How the State allows the Catholic Church to use the NCCA Religious Education course as a vehicle to evangelise

The Minister for Education has reversed a Circular Letter issued last February that permitted students to opt out of religion in ETB (State) schools and choose another subject.

The reversal was due to the lobbying of the Catholic Church, Religion Teachers, The Association of Trustees of Catholic schools, The ETBI and some ETBS, as well as the Religion Teachers Association. The Teachers Union of Ireland also complained about the Circular Letter, and told teachers not to implement it.

Emma O’Kelly from RTE has published a good article on why the Department of Education u-turned on the Circular Letter.

Why schools should not make religious instruction mandatory

Based on the new Circular Letter, the Department of Education seems to view Religious Instruction as instruction in a particular religion. It seems to view instruction in a number of different religions as Religious Education, and it refers to this as teaching about religions.

By using these flawed definitions, it says that the NCCA Religious Education course is suitable for students of all religions and none, and therefore schools can make it mandatory.

But it really doesn’t matter to the nonreligious whether a course is instruction in one religion or in all religions: it is still religious instruction, and indoctrination into religion over nonreligious convictions. It is not an objective course, and it was never meant to be.

One of the main aims of the NCCA religious Education course is to contribute to the moral and spiritual education of all students through religion. This is not respectful of the philosophical convictions of nonreligious parents.

It is difficult to understand why the Minister, Richard Bruton, wants to continue to promote the morals of nonreligious families through religion, and to make this course mandatory, when nonreligious parents (and some religious minorities) have a conscientious objection to it and therefore a right to opt out of it.

How the Catholic Church uses the NCCA Religious Education course to evangelise

This Circular Letter only applies to ETB schools. However, in some schools with a Catholic ethos, they already force students into religion by claiming it is a course ABOUT religions. The Catholic Church has always used the NCCA Religious Education course as a vehicle to evangelise. They see this as their mission.

If the Department of Education allows ETB schools to make the NCCA Religious Education course mandatory, then schools with a Catholic ethos will also continue to force all students into it.

One newly opened Catholic school (Le Cheile Secondary School, Tyrelstown in Dublin 15) is already forcing students into this course, and claiming that it is about religions. They are promoting the same view as the Minister and the Department of Education.

The Taoiseach along with the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin attended the opening of this school, and an Irish Times article in August said that “with 67 nationalities, is this Ireland’s most diverse school“. This school forces students into religion and indoctrinates them.

How Le Cheile secondary school uses the same arguments as the Department

The Principal and their Trustees of Le Cheile school view indoctrination/religious instruction in the same way as the Minister and the Department of Education do, as instruction into a particular religion.

They do not offer any facility to opt out of Religious Education, because they claim that they focus on learning about religion and nonreligious viewpoints, and claim they do not offer religious instruction.

How the ethos of Le Cheile Trust contradicts this 

However, the ethos of their Trustees  (Le Cheile Trust), which Le Cheile School must legally uphold (S. 15 Education Act), gives a clearer picture of the indoctrination that takes place in the school. It shows that they are not by a long shot teaching ABOUT religions and nonreligious viewpoints.

The Trustees say the following about the Aims of Religious Education in the School:

  • (Some students) may come to the school with limited knowledge of the Catholic tradition, or with low levels of familiarity of Catholic liturgy and rituals. In this situation, the school acts in an evangelisation role.
  • Others students may come to the school with limited ability to engage with the spiritual. The general programme of the school will be considered as a form of pre-evangelisation.

And they describe the various participants in this process as follows:

  • The teachers of Religious Education, who ensure the high standard and effective delivery of Religious Education in the school and who are charged in a particular way with the task of faith formation and the spiritual development of the pupils.
  • The Chaplain, who assists in the faith development and spiritual formation for the students.
  • Pastoral care personnel, who provide support and guidance for the students.
  • Parents and guardians, who support the ethos of the school and facilitate the faith formation of their children.
  • The students, who actively participate in the RE programme as a key element of their holistic education.

Le Cheile policy on Good Practice in Religious Education/Chaplaincy

The policy on Good Practice in RE/Chaplaincy in Le Chéile schools includes:

  • All important occasions celebrated with a Mass/liturgy.
  • A moment of prayer every day over the school intercom, generally 10 minutes into the first class.
  • The chapel is used consistently throughout the year. As many opportunities as possible taken to mark the various events of the liturgical year, e.g. carol service at Christmas/ Distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday and a Stations of the Cross at Easter.
  • Variety of pastoral care projects, e.g. peer to peer mentoring.
  • A Meditation Room for students to pray and reflect in.
  • A range of liturgical events throughout the year.
  • Every year in the school has an annual retreat.
  • Range of extra-apostolic activities, e.g. a fundraiser for the Walk in My Shoes campaign as part of World Mental Health day.
  • A Graduation Mass for the sixth years.
  • A Commission Service for Senior Staff at the start of the year, e.g. a first year student presents the first year head with a candle.
  • A Weekly prayer organised by the chaplain at the Whole School Assembly.
  • A collection for Saint Vincent de Paul before Christmas and for Trocaire during Lent.
  • A May altar during May and a small procession for our Lady at an assembly.
  • The Liturgical year is reflected in Assemblies, e.g. a focus on the missions in October, Catholic School Week in January, Saint Brigid in February, Saint Patrick in March etc.
  • The chaplain is a member of the pastoral care team and has a ‘pastoral accompaniment’ role in the school – as part of an integrated pastoral care strategy.
  • That most Christian of events the Nativity Play includes an element of inclusivity – with the ‘people who visited Jesus from different countries’ – so if there is a student from India in the school – she/he is one of the visitors to Jesus and she wears ‘native’ Indian dress etc.
  • A parish prayer partner – link in with the parish so that someone with no children doing the Leaving Cert prays sends a card to the student wishing them well and saying they will be praying for them during the exams a few days before the exam starts.
  • Podcasts of services in the school.

The mission of evangelisation takes precedence over the conscience of parents and their children

In Ireland, Church and State refer to this type of evangelisation as ‘teaching about religion and nonreligious viewpoints’. They pursue an aim of indoctrination by not respecting the philosophical convictions of nonreligious families, atheists, and secularists.

The new Circular Letter to clarify the opt-out goes a long way to ensure that all schools in Ireland, ETB and schools with a Catholic ethos, will continue to force students into religion classes against the conscientious objections of their parents.

The Minister and the Department of Education want to continue to contribute to the moral and spiritual education of children from atheist and secular families through religion, and to assist the Catholic church in indoctrinating our children against our conscientious objections.

Respecting the rights of atheist and secular parents who object on conscientious grounds takes second place to the mission of evangelisation that is part of the ethos of the Catholic Church, as demonstrated by Le Cheile school and its trustees, Le Cheile Trust.

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