the Primary School Curriculum is a reflection of the grip that the Catholic Church has over our education system in this Republic.
Impossible to opt out of religious integrated curriculum
These are the other core areas of the state curriculum, The other six core areas of the State Curriculum are, Language; Mathematics; Social environmental and scientific education (SESE); Arts education; Physical education; and Social, personal and health education (SPHE).
Try opting your child out of religion that is integrated into the other core areas of the curriculum. Schools in Ireland are not legally obliged to inform parents exactly where they are integrating religion into the state curriculum. This leaves parents in the position that they cannot ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.
Amending Education Act 1998 to protect the rights of all
In order to protect the rights of all parents and promote the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, the Education Act 1998 needs to be amended. Removing Religious Education as a core subject will not stop the Catholic Church from evangelising the children of minorities and undermining parental rights. The Education Act 1998 obliges all Boards of Management to uphold the Characteristic Spirit (ethos) of the Patron. It is part of the ethos of the Catholic Church to integrate religion
The Education Act 1998 obliges all Boards of Management to uphold the Characteristic Spirit (ethos) of the Patron. It is part of the ethos of the Catholic Church to integrate religion into all subjects in the curriculum. That will not change, even if Religious Education is removed as a core subject.
The only way to protect the rights of all is to implement the Recommendation from the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission to amend the Education Act 1998 to ensure that the curriculum is delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. It is well beyond time that the State moved to protect these basic rights in our Republic.