The Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction

Under the Irish Constitution, parents have a right to ensure that their children do not attend religious instruction in publicly funded schools.

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution refers specifically to the right to ‘not attend’ which is of course different to ‘not participating’ in religious instruction.

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution states that:

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 recent Legal Opinion that Atheist Ireland obtained on Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution states that:

“Schools are obliged to use their existing State funding to facilitate that right without demanding
extra State funding (paras 88-89). To come to any other conclusion would render the enjoyment of
the right contingent on the level of funding. This would fly in the face of the plain text of Article
44.2.4 (para 89). Provided the school is a public school receiving some State funding, the right
must be respected, whether or not the funding is adequate (para 90).”

“From a constitutional perspective, it seems to me that the right encompasses, at the very least,
the right to leave the classroom during religious instruction while remaining supervised or to be
taught another subject. As between these two possibilities, there is a decent argument that
schools should not give more teaching time to some students over others on the basis that the
latter has opted out as to do so is to discriminate against the student on religious grounds (para
100)”

The Constitutional right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction is also recognised in Rule 69 of the Rules for National Schools, Section 30-2(e) of the Education Act 1998 and Section 62-7(n) of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018.

The reasons that this right is undermined is the lack of statutory regulations to ensure that schools respect the Constitutional rights of parents in relation to the education of their children. This lack of regulations has enabled patron bodies, schools and teachers to disregard the rights of parents and their children.

Atheist Ireland is campaigning to have the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction given practical application on the grounds.

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