Four in ten marriages now secular, yet schools still evangelise their children
In 2019, four in every ten marriages in Ireland were non-religious. More people are making the decision that religion is not relevant to their life, and ensuring that the significant occasions in their lives are not celebrated and recognised by religion.
While this shift was taking place Church and State moved to curb it. In 2019, they introduced the updated Religious Education course at second level. Its main aim is to develop values to teach children about the relevance of religion to their lives.
It teaches morals through religious education notwithstanding the fact that under Article 42.3.2 of the Constitution children have a right to a basic moral education without religion. It is the state that has decided to teach morals through religious education and ignore Article 42.3.2.
It states that:
“Religious Education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world. It aims to develop the students’ ability to examine questions of meaning, purpose and relationships, to help students understand, respect and appreciate people’s expression of beliefs, and to facilitate dialogue and reflection on the diversity of beliefs and values that inform responsible decision-making and ways of living.”
Most politicians say that this Religious Education course is inclusive and objective. It is difficult to understand why politicians support developing values, in children from atheist families, to enable them to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life. That is indoctrination and breaches the rights of parents under the Constitution. Why teach children from atheist families different understandings of the ‘divine’ when they don’t believe there is such a thing called the ‘divine’?
It encourages children to respect beliefs and to develop an understanding of how different religions and Christianity in particular, have contributed to the society in which we live. In the last census, the non-religious were the second largest group in society after Catholics, but the state doesn’t think that children should be given an understanding of how non-religious peoples have contributed to the society in which we live.
If parents have not got married in the Catholic Church, and have had a civil wedding, why would they want the State to develop values in their children in order to understand religion and its relevance to life? Why would any TD think it is their purpose to support this?
If there was a course that taught children of religious families to understand atheism and its relevance to life, then we would never hear the end of it. It would be recognised immediately that this was indoctrination.
Please lobby your local TDs to seek such statutory guidelines on the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction. Non-religious parents have the same rights as religious parents and your local politician should support and promote your Constitutional rights.
Many schools make the state religion course a core subject or compulsory. Schools refuse to put in their Admission Policies the arrangements for students that seek to not attend religious instruction (Section 62-7(n) Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018).
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley, refuses to do anything about this situation, and continues to enable schools to breach the Constitutional and human rights of minorities. Minority families have no choice where they send their children to school. Many of the ETBs operate in the same manner as denominational schools.
Power and Control of the Catholic Church
The Chair of the Religious Reference group appointed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is a priest and Director of the Mater Dei Institute, which is now a college of DCU. The Mater Dei still holds on to their religious ethos in DCU where they can still control and shape policy on the teaching of religion in schools.
The NCCA supports the evangelisation of minorities, and has never given any practical application to their obligation to eliminate discrimination and uphold human rights under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act.
There was nobody representing the atheist, secular or non-religious convictions in Ireland on the NCCA Religious Reference Group for updating the Religious Education course.
The unions were represented on the Reference Group, but they didn’t seem to think that there is a Constitutional issue with developing values in children from atheist families to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives.
What is wrong with the unions in Ireland in that they have never supported the Constitutional rights of non-religious parents and their children to respect for their beliefs?
No strict dichotomy between RE and faith formation
The Chair of the NCCA Religious Education Reference Group Fr Gareth Byrne is on record in 2003 as stating that:
“It is to be expected that State-certified second-level Religious Education, which seeks to be open to all students of a variety of religious faiths and none, should define itself in a way that does not align it with any one particular religion or specific denominational form of faith development.
On the other hand, from the perspective of the faith community there is no need for too strict a dichotomy between religious education and faith formation. The two though separate, are intertwined. Religious education, as defined in the State syllabus and senior-cycle framework, holds within it the possibility of breaking open fertile ground within which faith can grow and develop.
All good religious education, limited as it most certainly will be, prepares the human heart in one way or another to encounter the profound, placing the student and teacher in dialogue with ultimate questions.” (page 20 – Religious Education Renewed – An overview of Developments in Post-Primary Religious Education – Gareth Byrne 2003)
The views of Fr. Gareth Byrne and the Catholic Church in relation to the rights of parents in schools are unconstitutional and undermine human rights. These people have power and control, and successive Ministers for Education have sat back and let them undermine the Constitutional rights of parents and their children.
Legal Opinion obtained by Atheist Ireland
Our recent Legal Opinion on Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution states that this behaviour is an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools.
“The above material suggests that the NCCA religion course for junior certificate was molded with input from religious bodies who in turn designed guidelines for the supplementation of the NCCA junior certificate course with Catholic faith formation and development. It is impossible in those circumstances to see any justification whatsoever for withholding the right of a student to opt out of such a course.
The intricate architecture comprising the NCCA syllabus layered with guidelines and various assertions cannot overcome the fundamental principle that a child must be permitted to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools.
Teaching Catholic instruction during the State religion syllabus, without offering a supervised opt out, represents an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools.”
This is what influence and control mean on the ground in Ireland. Those who have views that minorities object to on the grounds of conscience are put in positions where they can have decision making power.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has too much power and control over our education system. Teachers and policymakers are trained within the system and reflect a Catholic understanding of rights that supports their evangelising mission.
The Toledo Guiding Principles on the teaching of religion in schools state that:
“While it is important to ensure that representatives of religious communities are allowed to give input and advice, this should not be taken to the extreme of giving them too much decision making power at the cost of abdicating state responsibility. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that excessive involvement of religious authorities from one community in decisions that affect the rights of those belonging to another community may itself amount to a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”
The need for statutory guidelines
The State should put in place statutory guidelines on the right to not attend religious instruction. There is simply no reason to ignore the Constitutional rights of parents and their children. Leaving it up to schools when it is the legal responsibility of the state is a violation of the right to freedom of religion and belief.
Please lobby your local TDs to seek statutory guidelines on the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction.
If there was any state course that taught children from religious families values that enabled them to understand atheism and its relevance to life then we would never hear the end of it. Your local politician would claim it was indoctrination.
Non-religious parents have the same rights as religious parents and your local politician should support and promote your Constitutional rights.