Minister Foley is legally responsible for protecting the right to not attend religion class
Under the Education Act 1998, the Minister for Education is legally responsible for protecting the right of students to not attend any subject that is against their conscience.
Section 30-2(e) of the Education Act 1998 states that:-
“Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister—
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.”
The above Section of the Education Act 1998 is a reflection of the Constitutional rights of parents and students under Article 44.2.4 and 42.1 of the Constitution.
- Article 42.1 of the Constitution refers to the inalienable right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children.
- Article 44.2.4 is about public funding of schools and also the right to not attend religious instruction at any school in receipt of public funding.
We know that Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution is linked to the inalienable right of parents under Article 42.1 because the Supreme Court in the Campaign case stated:
“In other words the Constitution contemplates children receiving religious education in schools recognised or established by the State but in accordance with the wishes of the parents. It is in this context that one must read Article 44.2.4 which prescribes 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.”
— Justice Barrington, Campaign to Separate Church and State case 1998, p.25,26
If parents and their children wish to not attend religion classes that are against their conscience, then their Constitutional right is engaged under Article 44.2.4.
It is not up to any Minister, the Department of Education, Patron bodies, Schools, Unions or teachers to decide what is and what is not against the religious and moral conscience of parents under Article 42.1 of the Constitution read in context with Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.
There is confusion in the education system as there are no guidelines in place that reflect the right of students to not attend religious instruction. Various bodies are making the issue more confusing because they believe that they have the right to decide what is or is not against the conscience of parents and their children in relation to religious and moral education.
Section 6 (a) of the Education Act 1998 obliges every person concerned with the implementation of the Act to give practical application to the Constitutional rights of children.
Successive Ministers for Education have given no practical application to the right of children to not attend religious instruction, notwithstanding the fact that it is their legal obligation to ensure that no child attends instruction in any subject that is against the conscience of the parent or a student over 18years.
Atheist Ireland will continue to hold the Minister for Education responsible for the right to not attend religious instruction because under the Education Act 1998 she is legally responsible. She cannot absolve herself of that responsibility by claiming that schools under the Act can manage their own affairs.