An unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction
In most schools in Ireland the State Religious Education course is taught through the lens of the Catholic Church. Students are told that the course is suitable for all religions and none. Many students are coerced and some are forced into taking the course. The arrangements for students who wish to not attend religion classes are not put in Admission Policies, and families are left believing that there is no right to not attend religion classes.
Atheist Ireland’s Legal Opinion on the right to not attend religious instruction in schools states that this practice represents an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools.
“My instructions (paras 59-75) suggest that the NCCA religion course for junior certificate was moulded 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.
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. A student must as a matter of law be permitted by the school to opt out of Catholic instructions at school (paras 76-77).”
Atheist Ireland sent this Legal Opinion to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley. The Minister and the Department of Education have not contradicted this Legal Opinion. They have done nothing to protect the Constitutional rights of students to not attending religious instruction in schools. They continue to enable the Catholic Church to evangelise in schools.
There are no statutory guidelines in relation to the right to not attend religious instruction in schools even though this is the legal responsibility of the Minister. The right to not attend religious instruction is a condition of the State funding of schools.
Yet Patron bodies have control over the practical application of the right to not attend religious instruction in schools, because successive Minister’s for Education have just absolved themselves of that responsibility.
This has meant that no practical application is given to the right to not attend religious instruction in schools. The right has been attacked and disregarded because of deference to Catholic bodies and their evangelising mission. Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign to have this right vindicated for all parents.