Ireland Education : Opt out of school religion classes

While we are campaigning for a secular Irish education system based on human rights law, you may wish to opt your child out of religion in your current school. Here are some key facts that you will find helpful, and sample letters that you can use to tell your school that you want to opt your child out of religion.

In Ireland parents are responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religion classes or religious worship, it is impossible to opt out of a religious ethos. Schools are not obliged to supervise children outside the religion class or religious services and another subject is not provided. In essence this means that opting out is a theoretical illusion and  not operable in practice. For some reason all schools still claim that they are inclusive.

At Primary and second level, schools will not supervise children outside the religion class or provide another subject. This includes ETB schools and colleges at second level. They all claim that they are inclusive but they still require students to sit at the back of the religion class and they refuse to provide another subject.

In schools with a Catholic ethos (the vast majority), the Catholic Bishops object to promoting even pluralism among religious beliefs within schools, as they believe that it goes against the philosophical basis of Catholic religious education. The Church accepts that freedom of religion is the bedrock of western democracies, but insists that promoting pluralism within schools is against their ethos.

Human rights law say that children have a human right to a neutral studying environment in all schools (multi-denominational / denominational schools). There are no non-denominational schools in Ireland and Home schooling is not a valid option. You have a human right under the European Convention to opt your child out of religion without disclosing your religious or philosophical convictions. You also have a right to opt your child out of religion classes if you believe it will cause your child to face a conflict of allegiance between the school and your religious or philosophical convictions (ECHR Mansur & Others v Turkey, Sept 2014).

Secularism is regarded as a philosophical conviction protected by Article 9 and Article II of Protocol 1 (the right to education) of the European Convention and Article 18 of the UN International Covenant of Civil & Political Rights. Article 42.1 of the Irish Constitution obliges the State to respect the inalienable rights of parents, at this stage nobody is claiming that this only applies to religious parents. There is a positive obligation on the State to respect the philosophical convictions of atheist/secular parents and their children under Article II of Protocol 1 of the European Convention.


Opting out of Religion classes.

You have a Constitutional right under Article 44.2.4 and Article 42.1 of the Irish Constitution to remove your child from religion in schools. No school has the right to force your child to take religion classes and they cannot make it a condition of access either. You have a Constitutional right to attend any school in receipt of state funding and opt your child out of anything that is against your conscience and that includes religion classes.

Section 30 (2) -(e) of the Education Act 1998 permits you to opt your child out of any subject that 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. This section of the Education Act 1998 does not refer to religion classes in particular so you can opt your child out of any subject that is against your conscience and in any publicly funded school. Schools are not obliged to deliver the state curriculum in a neutral and objective manner, in practice this means that it is impossible to opt your children out of the elements of religion that are integrated into the state curriculum and that are part of the school day.

It is a good idea to meet with the school to discuss opting your child out of the religious education class but you are not obliged to do so as you can deal with them in writing if preferred. Always ensure that any arrangements made with the school are put in writing. (sample letters are below this article)

Opting out of Religion in second level ETB schools and Colleges

In February 2018 the Department of Education issued a Circular Letter on religion in ETB schools and colleges. This Circular Letter applies to all Community Schools, Non-designated Community Colleges and Designated Community Colleges. You can find the Circular Letter here

The Circular Letter obliges every ETB school and college to find out, and implement, what parents want in relation to the religious education of their children.

Parents can opt their children out of the following and choose another subject.

1) Students can opt out of religious instruction and choose another curriculum subject.

2) Students can opt out of the State Religious Education curriculum (exam subject) and choose another curriculum subject.

3) Students can opt out of combined religious instruction and the State Religious Education course and choose another curriculum subject.

Schools are required to consult with parents. The Circular Letter states that:-

4. Requirement to Consult Parents/pupils
In future instead of waiting for a parent to request a withdrawal and then having to make alternative arrangements for the pupil for the class periods concerned a school must establish the wishes of parents in relation to opting out of religious worship or instruction and where the pupil is over 18 establish the pupil’s wishes.

Schools cannot question parents about their decision to opt out their child or their religious or philosophical convictions:-

there is no basis for a school to intrude in that regard on the privacy of those who are opting for the alternative subject(s). The only information required is that the parent wants to opt for the alternative subject(s).

Schools are also obliged by the Circular Letter to inform parents regarding Religious Worship so that they can opt out their children.

6. Arrangements for Religious Worship
Best practice in relation to making appropriate arrangements for withdrawal from religious worship or events is to provide parents with information about religious worship in the school; its frequency, timing, duration and the nature of the services or events. Ideally this should be done at the start of every school year. Parents should be given the opportunity to advise the school of whether or not they want their child to participate in or be present during religious worship.

If any ETB school or college refuses to implement this Circular Letter parents can contact the Department of Education.

9. Queries
Queries in relation to this circular should be e-mailed to the Department at:


The Right to Privacy

The European Court of Human Rights have linked the Human Right to education with the Human Right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights so you are not obliged to discuss with the school your philosophical convictions. They have no right to question you on what you do or do not believe in. They are not the thought police and have absolutely no right to question your religious or philosophical convictions in order to see do you fit the legal criteria for opting out of religion.

All the school is required to know is that you are exercising your Constitutional and Human Right to opt your child out of the Religious Education class and any religious service. No school has a right to discuss the matter of opting out of Religious Education Class or Service with your child. You can make clear to them in writing that they are not to discuss the matter with your child.

Supervision / Religious Discrimination

Unfortunately you cannot opt out your child from Religious Education class without discrimination, despite the Constitutional right to attend any school in receipt of public funding.  Parents are responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religion. Schools are not obliged to supervise your child outside the Religion class or provide another subject for your child.  In Ireland there is no practical application given to the right to opt out of religion, opting out in practice is a theoretical illusion.

In our experience the majority of schools supervise children in the religion class. In Primary schools they usually do some of their own work. At second level the overall policy seems to be against students doing their homework or studying in the religion class.  Schools make religion a core subject which means that students cannot pick another subject, this includes all types of ETB schools and colleges.

The reason given in all cases is that if students that are opted out of religion were permitted to do their homework,  study, or pick another subject then all the other students taking religion would want to opt out as well. In essence they are trying to stem the flow of students opting out of religion by controlling the choices of those that do opt out. It is a policy of coercion and its purpose is the ensure that as many students as possible take religion in schools. They are also afraid that if they have not got enough students taking religion then the subject will have to be dropped.

Remember parents are responsible for the supervision of their child if they opt them out of religion so you can choose to let you child leave the school during these periods if they are old enough and responsible. This is only an option if you live near the school or where there is somewhere for the student to go while religion classes are taking place (such as the library or a local coffee shop).

Students that are over eighteen can legally opt out of religion and supervise themselves outside the school if required.

There are also many religious parents who as a matter of conscience do not wish to force their children to take religion classes and there are also many religious secularists. Religious parents have also got a right to opt their child out of religion in schools if they so wish. There are no apostasy laws in Ireland and Catholic parents are not legally obliged to follow Canon law if they send their children to a publicly funded school with a particular religious ethos.

Religious Service and other issues.

You can remove your child from any Religious Service or visit to Church nor can your child be forced to take part in any prayer service in the school or attend any prayer room.

Some schools state that different religious and non-religious festivals are regularly celebrated by the school community to develop understanding and respect for different traditions. Obliging your child to attend or take part in a celebration of religious ceremonies/festival breaches your human rights and you can opt out of it.

The Toledo Guiding Principles state that:-

“For example, teachers can often take advantage of holidays periods to teach about religions in culturally sensitive ways. They need to be careful to make the distinction between teaching about the holiday, and actually celebrating the holiday, or using it as an opportunity to proselytize or otherwise impose their personal beliefs.” Page 74 – Toledo Guiding Principles.

You can also opt your child out of any talk by a priest or a nun as the main aim of these talks is to evangelise your child. Many schools will not inform parents that the local priest or nun is visiting and they only find out when their child tells them or comes home with a picture of Jesus that the priest/nun gave them.

At second level there are organisations that go around schools giving out bibles and your child may come home with a bible one day despite the fact that you may have opted them out of religion classes.

Some schools have religious symbols on their school uniform. If schools require that children wear a particular uniform with a religious crest on it then you will have no choice but to send your child to school wearing a particular religious symbol.

 Ethos / Religious integrated curriculum at Primary and Second Level.

Despite the inalienable rights of parents under Article 42.1 of the Irish Constitution, the obligations of the state under Article 42.3.2,  the duty of neutrality of the state and the human rights of parents and children, the state curriculum seeks to promote the moral and spiritual development of all children through religious education regardless of the fact that this breaches the conscience of some parents.

Schools are not obliged to inform parents where they integrate religion into secular subjects.  It is impossible for parents to identify the elements of religious education that is integrated into the various subjects and daily life of the school. Opting out of  religion that is integrated into the state curriculum is simply an impossible burden to overcome.

Section 9 (d) of the Education Act 1998 obliges all recognised schools to promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students. This becomes a huge issue as the moral and spiritual development of all children is promoted through religious education which is  integrated into the state curriculum and the daily life of the school. Schools are not obliged to deliver the state curriculum in a neutral and objective manner.

Section 9 (b) of the Education Act 1998 obliges all recognised schools to follow the curriculum as prescribed by the Minister. In the Introduction to the Primary School Curriculum it states:-

“the spiritual dimension of life expresses itself in a search for truth and in the quest for a transcendent element within human experience”(page 34).

“Religious education specifically enables the child to develop spiritual and moral values and come to a knowledge of God”. (page 58)

In the debate on the Education Act 1998 the then Minister for Education stated that one could be spiritual and  not religious. In reality most atheists would not even regard themselves as being spiritual.  The word spiritual was not defined in the Education Act 1998 and the Constitution does not mention it in relation to education, religion and the rights of parents.

“I believe one can be spiritual without being religious. I would argue that a person could have strong spiritual values and not be a member of an organised religion or be an atheist. A person could also be religious and not spiritual. Many religious people are also very spiritual.”

Despite the above comments by the then Minister for Education (1998) the Primary School curriculum (1999) does not recognise and respect the rights of atheist/secular  parents in Ireland and fails to take account that many parents do not regard themselves as spiritual.  As it stands now all recognised schools in Ireland are legally required to  promote the spiritual and moral development of children and bring them to a knowledge of God.

The bottom line is that all children have a human right to a neutral studying environment in school, this is in direct conflict with the educational philosophy of the Catholic Church which integrates religion into all subjects in the State curriculum and the general school day.  It is impossible for any parent to opt their child out of religion that is integrated into every subject under the curriculum and in the general milieu of the school.

In support of Catholic Church policy the Education Act 1998 (Section 15 – 2 (b) sanctions the integrating of religion into all subjects under the curriculum.

In the majority of schools at second level religion is also integrated into the state curriculum. Most schools are either run directly by the Catholic Church or have a religious ethos. This includes ETB Community schools and ETB Designated Community Colleges. ETB non-Designated Community Colleges are all obliged to have Religious instruction and worship. See ETBI Legal Brief – Religious Instruction-1

In their recent Report on second level the Catholic Schools Partnership stated that:-

Catholic schools integrate Religious Education in the curriculum while providing opportunities for catechesis

In their Report Religion & Education; A Human Rights perspective, the Irish Human Rights Commission stated that:-

“The Education Act, may also be regarded as providing indirect sanction to the integrated curriculum insofar as it makes Boards of Management accountable to the patron for upholding the characteristic spirit of the school. Section 15(2)(b) of  the Education Act 1998.” 

As you can see the above section in the Education Act 1998 indirectly sanctions a religious integrated curriculum. This is a breach of human rights law and we are working hard to ensure that all parents and their children enjoy their human rights in the education system. As it stands now children leave their human rights at the school gate.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has recommended that the Education Act 1998 be amended to ensure that the curriculum in delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. In their Report on Religion and Education in 2011 they stated (p.104):-

“Section 15 of the Education Act should be amended to provide for modifications to the integrated curriculum to ensure that the rights of minority faith or non faith children are also recognised therein. In this regard, the State must take sufficient care that information and knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objectie, critical and pluralistic manner with the aim of enabling pupils to develop a critical mind with regard to religion in a calm atmosphere which is free of any misplaced proselytism.”


Religious Education Course at Second Level

The Religious Education course at second level comes under the curriculum and is supposed to be for all religions and none and is an exam course. This course disrespects the philosophical convictions of atheist/secular religious parents under Article 42.1 of the Irish Constitution, Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 18 of the ICCPR.

One of the aims of the course is to contribute to the moral and spiritual development of students.  The non-religious interpretation of life is merely acknowledged in passing, alongside materialism and fundamentalism, in a section of the course called ‘Challenges to faith’.  The state curriculum at second level seeks to contribute to the moral and spiritual development of the children of atheist/secular parents through religious education. This is not a neutral and objective stance and does not constitute ‘respect’ for the rights of atheist/secular parents under human rights law.

This Religious Education course under the curriculum does not take into account beliefs and is not in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religion and Beliefs in Public Schools. In this phrase “Religion and Beliefs”, the word Beliefs refers to non-religious philosophical convictions. The aim of the Religious Education course is to  support a religious understanding of the world which is contrary to the Toledo Guiding Principles (p.70).

Many schools are refusing to permit students to opt out of this Religion  course as they claim that it is not Religious Instruction and that it respects all religions and none.   Contributing to the moral and spiritual education of the children of secular parents through religious education is clearly not in accordance with Article 42.1 of the Constitution. Can you imagine the outcry if the State was contributing to the moral and spiritual education of the children of religious parents through atheist education?

All schools at second level (including ETBs) are obliged to teach a specific religion as well as the state Religious Education course. Schools simply have not got the time to have two separate religion courses. As far as we are aware nearly all schools in Ireland combine the Religious Education course under the curriculum with the Guidelines for the faith formation and development of Catholic students. This includes all the various ETBs, Community Schools, Designated Community Colleges and non-Designated Community Colleges.

Combining the state Religious Education course with another course such as the Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students is not permitted given the judgement in the Folgero v Norway case at the European Court of Human Rights. Schools never inform parents that this is happening and they are not obliged under the Education Act 1998 to do so.

The European Court found that expecting parents to identify the areas of a religion course that did not respect their philosophical convictions was an unacceptable burden and also put parents in the position that they had to reveal their convictions. This raises issues under Article 9 of the European Convention as individuals have the right not to be obliged to reveal their religious and philosophical convictions even indirectly. Differentiated teaching would not suffice as the European Court stated that this was not consonant with parents’ right to respect for their convictions under Article II of Protocol 1 (the right to education).

You might like to read about the various types of ETB/VEC State schools, see here and here. Just because they are State schools does not mean that they are not religious schools. Educate Together have also signed an Agreement with the ETB’s to ensure that this Religious Education programme is available in their schools. There is no escape, all patron bodies at second level accept this course and this type of religious education.

Religious parents also have a right to opt their child out of this course if they decide that as a matter of conscience they do not wish to force their child to take religion.

Sample Letters


  1. Avatar
    Sara O'Riordan October 09, 2012

    I am thinking about opting my child out of religion. She has just started in Junior Infants. I have written a letter to the minister for education, which I posted on the your contact page. I got a reply from the ministers secretary, which looks like a standard reply listing most of the information which is available on your website.

    One thing which isn’t clear to me is if I do opt my child out of religion, what does that mean? In the discrimination section above it states “Schools are not obliged to supervise your child outside the Religious Education class or provide another subject for your child.”. So if I do request my child to be opted out of religion, and the school says that they can’t provide supervision outside the class. What do I do then??


    • Avatar
      Aimee Frost April 17, 2013

      I am very interested in the reply to this question. My son starts Jr. Infants in September. I will be opting him out of religion and am a bit concerned about this as well. Thanks

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        Naomi Powell May 16, 2013

        Don’t be concerned. Your son will be fine. Your school is not allowed to discriminate against your son in any way. I’m sure that you will find that there are others in the school who also opt out. Remember that the school is not doing you a favour by allowing you to opt out. Opting out is your absolute right. You might find that your son ends up being supervised in the same room as the religious class is taking place and you might also find that you are asked to collect him when communion or confirmation is happening (that happens in our school). I have 5 children – 3 in school. There are 3 other families that are very vocal about their wishes and we are finding that more families are seeing that opting out is an option and a right. I would advise you to link with any other families in your school that choose to opt out as if there are any issues you will have strength in numbers in making a complaint. It actually makes my blood boil that a religious group who have caused so much harm are allowed to attempt to indoctrinate our children, but you are probably in the same boat as us and have no other option regarding schools. Anyway you have right on your side and fair play to you. If enough of us stand true to our beliefs, the schools will eventually be forced to move religious instruction outside of the school teaching times. Good luck

        • Avatar
          Brian June 27, 2013

          thanks for the comments. I just had a conversation today with my Junior Infants son’t teacher about opting him out of religion. The problem is there’s nothing for him to do. I must supply him with something to do while he sits in class and listens to his friends take part in class. So I’m weighing up the damaging impact of this social isolation against the damaging impact of hymns and bible stories.

    • Avatar
      Lilly September 29, 2017

      We did this when our children were in primary school and they were allowed to sit in the back of the class doing some work quietly. The problem is when they go to secondary school for boys religion is an examination subject and it is very hard to have your child taken out . In most cases your child has to be exempt from Irish or have had support in maths or English from primary school!

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    Fake Name June 04, 2013

    I’m going back to school in September and will be entering fifth year. My school is a Catholic school and it’s ethos is based around providing “a Catholic education which strives to cultivate respect for God, the Church, God’s creation and for our cultural heritage… offer a focused and religious based education”. I am atheist and I do not agree with this discrimination that I and many of my friends are subjected to. My parents are both Catholic and they want me to attend religious classes. This is a non exam subject and we will not be assessed on it for the Leaving Cert. I feel that essential time that could be used for studying is being wasted and I will not achieve the points in the Leaving Cert that I want. I am aiming for theoretical physics and I have never been a trouble maker in school. Can you please give me some help advice as to how I could opt out, without the consent of my parents.

    • Avatar
      Matt Davis June 09, 2013

      Why don’t you put it in writing, requesting to opt out under your human rights? I believe the European Convention on Human Rights gives you the right to freedom of religion, which means you have the right to opt out yourself. Quote a copy of the relevant article of the ECHR (8 I think) in the letter. They probably won’t argue with that.

    • Avatar
      Andrew Doyle February 24, 2014

      Although I am humanist and living in a rural area had little option but to use the local catholic schools I have had an ok experience of the schools so far, with the exception of some teachers.

      Explaining to my child that these teachers believe certain things and should be respected if they respect the beliefs of others has helped. For those who still insist I ask my child if they still believe in fairies and when they say they don’t I explain that teachers who don’t respect others beliefs are like children trying to tell them that fairies are real. Simple analogies like this worked.

      As they got older I introduced them to the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Gospel of the same name available on Amazon (just google them). These ingenious people are to religion what Monty Python is to establishment – if people take themselves too seriously then use their own logic back at them. Satire with a straight face is a very effective weapon.

      I have not been called in to the school to deal with “disrespect” because we respect those who respect us and we deal with those who would push their religion on us on their own terms.

      In religion class my child had the confidence to use this brilliantly recently: a 1st year class asked to draw their religious symbol and say what it stood for. My child did their own thumbprint and explained that it stood for their place in humanity. I didn’t teach that and it made me very proud.

  3. Avatar
    Helen OShea June 05, 2013

    If you are 18 or over you can state your own preferences with the backing of the constitution and without the consent of your parents. If under you can try reasoning with your parents. Failing that, I would take physics books into the religion class and study there.

  4. Avatar
    Jane Donnelly June 05, 2013

    You could try contacting the Irish Human Rights Commission

    They might be able to help you negotiate your way out of religion classes. You have rights under the UN Convention on the Rights. Children have a right to be heard. Explain the situation to them and hopefully they will be able to help you. It really is a difficult situation.

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    anonymous June 25, 2013

    I’m going back to school in September and will be entering third year. I am a atheist and am sick of having to pretend I am a Catholic. I often have to write thing I do not believe in. My teacher has told the class that “only people of the Christian faith are welcome in this school”. I am sick of having to do this and don’t feel that I should have to hide my beliefs. If I was to express my beliefs what could potential happen?


    • Avatar
      Anonymous April 19, 2015

      Hi I am a 5th year student at the beginning of this year I started investigating the ability to opt out of religion. My school highly discriminates against me. However, I proceeded and my parents contacted my principal and now during religion time I leave the school premises, not by choice I may add this is my only option. I still face numerous battles in school against several teachers who have severe problems with my choice to be atheist and my actions as I am the first person to do this in my catholic ethos school. I am not going to tell you that it will be plain sailing however, your school many not be as one minded as mine as my school is in a quite rural area that hasn’t really adapted to change yet. I would still tell you to do it! You have a right and we need more people to stand out and display this right otherwise this country will never change. I have no regrets in my decision it still puts a smile on my face as I walk out of school during religion time. Stand up for yourself and your beliefs don’t allow people to make you hide your true self.
      Best of luck

      • Avatar
        Devin September 07, 2015

        Congratulations both of you, we stand with you.

    • Avatar
      Michelle Rogers May 16, 2016

      As a parent I stand with you two brave young people in standing up for your rights…

  6. Avatar
    Jane Donnelly June 25, 2013


    Have you explained to your parents how you feel? They could opt you out of the religion class. If you are under 18 you cannot opt out without the consent of your parents.

    First of all they cannot throw you out of the school. They would be in breach of the Equal Status Act if they did that. Secondly, telling students that only Christians are welcomed into the school is absolutely terrible. The Board of Management of the school is obliged under the Education Act to have “regard to the principles and requirements of a democratic society and have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society.” (Section 15 2 -(e) Education Act). Your teacher is not promoting respect for the diversity of beliefs in society by telling the class that only Christians are welcomed in the school. We get many complaints from students such as yourself and they all want to opt out of religion. You are in a difficult situation so the best place to start is with your parents. Tell them how you feel and ask them to opt you out of religion classes.

  7. Avatar
    anonymous June 25, 2013

    Thanks for the reply, yes my parents support my beliefs. I do not want to leave the class, we study many different aspects of relligion but when it comes to the Christian part we are all expected to accept and believe it. I have been an atheist for about 2 years now so i have become used to it. If I was to express my beliefs would there be any repercussions?


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    pat September 01, 2013

    I opted out of religion about 25 years ago I live and work in Belfast where religion is use as a weapon for working class people to war against each other while the rich benefit. I work in a catholic school and have at time voice my atheism to avoid partaking of religious ceremonies during staff time this has been met with a mixture of misbelief and outright aggressive behaviour all of which I take in my stride. Because I lived in a working class segregated housing community my 3 oldest children followed the curriculum of the school an adhered to the religious doctrine gaining a worthless exam along the way. However I listened to my youngest child who wished to opt out of R.E. in her grammar school and instead uses this time to study math, and science subjects. I have no issue with the school and during religious festivities I keep my daughter at home. I would urge all realistic people to speak to the principal of the school and unlike me do not leave it until your youngest child is the second half of their school career before you free them to study reality instead of superstition. I have found my children do find discrimination in Ireland but once they leave to study at Uni this is definitely not an issue!

  9. Avatar
    Fiona McElree March 18, 2014

    I heard an item on ‘Morning Ireland’ this morning about opting out of religion in school which started by saying that the right to opt out is recognised for any ‘State funded’ school. My daughter attends a fee-paying school where I have been trying to get her out of religion classes. So far I have only spoken to the religion teacher, who is also the head of the religion department, and he has refused point blank to honour my wishes. Does the fact that the school is fee-paying, and therefore not fully State funded, make a difference to my rights? I have now drafted a letter to the principal, but I would like to know exactly where I stand before I send it.

    • Avatar
      Helen OShea March 18, 2014

      If the teachers in the school are paid by the state then you have the right to opt out. Almost all teachers are paid by the state so you are within you rights even if its a fee paying school. The only exceptions would be for the type of schools that the state does not fund like Steiner schools. State your rights.

      • Avatar
        Fiona McElree March 19, 2014

        Thank you, I will.

  10. Avatar
    sandra nurden April 04, 2014

    I received a call from my sons school yesterday from the RS teacher. She told me that he had made comments about the Muslim community and their beliefs that God tell them to commit the evil things that has gone on around the world. As a non believer, he will not take this statement laying down and will put up an argument right or wrong. But his comments , as far as the teacher was concerned were racist, so he was reported to the head of year. He feels so strong about his views and it has got stronger since 9/11 and the killing of Lee Rigby and the people who committed these evil acts did so under Gods words. His beliefs are that no person should be allowed to wear the vial and if they dont like it then go to the country that allows it. He is sometimes wrong in my eyes with his beliefs and the way his comments come across, but he is entitled to his own views just as I am. Nothing that would be said to him would make him change his mind about there being a God in ANY religion, so finds being sat in the RS class a total waste of time. The teacher has now told me that next term they will be discussing racism and because of his comments in class, she said he could well get into trouble with his views. He has now gone into school this morning and has been placed in ACE. Im not happy with this and await a call from the school as he has asked the head of year to call me. I have read in line that I can get my son to ‘OPT OUT’ of RS class, is this true? If so how do I stand if I write a letter asking for this?

    • Avatar
      ss August 11, 2014

      I know this post is a few months old but I felt a need to respond to it. From my understanding of your comment the school had no issue with your son stating his opinion but rather the way in which he went about it. The school was right to punish him for saying what he has said, his opinion is racist. He needs to learn that not all muslim people do heinous acts such as the ones which are shown in the media. All religious beliefs and non religious beliefs can, and have, resulted in violence, this is not a racist belief as it does not single out or discriminate against one particular religion. Your sons belief that muslim people belief they are told to do evil things by god is, he singles out one group and suggests that their faith, and the way they practice is evil, which it is not.

      I think the issue here is that your son is unable to consider the words he uses when making a statement and thus this statement leads to offence in a way he did not mean. Your sons comments seem to discourage equality by talking all variants away and this is also an issue. The main issue here is his apparent intolerance of religion, he needs to be taught that for his beliefs to be respected, he must respect others.

      You don’t mention the age of your son but in primary school speaking with the teacher usually results in him being placed in the back of a class to study and then re-introduced during normal lessons. Junior Cert is also the same, although it is an exam. Leaving Certificate usually it is not an exam class but the option is there. For LC many school use religion class as a time for career guidance and sexual health education, which are mandatory, so removing him from this may not be possible. If this is the case then religion is just an umbrella term and the subject is more of a general sphe subject.

    • Avatar
      Michelle September 20, 2014

      I am sorry to say that I also consider your son’s views to be racist and intolerant. He is entitled to disagree with the tenets of a belief system, but no school could tolerate a racist approach that labels followers of Islam as somehow prone to violence, or comments suggesting that nobody should wear the veil or else they should go to another country. That is serious racism. However as a child in primary school, he has likely just picked up these unpleasant views from listening to somebody else and I would prefer that the school, instead of punishing him, opened up a debate in the classroom (while not tolerating racist statements) between all students, and let his own classmates be the ones to tell him that his views are not acceptable, as I am sure they would in an open facilitated discussion.

    • Avatar
      Derek Merren September 25, 2014

      Islam is not a race. Islam is a religion.

      • Avatar
        Padraig Cronin February 23, 2015

        Yes, disrespecting Muslims for being Muslims is sectarian, not racist. Despite this, the term racist is continually used incorrectly in this context. Not that sectarianism is any better than racism when it comes to causing divisiveness.

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    Fiona McElree April 05, 2014

    Just an update on how my letter to the school was received:
    I got a phone call from the principal asking me to come in and meet her, so that we could discuss my position. I prepared a short speech, stating that, although we were atheists, I had wanted my daughter to learn about religion, but I had become concerned when I learned that her Christmas test was based on the secrets of Fatima, as I felt that this exemplified a mindset which took coincidence, backed it up with selective interpretation and presented it as proof, and was not a way of thinking I wanted my daughter to learn. I got as far as “I was concerned when I learned the Christmas test was based on the secrets of Fatima” when I was interrupted by a horrified “What?” from the principal. We ended up having a pleasant conversation where she agreed to investigate the situation and get back to me.
    She rang me yesterday to say that she had reminded the teacher in question of the need to stick to the curriculum, and that he had agreed that if my daughter had a ‘conscientious objection’ (she used those words) to any question, she should not answer it.
    I am really pleased with this result, although my daughter is less pleased, as she basically wanted a free class. I’ve asked my daughter to be honest, and not just say what she thinks is expected of her. Maybe some of her classmates will agree with her…

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    Beatrice October 21, 2014

    My daughter is 7 and has opted out of religion class. She told the teacher herself that she doesn’t believe in God. I was concerned that she would become indoctrinated and up to this point the class seemed fine with an emphasis on friendship etc. Until now, we have told the school that she is not doing her communion and she is the only one in her class not doing it. The other day she told me that she had been brought to the church. But ‘it was ok, just singing, and I sat at the back and read’. To me this is unacceptable. If we were of another faith there is no way she would have been brought to the church. Is it my responsibility to supervise her when these things are going on? Should I bring this up with the school again?

    • Avatar
      Jane Donnelly October 22, 2014


      Unfortunately parents are responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religion. That will include trips to the local Catholic church as well. They should have informed you that there was a trip to the Church. We have heard from many minority religions whose children are also brought to the Church and made sit at the back. Have the school got a Religious Education Policy? Check out their website and see do they have such a policy and if it explains the procedures for opting out.

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    andrew December 05, 2014

    “Unfortunately parents are responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religion. That will include trips to the local Catholic church as well. They should have informed you that there was a trip to the Church. We have heard from many minority religions whose children are also brought to the Church and made sit at the back. Have the school got a Religious Education Policy? Check out their website and see do they have such a policy and if it explains the procedures for opting out.”

    Atheist 100%!!!

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    andrew December 05, 2014

    “Unfortunately parents are responsible for the supervision of their children if they opt them out of religion. That will include trips to the local Catholic church as well. They should have informed you that there was a trip to the Church. We have heard from many minority religions whose children are also brought to the Church and made sit at the back. Have the school got a Religious Education Policy? Check out their website and see do they have such a policy and if it explains the procedures for opting out.”

    Atheist 100%!!!

  15. Avatar
    mary fitzsimons December 05, 2014

    i have succeeded in getting my daughter out of religion class in the VEC where she attends.
    i used as a guideline, a letter from the equality authority and sent it to school board and principal.
    it took a year.
    for a year my daughter did a satyagraha in re class by refusing to co-operate , she was required to have the book on her desk but didnt open it, didnt answer questions. didnt do tests, just sat there. eventually the school told me i could take her out of school and supervise her myself for the duration of re class- i felt this was a bluff, so i did, coming to the school 3 times a week and sitting outside the school with her in the car for the duration of the class.
    i was about to take up a test case with the equality authority and was about to present the principal with the notice that it was proceeding when the principal suddenly acceded to our request.
    my daughter is a really good , well behaved kid and she is now allowed to use the rooms beside the offices in the school during re class, she is somewhat supervised but the school trust her, the principal says this treatment is only possible because my daughter is so well behaved and that if more kids were opting out , it wouldnt work as the school arent given resources for opting out of re.
    i would have been interested to see what would have happened if the equality authority had taken our case, im pretty sure we would have won and i think the VEC thought that too which is why they folded so quickly when threatened with it. so id advise people to use the equality authority’s advice and letter templates.

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    NiamhK January 22, 2015

    I’m 18 years old, and have an upcoming school mass. I’m not a Christian, and am very uncomfortable with the way these masses are handled. The only way to not attend is to be taken home by your parents, following an argument with the principal, which is really her shouting at you for not going, or to provide a note from a doctor proving that you were too sick to attend. During the mass, everyone has to climb over you to get out for communion, and you are asked by the teachers why you are not praying/kneeling/taking communion with the others. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can approach the subject of my desired non-attendance with the school?

    • Avatar
      Helen OShea January 22, 2015

      Hi Niamh, as you are 18 you don’t need your parents to opt you out but you can opt yourself out as per your constitutional right.

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    Vicky Janssens September 01, 2015

    No one should have to opt out of anything if the subject wasn’t taught in the first place. We need non-denominational school NOW! I don’t want to have to send my child to a school that’s under the patronage of whatever Church. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the existence of Catholic/ Protestant/ Muslim schools (which should then be funded solely by their own congregation, but that’s a different matter), as long as there are secular, state-run schools as well!

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    Devin September 07, 2015

    I’m just back from my 6-year-old’s first day at school. I feel sick. We have just arrived back in Ireland after several years abroad, and couldn’t find a multi-denominational school. We considered a boycott but for practical reasons went and discussed the matter with a local Catholic-ethos school. We were told that religion at this stage is “just talking about love and friendship”. We enrolled her, bought the uniform, paid the voluntary contribution… and this morning were told that we had been wrongly informed, there was a Catholic religious education class and “there is no practical way to opt out”.

  19. Avatar
    anon January 11, 2016

    Can a private school and it’s ethos circumvent these and force you to attend religion class as it is part of the school’s ethos?

    • Avatar
      Portia May 16, 2016

      I would like to know the answer to this question. I have chosen a Christian private school over the local catholic in large part because it is non-denominational and the catholic school is known to overlook parents’ requests to not proselytise to their kids. But I don’t know what rules private schools adhere to and how much of the article applies to them?

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    Darren Greenfield February 22, 2016

    Anybody any experience of arranging other private tuition for your child during religion class? My daughter hasn’t started primary school yet, but will be attending a Catholic school and I intend to opt her out of religion. I am willing to pay for a private tutor to attend the school to instruct her (and any other opted-out children) in something more useful (e.g. computer science) during religion class. I’m not sure how practical this is going to be or how open schools are likely to be to this option. Any advice/experience?

    • Avatar
      Eddie May 28, 2017

      To all those parents worrying about opting out and what your child does during religion class, my advice is just to opt out and give your child materials to read during religion class. The majority of Irish parents do not take religion seriously and go to mass to their children see it all as a gimmick also – there is unlikely to be any repercussions for your child (except maybe in a small rural school with older conservative teachers). Our 2 girls always opted out and had no issues. Take them out of school during the church-related activities but stick to your principals!

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    Kiki May 19, 2016

    Seriously is this all yo people have to worry about .

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    Gaelscoil September 10, 2016

    I have recently spoken to the principle, my child is in 1st class, and the principle was adamant that she would convince me that I was imagining too negatively about how RE is thought these days and it is really not something most people would find disagreeable in content. She said there is no opt out as they have to stay in the classroom and they will not take resources from elsewhere to provide opting out now or for the foreseeable. They are meant to do 20-30 mins or religion a day but they don’t usually and also the time varies too much to provide an accurate time for me to come in and take her. I felt absolutely helpless, there is no hope especially when the sacrament years come, unless the are visiting church they won’t provide any option, she said they’re is no where for her to go outside of the class even with my permission. The only option now, as I see it, is that we the parents demand that every state school have funding for a resource teacher and room especially for students opting out of religion.

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    Anon October 08, 2016

    Hi, I’m in third year and I’m studying religion at my catholic school. I’m catholic but both myself and my parents think it’s a huge course and my time would be better used studying other subjects. How can I opt out of the classes and the exams?


    • Avatar
      Helen OShea October 10, 2016

      If you are over 18 you can opt yourself out and supervise yourself. If you are under 18 your parents can opt you out but the school is under no obligation to supervise you or facilitate you studying other subjects. If you live close to the school you may have to go home during this period to study (if your parents give you permission).

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    Jack Cribbin November 20, 2016

    I’d just like to say that this was a great help. I’m 16 and currently in transition year, and I am also an atheist in a Christian family. I just found that it is hard to find accurate information about this subject, and a lot of the time my complaints about religion in my school are met by people saying that I’m too serious, or that it isn’t worth fighting over (not by teachers of course, but even they seem annoyed when I ask). I’d just like to thank this resource for its help

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    Eddie May 28, 2017

    We have 2 daughters, now 12 and 15. They were not baptised and we opted them out of religion in primary school. In our small country school this was not a problem and they didn’t have to pray or take part in religious activities. They had to sit in the class though and all that wasted time for sacraments. They didn’t feel isolated by not taking part in communion and confirmation and were not treated any differently by the teachers or other children – the main reason being that most don’t go to mass anyway and religion is just cultural. However, in secondary school we the principal refused to allow our oldest daughter to opt out saying religion is compulsory for the junior cert and the curriculum is about all religions. We had a few discussions when I made it clear teaching all religions is not something I want my children exposed too – i.e. that the idea that supernatural beliefs are an acceptable belief system. They can decide that when they are adults for themselves. In the end he backed down and she is the only student in her year of 130 students who opted out. The principal has not spoken to her or us since but she has thrived in school and all the teachers are very supportive. So my advice is to stand your ground and opt out and the movement will grow!

    • Avatar
      Jane Donnelly May 28, 2017


      Well done for standing firm on opting them out. It really is very difficult for parents to stand up to this coercion.

  26. Avatar
    Portia May 29, 2017

    Hello, my children go to a private school. Most of this legibly refers to publicly Di des schools. Does any of it cover private? Is there any legal way to opt out if religion classes in a private school?

  27. Avatar
    Robin Ayre June 04, 2017


  28. Avatar
    Mary September 04, 2018

    can any of you please give examples of letters you have sent to the school ,, ive already sent a letter in saying i prefer if my child didnt do religion ,,the teacher wants me to go in for a meeting ,,but i dont have the time to go in and say the same thing that ive already wrote

  29. Avatar
    Deirdre McDoughal November 13, 2018

    Hello, I sent a letter to my son’s school opting him out of religion. I just has a call from his year head to say that the circular issued by the Department is now out of date, and I cannot opt my son out of religious education. Does anyone know if a new circular was issued and if the February 2018 one is indeed out of date? I would have thought regardless of the Feb 2018 circular I could still opt him out. It is an ETB school. A number of other students have opted out, and the Year Head’s explanation for this was due to timetable limitations and resourcing??? I didn’t have enough information to argue, and I want to be informed properly before I have the next discussion. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Helen OShea November 13, 2018

      Minister Bruton issued a clarification on the Feb Circular Letter which we object to. Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly from Atheist Ireland met the department of education last month and got confirmation that pupils can still opt out but may not be offered an alternative subject. You have a constitutional right to opt your child out of religion or any other subject including religious ‘education’. You can find our report on this meeting here Your principle is trying to fob you off

  30. Avatar
    Andrea February 13, 2019

    I received a note in my child’s school bag this week inviting us to complete an online survey from the Archbishop regarding parent’s opinion on sacraments in school. I would recommend as many parents do it as possible. Just Google sacramental review Archbishop Dublin and you will find the link on the page.


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