NCCA relegates to a footnote “faith formation alongside teaching the State syllabus”

In a Background Paper and Brief for the Review of Junior Cycle Religious Education, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has relegated one of the main human rights issues with regard to the State Religious Education course to a footnote on page 9 of a 47-page document.

In that footnote, the NCCA reveals that there is Catholic faith formation taking place alongside the State Religious Education course that is supposed to be for all religions and none. In practical terms, this means that both are happening at the same time, as they are not separately timetabled. This combined course is not delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, which is a General Principle of the European Court in relation to the rights of parents and their children in the education system.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is not only disregarding the human rights of minorities in Ireland, but is now actively undermining them. Why would you ignore a significant human rights principle, and only put the fact that faith formation is taking place in the footnotes of a 47-page Document?

The NCCA has recently called for Submissions in relation to a review of the second level State Religious Education course. This course is an exam subject at Junior and Leaving Certificate and supposed to be for pupils of all religions and none. Atheist Ireland has been campaigning against this State RE course for years, because it does not meet human rights standards and many schools make it compulsory.

In the vast majority of second level schools in Ireland, the State Religious Education course is combined with the Guidelines for the faith formation and development of Catholic students.

The footnote on page 9 of the NCCA Background Paper and Brief states that:

“Within faith-based schools, Guidelines were developed to enable teachers to teach for religion and so continue to engage in faith formation, alongside teaching the State syllabus. See for example, Irish Bishops Conference, Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students: Junior Certificate Religious Education Syllabus (Dublin, Veritas, 1999)”

Here is an extract from those Guidelines:

It is not only denominational schools that continue to engage in faith formation, but also ETB schools and colleges. This includes Community Schools, Designated Community Colleges and also Non-Designated Community Colleges. Nearly all schools in Ireland teach Catholic faith formation alongside the State Religious Education course at second level. Even the footnote does not give a correct picture of what is happening on the ground in the vast majority of second level schools.

This issue with regard to faith formation in the State Religion course was highlighted in the recent documents that Atheist Ireland got from Tipperary Education and Training Board. The FOI Documents clearly show that Catholic faith formation takes place during the State religion course in a Non-Designated Community College. You can read about that here.

Many schools are making this State religion course compulsory or a core subject. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, a statutory body that is obliged to protect the human rights of its members, staff, and the persons to whom it provides services (Section 42 (c) of the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission Act 2014), has decided to relegate this issue to a footnote in a 47-page document seeking Submissions on a Review of the State Religious Education Course.

The State Religious Education course is simply not inclusive and open to all religions and none. It is Catholic faith formation. The Catholic Church has control over the hiring of teachers to deliver this course, and also sends in Diocesan Advisors to all schools, including ETB schools and colleges, to ensure that it is delivered according to the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We have a State Religious Education course, an exam subject, which is only suitable for the children from Catholic families. That is religious discrimination and a breach of human rights.

Atheist Ireland will, of course, be making a Submission and we will also be writing to the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission about the failure of the NCCA to protect the human rights of minorities under (Section 42 (c) IHREC Act).

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