Catholic Church again tries to blur distinction between religious education and religious instruction

In a recent article by Emma O’Kelly from RTE, Fr Paul Connell has said that the recent directive to ETB secondary schools, issued by the Department, has mistakenly equated religious education with religious instruction.

Fr. Connell, who is the head of the organisation representing religious-run secondary schools, also said that while the directive did not apply to the religious-run schools, it would have a knock-on effect.

So the Catholic Church is not happy with giving practical application to the Constitutional and human right to opt out of religion, even in schools that are run directly by the State without a Catholic patron body.

It has for some time been trying to undermine that right, by claiming that it is not religious instruction that is taught, but religious education that is suitable for all religions and none.

The new Directive from the Department of Education on opting out in ETB schools states that:

“5. The NCCA developed curriculum for Religious Education currently also serves to meet the religious instruction requirements of the Catholic Church and schools can continue this arrangement for pupils whose parents elect for Catholic religious instruction or other parents who wish to follow the NCCA curriculum, and where that is the case it is important in the information provided to parents that they are made fully aware that the curriculum is not necessarily confined to learning about religions.”

There is no internationally agreed definition of what constitutes religious instruction and religious education. In Ireland, the Constitutional opt-out refers to religious instruction. The Education Act 1998 permits students to opt out of anything that is against their conscience and does not refer to religious instruction for very good reasons.

The reason that the Catholic Church insists on claiming that religious instruction is religious education is that it wants to continue to indoctrinate, and also to indoctrinate religious minorities and the non-religious by effectively making religion compulsory in all schools including ETBs. When the Catholic Church speaks about ‘inclusion’ it means that they will include you in their religion.

The Catholic Church has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs based on human rights. It has also campaigned against the introduction of the course at Primary Level on Education About Religions, Beliefs and Ethics that was recommended by the Forum on Patronage and pluralism. It has also stated that pluralism undermines its educational philosophy.

This extract is from the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland.

“Religious education in the Catholic primary school consists of two distinct but complementary dimensions, namely an educational dimension and a faith formation dimension.

The first dimension, most commonly referred to as curriculum religion, is focused on a form of religious education which focuses on the teachings and values of the Catholic Church.

It enables children to learn skills of spiritual, moral an religious literacy, which informs their minds and enhances their understanding of Christian faith, enabling them to develop an informed, mature response to God’s call to relationship.

The religious education outcomes in this curriculum reflect this first dimension.

The second dimension, faith formation, forms children’s characters in the virtues and values of Jesus, supports their faith development, and helps them to experience what it means to be a member of the Church community called to witness to Jesus in service of others.

In the context of the Catholic school, religious education is part of, and complemented by, other forms of the ministry of the Word (Catechesis, Liturgical Celebration, Social Justice Activities, etc).

The faith formation goals in this curriculum reflect this second dimension. However, the school as a whole has many opportunities to foster faith formation.”

As can be seen from this, the Catholic Church tries to blur the distinction between religious education (which or should be objective) and religious instruction (which includes Catholic faith formation, and is not up to human rights standards).

In the Council of Europe document ‘Signposts – Policy and Practice for Teaching about Religions and Non-religious World Views in Intercultural Education,’ it states:

“Turning specifically to the study of religion(s) in schools, the terminology of the subject, as used internationally, causes a great deal of confusion. What in the United States and the Republic of Ireland, to take two examples, is usually called “religious education” is in England often called “religious nurture” or “religious instruction”.

Religious Instruction is not legally defined in Ireland, and the opt-out in the Education Act permits parents to opt their children out of anything that is against their conscience. The second level religious education exam subject goes beyond teaching about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

Parents have every right to opt their children out of this course as it undermines their right to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. Choosing another subject means that the State is now moving to remove discrimination and barriers to inclusion in some publicly funded schools.

Now we have representatives from the very people (the Catholic Church) that have control over the Irish education system, complaining about parents opting their children out of religion in ETB schools and choosing another subject. We need law and policy to be strengthened to ensure that the Catholic Church cannot continue to undermine the rights of parents and their children in the Irish education system.

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