Not attending religious instruction classes

While we are campaigning for a secular Irish education system based on human rights law, you may wish to ensure that your child does not attend religion class 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 do not want your child to attend religious instruction.

Sample Letters

Legal Opinion on Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution – The right to not attend religious instruction

In August 2020 Atheist Ireland got a Legal Opinion on the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction.

This Legal Opnion covers primary and second level. You can download this Legal Opinion and send it to the school while exercising your right for your child to not attend religious instruction, formation and worship.

Sample letters are below for Primary schools (Denominational and ETB) and Second Level (Denominational and ETB). The Legal Opinion discusses the NCCA Religion course at second level as well as patron developed religion courses at primary level.

Legal Opinion

 

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Not attending Religion classes in all Primary schools
  3. Not attending Religion classes in second level ETB schools and Colleges
  4. Not attending Religion classes in second level Denomnational schools.

1. Introduction

Under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution students do not have to attend religious instruction class.

Section 30 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 reflects this Constitutional right and Section 15 -2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 obliges the school to respect parents beliefs.

At Primary level Rule 69 – 2(a) of the Rules for National schools states that:-

“No pupil shall receive, or be present at, any religious instruction of which his parents or guardians disapprove”

At Primary and second level, schools ignore the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction and many students are coerced into taking religion classes.

If students do manage to opt out they are left sitting in the back of the class. No other subject is provided.  This includes schools with a religious ethos and schools under the patronage of Education and Training Boards. These schools 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 or supervision outside the religion instruction class, religious formation and religous ceremonies.

Schools obliged to use existing funding

A Legal Opinion that Atheist Ireland got in August 2020 says that schools are obliged to use existing state funding to facilitate the right to not attend religious instruction without demanding extra state funding. To come to any other conclusion would render the enjoyment of the right to not attend religious instruction contingent on the level of funding. This would fly in the face of the plain text of Article 44.2.4°.

The Legal Opinion goes on to state that:-

“90. It is worth reiterating at this point my view that the right to opt out is not a right exercisable solely in the context of the adequacy of the level of funding to a school. Provided the school is a public school receiving some State funding, the right must be respected, whether or not the funding is adequate.”

You can find that Legal Opinion here https://www.teachdontpreach.ie/2020/08/legal-opinion-on-the-constitutional-right-to-not-attend-religious-instruction/

GDPR regulations means that your child has a right to not attend religious instruction without disclosing your religious or philosophical convictions. Schools have no right to interrogate you about your religious or philosophical convictions as a condition of not attending religious instruction. You can make a complaint to the Data Commissioner if your school insists that your disclose your convictions or puts you in a position that you are obliged to reveal your convictions.

Section 1.3 of the Code of Professional conduct for teachers obliges teachers to be committed to equality and inclusion to respecting and accommodating diversity including those difference arising from religion. If a teacher or principal disrespects your convictions then you can make a complant to the Teaching Council.

 

2. Not attending Religion classes in Primary schools

You have a Constitutional right under Article 44.2.4, Article 42.1 and 44.2.1 of the Irish Constitution to remove your child from religious instruction in schools and any religious formation and worship. 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 ensure that your child does not attend anything that is against your conscience and that includes religion classes and any religious formation and worship.

Section 30 (2) -(e) of the Education Act 1998 permits your child to not attend religious instruction that is contrary to your conscience as 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 ensure that your child does not attend any subject that is against your conscience and in any publicly funded school.

Admission Policies must provide details of the arrangements for students not attending religious instruction.

Section 62(7)(n) of the Education (Admissions) to Schools Act 2018 states that schools that provide religious instruction (the vast majority of schools) must now put the arrangements for students who do not wish to attend religious instruction in their Admissions Policies. Section 62-(7)(n) states that:-

“… provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student, where the parent of that student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction at the school (which arrangements shall not result in a reduction in the school day in respect of the student concerned).”

This part of the Act commenced on 1st February 2020 and obliges schools to put in their Admision Policies:-

(a) put in place arrangements for students wishing to not attend religious instruction,

(b) to ensure that those arrangements do not result in a reduction of the school day, and

(c) that such arrangements are documented.

The recent Legal Opinion that Atheist Ireland got on on Section 62-7(n) of the Education (Admissions to schools) Act 2018 states that:-

“Schools that provide religious instruction must also put the detailed arrangements for those not
attending in their Admission Policies as per Section 62(7)(n) Education Act 1998 (paras 106-7).
The provision commenced on 1st February 2020 and plainly requires schools to (i) put in place
arrangements for students wishing to not attend religious instruction, (ii) to ensure that those
arrangements do not result in a reduction of the school day, and (iii) that such arrangements are
documented (para 109).”

Sample letter 

The above sample letters cover denominational schools and ETB Community schools.

3. Not attending Religious instruction in second level ETB schools and Colleges

You have a Constitutional right to ensure that your child does not attend the NCCA religious education course (an exam subject) at junior or leaving certificate level. If an ETB school forces your child into the NCCA religion class then you can make a formal complaint to the Board of Management, then to the Ombudsman for Children or the Workplace Relations Commission. You can also complain to the Department of Educaiton as it is the Minister for Education that is legally responsible under the Education Act. You can also make a complaint about the teacher or principal to the Teaching Council under Section  1.3 of the Code of Professional conduct for teachers.

Under Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act all ETB schools and colleges are obliged to:-

Eliminate discrimination

Promote equality

Protect Human Rights

Most ETBs ignore this obligation and coerce students into religion classes by claiming that the right to not attending religious instruction under the Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution is confind to not attending religious instruction according to the rites on one religion. They then claim that the NCCA Religious education course is not religius instruction and the right to not attend does not apply. There is no legal basis for this claim.

Circular Letters

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

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

Unfortunately, after lobbying from the Catholic Church, the ETBs, and the TUI, the Department issued another Circular Letter in October 2018. That new Circular Letter reversed some of the rights that were vindicated in the original one. However, these Circular Letters cannot remove your Constitutional Right to ensure that your child does not attend religious instruction. According to the Legal Opinion on Circular Letters it states that:-

32. The Department of Education has published two circulars concerning religion in schools, namely circulars 0013/2018 and 0062/2018.27  While circulars do not have any legal effect,28 they assist with understanding the present arrangements between the Department of Education and schools. 

Under the first Circular Letter issued by the Department of Education in February 2018 (0013/2018), parents could opt their children out of the following and choose another subject.

  • Religious instruction classes in one religion
  • The State Religious Education curriculum (exam subject)
  • Combined religious instruction and the State Religious Education course.

The second Circular Letter issued by the Department of Education 0062/2018 undermined the right to not attend religious instruction classes, by claiming that there was a distinction between religious classes in one religion (which it called Religious Instruction) and religion classes in the State Religious Education curriculum, which it called Religious Education (NCCA RE course).

If any ETB school or college tries to force your child into the NCCA religion course you can inform them that a recent Legal Opinion that Atheist Ireland states that:-

In the context of the present instructions, it is my view that the question whether a subject gives rise to the right to opt out will be turn on the question whether the subjects leave reasonable room for the parent and child’s non-belief. If parents apprehend reasonably that the content of the course, or the manner in which it is taught, is fundamentally inconsistent with the child’s atheist views, or that the course may cause an unwanted change in the child’s atheist views, there is a good prospect that the course will give rise to the right to opt out. In this regard, and owing to the interlocking nature of the constitutional provisions mentioned earlier, I think that the right to opt out of religious instruction should be interpreted in consonance with the freedom of conscience guaranteed to the
citizen, which embraces the right to not believe in or profess any religious views.

67. As mentioned earlier, the fact that the NCCA courses relate to more than one particular religion is not determinative of the question whether these courses might constitute religious instruction.

The main Aim of the NCCA religious education course introducted to schools in September 2018 is to teach children about the relevance of religion to their lives. If the main aim of any course was to teach children about the relevance of atheism to their lives it would be considered indoctrinationn and the right to not attend under the Constitution would be engaged.

The NCCA Religious education course is religious instruction and the right to not attend is engaged.

ETB schools and colleges are also obliged to put in their Admission Policies the detailed arrangements for those students who exercise their Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction – Section 62 – 7 (n) Education (Admission) to Schools Act 2018.

Sample Letter

Not attending Religion classes in Denominational schools

Students have a right to not attend religion classes in Dennominational schools. As far as we are aware nearly all Catholic denominaitonal schools combine the NCCA religious education coure with Catholic faith formation (The Guideline for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students).

Schools cannot force or coerce your child to take any type of religion classes.  Section 62(7)(n) of the Education (Admission) to Schools Act 2018 applies and detailed arrangements should be in the schools Admission Policy. If it is not available you can complain to the Board of Management and the Ombudsman for Children.

The recent Legal Opinion got by Atheist Ireland states that combining Catholic faith formation with the NCCA religion course and refusing an opt out is an unlawful, ststematic and stark attack on the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools. All publicly funded schools with a Catholic ethos have religious instruction.

76. 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.

If a denominational school is forcing your child to take religion classes you can take a caes to the Ombudsman for children or the WRC. You can also report them to the Department of Education.

Sample letter

59 Comments

  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??

    Thanks,
    Sara

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
      • Avatar
        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

        Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Jane Donnelly June 05, 2013

    You could try contacting the Irish Human Rights Commission
    http://www.ihrc.ie/contact/

    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.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    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?

    Thanks,
    Anonymous

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Devin September 07, 2015

        Congratulations both of you, we stand with you.

        Reply
    • Avatar
      Michelle Rogers May 16, 2016

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

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Jane Donnelly June 25, 2013

    anonymous,

    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.

    Reply
  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?

    Thanks,
    Anonymous

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Fiona McElree March 19, 2014

        Thank you, I will.

        Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Derek Merren September 25, 2014

      Islam is not a race. Islam is a religion.

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  11. Avatar
    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…

    Reply
  12. Avatar
    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?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jane Donnelly October 22, 2014

      Beatrice,

      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.

      Reply
  13. Avatar
    andrew December 05, 2014

    SAME PROCES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION, LIVING FOR RELIGION, DOGMAS AND WARS TO!!! IT IS A BIG
    TRUTH. “UNFORTUNATELY PARENTS ARE RESPONSIBLE,…. IT A A TRUTH!!!
    Beatrice,
    “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%!!!

    Reply
  14. Avatar
    andrew December 05, 2014

    SAME PROCES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION, LIVING FOR RELIGION, DOGMAS AND WARS TO!!! IT IS A BIG
    TRUTH. “UNFORTUNATELY PARENTS ARE RESPONSIBLE,…. ” IT IS REALLY A BIG TRUTH!!!
    Beatrice,
    “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%!!!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  16. Avatar
    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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  17. Avatar
    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!

    Reply
  18. Avatar
    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”.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  20. Avatar
    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?

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  21. Avatar
    Kiki May 19, 2016

    Seriously is this all yo people have to worry about .

    Reply
  22. Avatar
    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.

    Reply
  23. Avatar
    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?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • 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).

      Reply
  24. Avatar
    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

    Reply
  25. Avatar
    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!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jane Donnelly May 28, 2017

      Eddie,

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

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  27. Avatar
    Robin Ayre June 04, 2017

    ROMAN CATHOLICISM OR ISLAM . . . BOTH AS BAD AS EACH OTHER . . . ROMAN CATHOLIC COUNTRIES HAVE THE MOST CORRUPT GOVERNMENTS AND RELIGIOUS BODIES, TEND TO BE THE POOREST COUNTRIES WITH A HIGH RATE OF UNEDUCATED PEOPLE WITH LESS FREE-THINKERS AND MORE SELFISH, SELF PRAISING PEOPLE WHO ARE TOLD THEY’RE COUNTRY IS SPECIAL. IN REALITY, THE COUNTRY AND IT’S PEOPLE CELEBRATE MEDIOCRITY AS THEY KNOW NO BETTER. I’M AN ATHEIST AND HAVE LIVED ALL OVER THE WORLD (NOT WHERE TOURISTS GO, THANK ODIN), AM AN EARTH SCIENTIST AND EX-SOLDIER (BRITISH ARMY). STEPHEN FRY, RICHARD DAWKINS AND RICKY GERVAIS ARE GREAT TO LISTEN TO. HERE IN IRELAND THERE IS MOSTLY JUST PROFESSIONAL BULL SHI..ERS, NOT WORTH LISTENING TO …. SHAME PEOPLE STILL DO!

    Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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 https://www.teachdontpreach.ie/2018/10/students-can-opt-out/. Your principle is trying to fob you off

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  31. Avatar
    Freetobe August 30, 2019

    Why can’t schools just teach religion classes at the end of the day, then anyone who wants to opt out can just go home early and won’t be or feel excluded and it doesn’t cost the school anything.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Shneewla October 22, 2019

      Exactly! Also, there is no timetable for Jr. and Sr. Infants, we really don’t know how much and when religion is taught. We asked about this and were told the usual “friendship, family and kindness”, were made to tick options we don’t want our daughter to participate in (blessing, sacrament, mass and something else) and told that there is no other option for our child but to not participate (exclusion while watching other kids get stickers and rewards for reciting our father). We ticked all presented options and were told, yet, my 5 year old walked into the house today proudly blessing herself…in Irish, either she is a genius for learning this from the “back of the classroom” or they made her participate…Not sure what to do, we live in a somehow rural area and there is no educate together nearby.

      Reply
  32. Avatar
    Amy February 03, 2020

    My son made the decision in 5th class that he did not want to continue to have a catholic religion, I myself had chosen to have no religion a few years before this but did have him make his communion as I did not think he was old enough to understand the maturity of deciding not to have a religion so now he is in 6th class and obviously 99% of his class are preparing for conformation. I was told by his teacher he had no choice but to go to the church every Thursday with the rest of the class but he could bring a book to read or colour while there which I reluctantly agreed to. on the 1st visit 2 weeks ago he was sternly told by another teacher that he wasn’t allowed to draw or read and even doh he wasn’t making his conformation he has to stand/kneel out of respect to other people in the church. when he told me this I contacted the school and asked for his teacher to contact me in the mean time they went to the church again and I told my son that if anyone asked him to participate to tell them he wasn’t comfortable in doing this and would respectfully sit there. on this visit his own teacher told him he has to again participate out of respect to people in the church and when he told her what I advised him to say she spoke to him in a way he became very upset and cried. after school he told me this so again I rang the school and spoke to his teacher who when I questioned her about what had happened informed me that herself and the other 6th class teachers had discussed between themselves that is wouldn’t be respectful to other people in the church for him to read/ draw I asked why I wasn’t informed of this even doh we had discussed that he could do this. and I questioned where the respect for his non religious beliefs were been taking into consideration by asking him to participate to enter let alone participate in a religious service he has no belief in. I am having a meeting with the school this afternoon about this and am wondering what are his rights under human law act?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jane Donnelly February 03, 2020

      Hi Amy,

      Really sorry that this has happened to your family.

      You have a Constitutional right to remove your child from attending any religious teaching.

      The response from that school suggests that if you exercise this right then your child must still attend religious teaching and participate by kneeling and standing up etc. The reasoning behind this policy (put together by teachers) is that while exercising your right your child must show respect to the other participants in the church by participating to some degree in the ceremony.

      There is a new piece of legislation in place that will help you deal with this discrimination.

      Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018

      Section 62 7 (n) of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act states that:

      (7) An admission policy shall—
      (n) provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student, where the parent of that student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction at the school (which arrangements shall not result in a reduction in the school day in respect of the student concerned),

      The above section of the Act has now commenced and the school and teachers are legally obliged to comply with it.
      The Board of Management have 3 months to implement Section 62 – 7(n) which has just been enacted (tell them that).

      It is not up to any teacher or a group of teachers to decide on arrangements for students that do not attend religion. That is up to the Board of Management as it is now part of the school’s Admissions policy. The Board of Management make policy not teachers. Therefore their little arrangement for your child has no bearing on you or your child, it is meaningless and you are not obliged to follow it. Tell them that any decision re not attending religion is the legal duty of the Board of Management not teachers. Their little arrangement shows the disrespect that they have for minorities in the school.

      You could also point out to them that the wording of Section 62-7(n) states, ‘attend the school without attending religious instruction’. The school has made your child ‘attend’ religious instruction and is making him participate against your expressed wishes.

      There is nothing in Section 62 – 7-n that obliges you or your child to ‘show respect’ to participants in the religious teaching while ‘not attending’.
      In other words there are no legal conditions on exercising your right to ‘not attend’. Section 62-7-n puts a legal obligation on the school in relation to Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 which obliges Board of Management in the schools to “not require any student to attend religious instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student”.

      We would argue that obliging minorities to knell and stand at the religious teaching of the majority in the school actually undermines freedom of religion and belief as it teaches children that it is in order to force minorities to participate while they don’t even want to attend and have a Constitutional right to not attend religious teaching. By their actions these teachers are showing children how to disrespect minorities and undermine their rights. They can ‘ask’ your child to kneel and stand to show what they call ‘respect’ but they can’t force him. They can’t punish him for not complying and you can insist that they not speak to him about this issue ever again. That this issue comes to you and you alone.

      Attending the teaching of religion in the local church is contrary to your conscience and so is obliging your child to participate. You should inform them of this. Remember Section 62 -7(n) uses the word ‘attend’. We doubt whether a Board of Management will put in an Admissions policy that minorities have to pick up their child every time there is religion.

      They have no right to question you at the meeting today about what you believe or do not believe in. You do not need to reveal to them your convictions whether religious or not. If they do ask remind them of Data Protection and that you have the right to privacy. All they need to know is that you are exercising your right for your child to not attend religious teaching.

      In addition remind them of Section 15 (2)-(e) of the Education Act 1998 which states that:-

      Board of Management
      “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”

      Tell them that not only have they disregarded your rights as a parent but they have also undermined them and are teaching disrespect for your rights in a democratic society. Ask them how they intend to rectify this situation. That unless you get an apology and they stop implementing this ‘decision’ by teachers then you will take your complaint to the Board of Management (we will assist you with that). Teachers do not make policy, this is the duty of the Board of Management and Section 62 of the Education (Admissions to schools) Act 2018 is quite clear about that.

      Reply
  33. Avatar
    Anonymous March 02, 2020

    I need some help here. Last October, I got written permission from a parent, as requested by a year head, to be opted out of religious education. The year head accepted and up until around December, I studied in the resource classroom during the duration of religion classes. I’m in third year by the way. Then suddenly the year head (the one that gave me permission to be exempt) said that my mum has to come in for a meeting with the principal about the exemption. I was instructed to sit outside the year head’s office during religious education until the meeting finally went through. In the meeting, my mum was told that I cannot be exempt from r.e. as it isn’t allowed, but he would let me stay out of religion. This meant that I would have a subject missing from my junior cert though, which I am ok with. Fast forward to today, the principal meets with me and says that I can’t be exempt from religion and that I have to start returning to classes and catch up with the work. Keep in mind, this is several months of missing classes and an incomplete portfolio. I’m quite sure that this isn’t fair, as the mistake was on the year head’s part, and I have not sat the r.e. mock exam, so I’m in no way prepared for the junior cert. How could I get an exemption from religious education without losing the respect of the school?
    Thanks,
    Anonymous

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Michael Nugent March 02, 2020

      You have a constitutional right to opt out of any religion teaching, regardless of whether they call it religious instruction or religious education. The Department of Education and many schools are trying to blur that right by claiming that there is a distinction between the NCCA Religious Education currculum and the religion classes run by the school patrons, but there is no legal basis to make that distinction. Under the Education Act you can opt out of any class that is contrary to your conscience (or the conscience of your parents if you are under 18). If you want to discuss it further please email Jane Donnelly at humanrights@atheist.ie

      Reply
  34. Avatar
    Richard Mitchell September 10, 2020

    ‘If parents apprehend reasonably that the content of the course, or the manner in which it is taught, is fundamentally inconsistent with the child’s atheist views, or that the course may cause an unwanted change in the child’s atheist views, there is a good prospect that the course will give rise to the right to opt out.’ (Legal Opinion, paragraph 66)

    Really? I would maintain that teenagers should be exposed to views different to their own, and should be allowed to make up their own minds about atheism.

    However, if there are parents who are worried that their teenage child might convert after a few RE classes, it might well be possible to offer Junior/Senior Cycle Classics as an alternative to Junior/Senior Cycle RE.

    I suspect teachers would welcome the opportunity for students who don’t want to be in their class to take another subject. But policymakers might well wonder whether some study of religion – and its relevance to our lives – is so essential to the human condition that postprimary education would be incomplete without it (especially in a school under denominational management).

    Fundamentally, this all seems flawed anyway. Who cares about the right to withdraw from RE when you have the right to send your child to a non-denominational school? Why are so many atheist parents choosing to send their children to schools with an overt religious ethos, even when there is a secular alternative in proximity?

    And is it really the case that state-examined NCCA RE, taught in the spirit of the curriculum, is so offensive to nonbelievers?

    AI maintains: ‘The main Aim of the NCCA religious education course introducted to schools in September 2018 is to teach children about the relevance of religion to their lives. If the main aim of any course was to teach children about the relevance of atheism to their lives it would be considered indoctrinationn and the right to not attend under the Constitution would be engaged.

    The NCCA Religious education course is religious instruction and the right to not attend is engaged.’

    Well, this is how postprimary education in Ireland works: English teaches the relevance of literature to our lives; you can get a good mark on Shakespeare if you think he’s rubbish, but it helps if you can appreciate his writing. Geography teaches the relevance of geography to our lives, etc, etc.

    I have no idea what a course whose main aim was to teach the relevance of atheism to learners’ lives would look like. However, many Christians, Muslims, atheists etc might well welcome Philosophy as a subject at JC and SC, and I have no doubt in that context learners would be taught the relevance of Philosophy to their lives.

    Many of us would welcome the inclusion of an atheist worldview in the curriculum, but since atheism now defines itself negatively as non-belief, there simply isn’t anything there to study – no values, no principles, just an absence founded on nothing and on which nothing can be founded.

    I’ll stick with RE.

    Reply

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