Atheist Ireland will help parents to resist TUI attempts to undermine directive on religious education

Last February the Department of Education issued a new Circular Letter on religion in Education and Training Board schools and colleges. It gives students and parents the right to choose another timetabled curriculum subject instead of religion.

The Teachers Union of Ireland has been trying to undermine the implementation of this Directive. If the TUI continues to do this, Atheist Ireland will strongly assist students and parents in vindicating their rights.

Atheist Ireland welcomed this Circular Letter, as it put the rights and wishes of parents and their children first. It is a sensible and workable approach to dealing with the issue of religious education in schools. The Circular Letter obliges every ETB school and college to find out, and implement, what parents want in relation to the religious education of their children.

Our meeting with Department of Education officials

Atheist Ireland, along with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Evangelical Alliance, has been campaigning to ensure that our rights and wishes are reflected in policy decisions in schools.

We see this Circular Letter on religion in ETB schools as a way forward, to ensure that ETB schools reflect our wishes in relation to the teaching of religion. It is also a recognition of the diversity of our schools, and it recognises that these schools are supposed to promote pluralism and be inclusive.

Our three organisations met with Department of Education officials in December 2017 to discuss the details of the proposed Circular Letter on religion in ETB schools. We went into that meeting well aware of the issues around the definition of religious instruction and religious education, and the State curriculum on religion (which is an exam subject at Junior and Leaving Certificate).

There is nothing that has been said in the months since the Circular Letter was issued from various sources that surprised us in any way. We were well aware of all the various objections that would arise and in particular in relation to the definition of religious instruction and religious education.

Comments by a TUI official at a recent conference

At a recent conference in Limerick, a TUI official seemed to imply that the State Religious Education course would not be subject to the guarantees given to students and parents in the Circular Letter.

Before writing this article we have gone over all our notes of our meeting with the Department of Education officials and they are clear. We sought clarity, and got clarity, on the following:

1) Students can opt out of religious instruction and choose another curriculum subject.

2) Students can opt out of the State Religious Education curriculum (exam subject) and choose another curriculum subject.

3) Students can opt out of combined religious instruction and the State Religious Education course and choose another curriculum subject.

The Department of Education officials outlined the above three scenarios that they envisaged could happen on the ground in schools. In all those three scenarios it was possible for parents to opt out their children and choose another curriculum subject.

The Department officials informed us that students can pick a curriculum subject depending on the resources of the school. It will not be a made-up subject. It could be social, it might be political and civil, but it will not be a made-up subject.

That issue around religious instruction and religious education was given clarity, as was the option to pick another curriculum subject in all three scenarios. We will take issue with any school that requires students to take up something that they have just made up, or refuse to offer a curriculum subject.

Atheist Ireland will help parents to vindicate their rights

If any parents need clarity or have issues with any ETB school or college in relation to this issue please contact us, and we will give every assistance necessary to ensure that this new policy is not undermined.

We are not surprised by any of the various objections to the Circular Letter. The only thing that did surprise us was that the Teachers Union of Ireland would seek to undermine our rights and wishes in relation to the teaching of our children.

We are aware that the TUI have sought a meeting with Department of Education officials, and we are hoping that they do not succeed in watering down this new policy.

We will also be seeking clarification from the Department of Education that this Circular Letter will not be watered down, that all three scenarios that were outlined to us stand, and that students can choose another curriculum subject in all cases.

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