The Constitutional right to opt out of the State religion course

ETB schools are wrongly telling students that they cannot opt out of the State religious education course at second level, and are wrongly trying to justify that by referring to a misleading clarification of a directive from the Department of Education.

In February last year the Department told ETB schools that they had to ask parents if their children wanted to attend religious instruction classes, and that they must give an alternative subject to students who do not choose to do religion.

This directive was based on the rights of parents and students in Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, and Section 30 of the Education Act 1998. Atheist Ireland had been lobbying for this development for years.

After counter-lobbying by the Catholic Church, the TUI, and the NCCA, the Department revised that directive in October. They said that this new rule only applies to religious instruction classes that are “in line with the requirements of any one religious denomination”.

The Department said that the State course in religion is intended for students of all faith backgrounds and none, that this “ensures that withdrawal does not arise” and that the directive to ask parents about their preferences “is no longer necessary”.

But the Department has since confirmed to Atheist Ireland that this does not change the Constitutional right to opt out of any religious instruction class, and that the word ‘instruction’ in the Education Act refers simply to the teaching of any subject.

So ETB schools are wrong to tell students that they cannot opt out of the State religion course.

If any school, ETB or otherwise, tries to force a student into studying the NCCA course in religious education, parents and students should tell that school that it is unconstitutional, and contrary to the Education Act, for any school to force students into any course that is contrary to their conscience.

Atheist Ireland will this week publish a comprehensive report on how ETB schools breach the Constitutional and human rights of students and parents in religion classes.

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