How the State Religious Education course disrespects the rights of atheist and secular families

The new Directive from the Department of Education gives practical application to the Constitutional right to opt out of religion. Parents can opt out their children from Religious education/instruction and worship in all publicly funded schools.

One of the main aims of the State Religious Education course at second level is to contribute to the moral and spiritual development of all students.  The non-religious interpretation of life is merely acknowledged in passing, alongside materialism and fundamentalism, in a section of the course called ‘Challenges to faith’.

The state RE curriculum at second level seeks to contribute to the moral and spiritual development of the children of atheist and secular parents through religious education. This is not a neutral and objective stance and does not constitute ‘respect’ for the rights of atheist and secular parents. The aim of the State curriculum’s Religious Education course is to support a religious understanding of the world.

Right of Atheist and Secular parents to respect for their convictions

Contributing to the moral and spiritual education of the children of atheist and secular parents through religious education is clearly not in accordance with Article 42.1 of the Constitution. Can you imagine the outcry if the State was contributing to the moral and spiritual education of the children of religious parents through atheist education?

Article 42.1 of the Constitution obliges the State to respect the rights of all parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children. Article 42.3.1 of the Constitution states that:

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 Constitution obliges the State to ensure that children receive a certain minimum moral education. It does not oblige the State to ensure that all children receive a moral education based on a religious view of life. Unfortunately, this is the rationale behind the State Religious Education course. The rationale for this State RE course elevates the rights of religious parents over atheist and secular parents.

The word “spiritual” does not equate with religious

The Constitution does not mention the word ‘Spiritual’. There is no obligation on the State to ensure that all children receive a spiritual education.

While the word ‘spiritual’ doesn’t appear in the Constitution, it is in the Education Act, Section 9 (d) states that:

A recognised school shall provide education to students which is appropriate to their abilities and needs and, without prejudice to the generality of the forgoing, it shall use its available resources to –

Promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and provide health education for them in consulation with their parents, having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school,

The above section in the Education Act 1998 never intended to equate the word ‘spiritual’ with ‘religious’ and oblige schools to promote the ‘spiritual’ education of all students through religious education. The Dail debates in relation to this particular Section of the Education Act were clear: the word ‘spiritual’ does not mean religious.

The Department of Education also made clear to the NCCA Religious Education Course Committee that it did not equate the word “spiritual” with religion and this was recorded within NCCA Course Committee minutes on 30th January 1995:

It should be noted that at the meeting, the Department did not equate “spiritual” with “religious”

Conclusion

Despite the above, the State Religious Education course seeks to contribute to the moral and spiritual of children from atheist and secular families through religion. Many schools and religion teachers believe that they can force all students to take Religious Education. Religious Education was never meant to be compulsory, there is a Constitutional right to opt out of it.

The new Directive issued by the Department of Education gives practical application to the right to opt out of religion. It gives students the option to choose another subject and ensure that schools and teachers cannot interrogate or force students to take Religious Education.

It is time for schools and teachers to respect and support the Constitutional and Human Rights of parents and their children, instead of seeking ways of undermining these rights.

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