New Catholic Guidelines yet again undermine the right to opt out of religion classes

In its recently updated Guidelines on the inclusion of other beliefs in Catholic second-level schools, the Catholic Church claims that Catholic schools do not teach religious instruction anymore.

The reason that the Church is claiming that Catholic schools don’t do religious instruction anymore is because of the recently commenced Section 62 7 (n) of the Schools Education (Admissions to Schools) Act.

This Section of the Act legally obliges schools in their Admission policies to inform parents about the arrangements the school has for parents who exercise their Constitutional for their children to not attend religious instruction.

The Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 states that:

(7) An admission policy shall—

(n) provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student, where the parent of that student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction at the school (which arrangements shall not result in a reduction in the school day in respect of the student concerned),

The Church wants to deny parents their right to opt their children out of religious instruction in order to continue to indoctrinate and evangelise. Their purpose is to rewrite the Constitutional right of parents by claiming that they don’t do religious instruction anymore.

Please ask your election candidates about opting your children out of religious instruction and accessing another subject. Ask them will they support the Constitutional rights of parents and students, and ensure that they are not undermined.

New Catholic Guidelines

The new Catholic Guidelines try to exclude parents from using their Constitutional right to not attend the NCCA religion course, by falsely claiming that it does not qualify as instruction:

 “When commenced, section 62(7)(n) of the Education Act 1998, as inserted by section 9 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, will require schools to provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student where the parent, or a student aged 18 or over, has requested that they attend the school without attending religious instruction. In terms of the school’s arrangements for the rights of parents/guardians and students over 18 years to withdraw from participation in religious instruction, it needs to be clearly stated that Catholic schools teaching the NCCA curricula are not offering religious instruction.

It is important to note that the NCCA curricula are written to encompass all beliefs; students are invited into dialogue with the Christian vision as well as with one another’s beliefs. There is no reason why students of different faiths or students with no religious belief in a Catholic school should not participate fully in this curriculum, whether the class is sitting the state examination or not. All parents should be made aware of the new Junior Cycle Religious Education specification (NCCA, 2019) which can be taught with students of all faiths and none.”(p15)

The new Guidelines accept that you can opt out of what they call Religious Education under the Education Act. But they say that parents have to ‘negotiate’ this with the school management, which breaches the right to privacy about your beliefs, and they say that the student may have to remain in the class while not participating.

“Withdrawal of students from Religious Education class needs to be negotiated with school management and hopefully addressed during their enrolment meeting. Parental concerns around religious instruction or the conversion of their child to Catholicism need to be addressed in a spirit of understanding, especially with parents of different beliefs. Some ways of addressing this could include:
* A member of the Religious Education team could be invited to present an outline of the RE specification or programme at an evening for the parents of incoming first years.
* The school could offer a copy of the RE textbook to parents to review at home if they are concerned about the content being covered in RE class.

While it is a parent’s right to withdraw their son or daughter from RE class, the supervision of the student can present the school with considerable logistical and supervision dilemmas. In cases such as this, a school should make it clear that they may not have capacity for the individual supervision of the student outside of the RE classroom due to the limitations of the Department of Education and Skill’s staff allocation to the school. Students who opt out of Religious Education may often have to remain in the classroom while not participating.”

You can opt out of any kind of religious teaching

This approach is inconsistent with Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. It doesn’t matter what type of religious teaching it is, or whether it is called religious instruction or religious education, the Constitutional right to not attend still applies. Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 is a reflection of the rights guaranteed under Article 44.2.4 and Article 42.1 of the Constitution.

The right under the Constitution belongs to parents and their children. It is not up to the NCCA, the Department of Education, the Catholic Church, the TUI, schools, or religion teachers to decide what type of religious teaching is suitable or not suitable for parents and their children.

Just because the Catholic Church, and the NCCA, and the outgoing Minister for Education Joe McHugh, claim that the course is suitable does not mean it is. They simply don’t get to decide on the conscience of parents and their children. That attitude is patronising and undermines parental rights under the Constitution.

Irish Constitution, Article 44.2.4 states that:-

  • Reachtaíocht lena gcuirtear cúnamh Stáit ar fáil do scoileanna ní cead idirdhealú a dhéanamh inti idir scoileanna atá faoi bhainistí aicmí creidimh seachas a chéile ná í do dhéanamh dochair do cheart aon linbh chun scoil a gheibheann airgead poiblí a fhreastal gan teagasc creidimh sa scoil sin a fhreastal.
  • Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The Irish language version takes legal precedence. ‘Teagasc creidimh’ means teaching religion, not teaching in accordance with the requirements of one religion. The Irish version speaks about students not attending religious teaching. Religious teaching is translated into ‘religious instruction’ in the English version of the Constitution. So you have the right to not attend religion classes of any kind.

Education Act 1998, Section 30.2(e)

  • The Minister (e) shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student.

Throughout the Education Act, the word ‘instruction’ is always used to mean simply the teaching of any subject on the curriculum. It could be history instruction, maths instruction etc. The opt-out in the Education Act Section 30 does not refer to ‘instruction’ but the conscience of parents. The reason for this is that the legislators had to ensure that parental rights are fully protected given the inalienable rights of parents under the Constitution. Again, you have the right to not attend religion classes of any kind.

Micheal Martin as Minister for Education

Just before Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act was commenced in 1999 the then Minister of Education, Micheal Martin was quite clear about the rights of parents under Section 30 of the Education Act 1998.

The then Minister was asked in the Dail about students who do not wish to participate in religious knowledge classes and where the school authorities require all pupils to either study one or a variety of religions and his views in relation to the best course of action to be taken in this situation. Micheal Martin stated that:

“These constitutional guarantees are supported by statutory provisions enacted both before and after the adoption of the Constitution. Section 7 of the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1878, provides for the withholding of State funding from schools where pupils receive religious instruction which has not been sanctioned by the parents or guardians of a pupil. This provision is given a modern restatement and support in the Education Act, 1998. Section 15 of the Act requires school management authorities to have regard to the principles and requirements of a democratic society and have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society. In addition, section 30(2)(e) provides that the Minister for Education and Science, in prescribing the curriculum for schools shall not require a student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of his or her parent or of the student where he or she is 18 or over. Both of these provisions will come into effect in the near future when I make a commencement order in respect of the sections in which they are included, after necessary planning and consultation has been completed.

The position in law therefore is quite clear and as far as my Department is concerned so is the position in practice. The teaching of religion in schools must be conducted in a manner, which allows children, who do not wish to attend religious instruction, to avail themselves of an otherwise full education without exposure to religious instruction. The precise arrangements to be made are a matter for the individual school and my Department will advise and, as far as practicable, assist any school which experiences any difficulties. My Department will also inquire into any case where it is alleged that the school’s responsibilities in this matter are not being fulfilled.”

Conclusion

We are now in a position whereby the Catholic Church, the main patron body in the country, is undermining the rights of parents and their children.

Please ask election candidates to ensure that the rights guaranteed to parents and their children under the Constitution are protected, so that parents can be confident that the Department of Education will ensure that their rights are not undermined by the Catholic Church.

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