If religion should not determine health and social policy, it should not determine education policy either
In a recent tweet the Minister for Health, Simon Harris has said that “Religion plays an important role for many on an individual basis – but it will not determine health and social policy in our country any more. Please get that.”
Please just make it stop! Increasing access to & availability of contraception is and will remain public health policy. Religion plays an important role for many on an individual basis – but it will not determine health and social policy in our country any more. Please get that. https://t.co/BMwIL4fNEE
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) August 5, 2018
We welcome this statement, and we hope that Minister Harris will now also ask the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton to cease promoting the moral education of all children through religion.
For years, atheist and secular parents have had to deal with this State policy despite their conscientious objections. Opting out of the policy is impossible. Parents are left dealing with an education system that does not respect and protect their right to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.
Section 9 (b) of the Education Act 1998 obliges all recognised schools to follow the curriculum as prescribed by the Minister. In the Introduction to the Primary School Curriculum, it outlines that the policy of the curriculum is to promote morals through religions:
In seeking to develop the full potential of the individual, the curriculum takes into account the child’s affective, aesthetic, spiritual, moral and religious needs. The spiritual dimension is a fundamental aspect of individual experience, and its religious and cultural expression is an inextricable part of Irish culture and history. Religious education specifically enables the child to develop spiritual and moral values and to come to a knowledge of God.
The Religious Education course at second level, an exam subject at Junior and Leaving Certificate level, seeks to contribute to the moral and spiritual development of all students through religion. This course was never meant to be objective, critical and pluralistic. It is not an objective course about religions and beliefs in line with human rights principles.
The NCCA is about to introduce a new specification for this course, where the policy of the State to contribute to the values of all children through religion is still in place.
The aim of the new specification for the State Religious Education Course states that:
Religious Education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world. It aims to develop the students’ ability to examine questions of meaning, purpose and relationships, to help students understand, respect and appreciate people’s expression of their beliefs, and to facilitate dialogue and reflection on the diversity of beliefs and values that inform responsible decision-making and ways of living.
If parents seek to opt their children out of this course, no other subject is provided and students are left sitting at the back of the class.
New Directive for ETB schools undermined
In February this year the Minister of Education, Richard Bruton introduced a New Circular Letter that obliged ETB schools to offer students another subject if they opted out of this subject. When we met the Department of Education in December 2017, they confirmed to us that students that opted out of this course could pick another subject.
Since that time the Catholic Bishops have lobbied the Dept of Education, to ensure that students that seek to opt out of this course on conscientious grounds are not offered another subject. Disgracefully, the TUI has supported this position by the Bishops.
The reason for this is that the Catholic Bishops want to continue to ensure that the moral education of all children is delivered through religion, and that they can continue to use the State course on religion as a vehicle to evangelise.
As you can see, the Catholic Bishops still have sway over the education of all children in the Irish education system, because the State has a policy to promote the moral education of all children through religion.
If the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, is serious about religion not determining health and social policy in our country any more, then he should ensure that the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton stops supporting policies that contribute to the moral education of all children in the education system through religion.