Atheist Ireland asks TUI to withdraw threat to undermine the rights of parents and children

In an article in the Irish Independent it is stated that teachers are threatening to pull the plug on a new Directive from the Department of Education, which permits students to opt out of religion and pick another subject.  It is very disappointing to see the TUI willing to undermine the hard-fought-for Constitutional and Human Rights of parents and their children.

It has taken us years of patient campaigning to get the State to recognise our Constitutional and human rights on this issue. We will strongly defend those rights now that the State has finally recognised them. We ask the TUI to stand with us in solidarity. The TUI is a trade union that includes an equality council that claims to oppose religious discrimination.

If the TUI goes ahead with this threat, Atheist Ireland will organise a campaign to empower parents to get their rights and to stop teachers and schools from undermining them. We will advise parents to take these schools to the Ombudsman for children, with the new Directive in their hand, and we will give them every assistance that we can.

If the TUI wants to boycott anything, it could boycott the unconstitutional policies that were in place before the new directive. It could refuse to teach what would in effect still be compulsory religion classes, put in place by ETB boards of management with the help of the Catholic Church, until the new Directive is fully implemented.

Constitutional rights of students and their parents

The article in the Independent states that:-

“Teachers are threatening to pull the plug on a move to allow pupils in almost half of second-level schools to be given an alternative to religion classes.”

The Article goes on to say that:-

“Ms Irwin said they had “no intention of infringing the constitutional rights of students and their parents and will not do so, but to ask us to draw water with a colander from a dry well is to ask for the miraculous”.

But teachers are already infringing on the Constitutional and human rights of students and their parents, both directly and indirectly. There are teachers on the ETB School Boards of Management that put in place the Religious Education policies that do infringe on the Constitutional and Human Rights of students and their parents.

There is no direction from any Minister for Education, past or present, that required ETB schools and colleges to force students into religion and not provide another subject.  There is no direction either to make religion a core subject in any school. ETB school boards, that included teachers, chose to do that themselves.

Catholic Church also involved

Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church was also involved. In one Document that Atheist Ireland got under FOI (FOITETB116)   from an ETB school in Tipperary the Catholic Diocesan Advisor told the school that:-

“Religious Education must never be considered as an optional extra to the school curriculum. For example, in Senior Cycle, Religious Education must never be positioned against other subjects as an option rather than as a core subject.”

We accept that not all teachers supported or agreed with these unconstitutional policies. But why did the TUI not refuse to implement those unconstitutional policies, given that they are now refusing to implement constitutional policies that would protect the rights of students and their parents?

The situation now is truly extraordinary.

We have State-run schools that have policies on religion that reflect the recommendations of Catholic Diocesan Advisors, and that infringe on the Constitutional and human rights of students and parents.

We have a Union, the TUI, that is intent on refusing to comply with a new Directive that gives practical application to the Constitutional and human right to opt out of religion.

The reason that we needed a Directive is ETB boards of management, that included teachers, decided (along with the Catholic Church) to undermine the rights of parents and their children and treat them as second-class citizens.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act.

In addition  ETB schools and Colleges are subject to Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act. This means that they are:-

42. (1) A public body shall, in the performance of its functions, have regard to the need to—

(a) eliminate discrimination,

(c) protect the human rights of its members, staff and the persons to whom it provides services.

The ETBs have not said that they will not implement the Directive from the Minister on opting out of Religion. It is the TUI that have said this on behalf of Teachers.

Finally, the new Directive has not come out of nowhere.  From the Documents that Atheist Ireland got under FOI, it is clear the this has been an issue for quite a while, and the ETBs and the ETBI were very well aware of it.

It is a sad state of affairs where a Union is now positioning itself to refuse to implement a Directive that minorities have fought so hard for years to achieve.

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