Yet again, the State ignores the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction
A new school year is starting. It will be another year where the State ignores the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in publicly funded schools.
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley continues to ignore her duty to protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion of minorities by ensuring that schools give practical application to the right to not attend religious instruction (Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution).
Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution follows Article 44.2.1, which enshrines the right to freedom of conscience and religion. The funding of schools is conditional on the right to not attend religious instruction. The very purpose of the right to not attend religious instruction is to protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion of parents and their children.
You can read a more detailed article on the right to not attend religious instruction with sample letters for primary and second level schools here.
The Supreme Court has also recognised the right of parents in relation to the religous and moral education of their children. Despite what the Supreme Court has said, the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, refuses to protect the freedom of conscience and religion of minorities in publicly funded schools.
The Supreme court said that Article 42.1 (the inalienable right of parents) must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4 (the right to not attend religious instruction). It is not up to the Department of Education, the NCCA, Patron bodies, schools or teachers to decide for parents what is or is not against their conscience by claiming that certain religion courses are suitable for students from all religious backgrounds and none.
The Supreme Court has stated that:
“These references appear to me to establish two facts. First the Constitution does not contemplate that the payment of monies to a denominational school for educational purposes is an “endowment” of religion within the meaning of Article 44 S.2 s.s.2 of the Constitution. Secondly, the Constitution contemplated that if a school was in receipt of public funds any child, no matter what his religion, would be entitled to attend it. But such a child was to have the right not to attend any course of religious instruction at the school.” (page 24)
“But the matter does not end there. Article 42 of the Constitution acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of the parents of provide for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Article 42 S.2 prescribes that the parents shall be free to provide “this education” (i.e religious moral intellectual physical and social education) in their homes or in private schools or “in schools recognized or established by the State”. In other words the Constitution contemplates children receiving religious education in schools recognized or established by the State but in accordance with the wishes of the parents.(page 25)
It is in this context that one must read Article 44 S.2s.s.4 which prescribes that:-….” (Campaign to Separate Church and state case – Supreme Court 1998)
Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in primary and second level schools.