Note: if you have not already done so, please also read our introductory page of key facts about opting your child out of religious education classes.
This letter should be addressed to the Principal. If you do not get a reply within two weeks write to the Board of Management.
If you do not get a reply or they refuse to let you opt out your child from any Religious teaching, formation and Religious Services contact the Office for the Ombudsman for Children here. You can also Contact the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission here. You can also contact the Department of Education as it is the Minister for Education that has a duty to protect your right to remove your child from religious instruction/teaching under Article 44.2.4. Exercising your right to remove your child from religous instruction is also a constitutoinal condition for the funding of all schools.
These are draft letters, you can pick and choose what you put into them. You do not have to use all the material or you can just change the tone of the letter and just use anything that you feel is essential to your particular circumstances.
Letter for ETB second level schools
I wish to exercise my Constitutional Right under Article 44.2.4 for my child not to attend any religious classes and any religious services or worship.
Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution guarantees this right and Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 reads: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister – shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which 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.”
The Supreme Court has stated that the inalienable rights of parents in relation to the education of their children under Article 42.1 of the Constitution must be read in conjunction with Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, the right to not attend religious instruction (Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1998).
The Supreme Court in the recent Burke case found that Art 42.1 harmonises with Article 41 (the authority of the family) and that under Article 42.1 the state cannot interfere in the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children. Consequently it is not up to the State, Patron bodies, the school, teachers, the Minister for Education or the National Courcil for Curriculum and Assessment to decide if a particular religion course is or is not against our/my conscience.
As the NCCA Religious Education course is contrary to my conscience;
and the Supreme Court has said that my right in relation to the religious education of my child under Art 42.1 must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4; and that under Article 42.1 the state cannot interfere in my right in relation to the religious and moral education of my child;
I wish to exercise my Constitutional right for (child’s name) to not attend this course. I will as is my constitutional right (Art 42.1) educate my child at home in relation to any religious or moral education (Article 42.2). There is no need to give my child any suggested material when he/she is not attending religious instruction/teaching. I consent for my child to study or do her/his homework.
A recent Legal Opinion (attached) states that:-
“47. First, Article 44.2.4° simply refers to “religious instruction.” Accordingly, if a course is religious instruction, the right is engaged. Article 44.2.4° says nothing whatsoever about religious instruction relating to one religion only. No such qualification is found within Article 44.2.4°. In the context of a family of an atheist perspective, it appears that it would be impermissible to refuse an opt out by arguing that the course in question relates to more than one religion.”
Please confirm this in writing and I would ask you not to discuss this matter with my child.
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) of the Education (Admission) to Schools Act 2018.
I would also like to refer you to Circular Letter M19/1999 issued by the Department of Education in relation to the NCCA Religious Education Course. This Circular Letter was issued when the subject was introduced in second level schools.
This Circular Letter clearly states that the subject is optional and therefore I would like my child to access another subject if possible as he/she will lose out on essential teaching time just because we exercised our Constitutional rights. For your information here is a link to that Circular Letter https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Archived-Circulars/M19_99.pdf
I/We would also like to point out that under GDPR requirements there is no need for any school to ask our religious affiliation or whether we have any religious affiliation. There is also a requirement not to put us in a position where we would have to reveal our (religious or philosophical) convictions in order for our child to not attend religious instruction.
The following sample letter is for any parent who wish their child to not attend religious instruction classes or formation in denominational schools.
I wish to exercise my Constitutional Right under Article 44.2.4 for my child to not attend religious instruction classes, any Religious teaching, education, formation and any Religious services or Religious Retreats. Attending Religious services or Religious Retreats is the practice of religion and therefore indoctrination.
Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution guarantees this right and Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 reads: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister – shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which 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”. The right of students to not attend religious instruction is a constitutional condition of state funding (Article 44.2.4).
The Supreme Court has stated that the inalienable rights of parents in relation to the education of their children under Article 42.1 of the Constitution must be read in conjunction with Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, the right to not attend religious instruction (Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1998, J Barrington).
The Supreme Court has also found in the recent Burke case that Article 42.1 harmonises with Article 41 (the authority of the family) and that the State cannot interfere in the rights of parents to provide religious or moral education to their children. Consequently it is not up to the State, Patron bodies, the school or teachers to decide if a particular religion course is or is not against our/my conscience even if that course was developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessement. I will as is my constitutional right educate my child at home in relation to any religious or moral education (Article 42.2).
There is no need to give my child any suggested material when he/she is not attending religious instruction/teaching. I consent for my child to study or do her/his homework.
I would really like my child to access another subject if possible as he/she will lose out on essential teaching time just because we exercised our Constitutional rights. I don’t see why we should lose out on teaching time and especially when not attending religious instruction is a condition of state funding of all schools (Art 44.2.4).
In addition Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:-
“ States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “
I wish to ensure that my Child does not attend the NCCA religious education course and any religious formation integrated into that course.
A recent Legal Opinion (attached) on the right to not attending religion classes in schools states that:-
“47. First, Article 44.2.4° simply refers to “religious instruction.” Accordingly, if a course is religious instruction, the right is engaged. Article 44.2.4° says nothing whatsoever about religious instruction relating to one religion only. No such qualification is found within Article 44.2.4°. In the context of a family of an atheist perspective, it appears that it would be impermissible to refuse an opt out by
arguing that the course in question relates to more than one religion.
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.”
I wish to ensure that (child’s name) does not attend this class. Please confirm this in writing and I would ask you not to discuss this matter with my child.
I/We would also like to point out that under GDPR requirements there is no need for any school to ask our religious affiliation or whether we have any religious affiliation. There is also a requirement not to put us in a position where we would have to reveal our (religious or philosophical) convictions in order to ensure that our child does not attend religion classes or religious services.
Perhaps, a first letter should be more friendly rather than going in with the legal one (above) in the first instance. I think a ‘Dear Mr Skinner, we want to opt our little Johnny out of religion class as we are not religious believers. Thank you for all the good work you are doing. Johnny is thriving and loves school. See you at the cake sale. Best wishes, etc”
These are, after all, our schools and the places where our children have to socialise and learn to get along and many/most teachers may share our concerns at the church’s interference. By all means, if you get a hostile reply, follow up with the legal stuff. Anyway, it worked for me and I’m now on friendly terms with two school principals.
I agree with Feardorcha, a letter stating the legal and technical side of why the school must acknowledge non-believers in the schools religious ethos will cause instant tension between the student and the school as well as damage the relationship with the school and parents. A friendly letter is much more appropriate, and the sample letter should be used only if the friendly letter is ignored or rejected.
I think it would be ok if you started the letter with the paragraph like, i do not wish my child to participate in religious classes would you could arrange that, if you can’t please ring to discuss.
just say plainly what you expect them to do, and then add the legal backing you don’t actually want to get into a long back and forth over your right.
My son is in Third Year and I have only just read through the Religious Education curriculum – I am absolutely horrified and wish I had tried to get him out of it earlier – however I thought it was compulsory. The curriculum is so horrible – where do you start? For one thing it conflates religion with morality, and also with community. I want to be clear that it is my son’s views and beliefs that I respect here – I no more believe that a child is an atheist because their parents are than I believe a child can be described as a christian because their parents are. However, I know that we have to pursue these things via the right of the parent, rather than of the child or young person. My son has hated this class from the get go, saying he was given a bible by some people who visited the class to talk about their religion (grrr!) and he threw it on the roof of the school – good for him! I know one way to pursue this is via the parents’ rights but we must also push for the young person’s rights to have a say on their education, curriculum and environment. I am hoping (and should I say praying?) that this is not a compulsory subject for Senior Cycle…
Am a teacher of RE. Am a strong advocate of tolerance and mutual respect and encourage same principles among my students. While I don’t agree with, but respect the views of some of those in atheist Ireland, the concept of an opt out letter is excellent. It would certainly make my job much easier as we would not have to put up with those more insolent students who lack tolerance or respect for the views of the silent majority, who like myself, are not self-righteous “holy-joes”, but do want to live their lives within the values expressed by various religious denominations.
What i do find disconcerting is the fact that a parent would condone the destructice disposal of books, not to mention littering. We then wonder why our teenage population is lost in a morass of irresponsible carelessness, copious alcohol consumption and a lack of basic respect for others manifested in cyberbullying etc. Parents, religious or not, must step up to the plate and instill social responsibility among their offspring …. and I have three of my own under fifteen! It is perfectly normal for teenagers to question their faith. I encourage it. What is not normal though, is for a certain cohort of parents to encourage a perverse and unwarranted criticism of the beliefs and right of those who do belong to faith. (Have witnessed this first hand in the classroom).
There seems to be an increased normalisation of secular sectarianism, reminiscent of the propaganda spouted against Jewish people in 1930s Germany by the Nazis. It is an extremism which seeks to impose it’s will on the silent majority of ordinary Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faiths. It is more endemic towards christians though. Yes, you and others may cite the vile actions of some members of the clergy as justification for your approach …. (I too, as a Mum am sickened also and wish reform) … but you cannot blame a whole faith for the actions of a few, no more than you can blame the whole Muslim faith for the actions of those who perpetuated 9/11.
I suggest that you teach your son some basic tolerance and respect of those who do belong to a faith. He could have declined the Bible, no problem! When the Gideons visit my school, I make very clear to the kids that they are under no obligation to take a bible, but as a caveat, I also make clear that any bullying of students who do take a bible will be dealt with as a behaviour management issue. You should consider this when speaking with your son.
I fully respect and encourage the right of atheists to have a secular education, but not while treading or trampling on the right of those who wish to attend a school with a specific religious ethos.
I found most of your comments on tolerance and accomodation fine – but them you go and say:
“There seems to be an increased normalisation of secular sectarianism, reminiscent of the propaganda spouted against Jewish people in 1930s Germany by the Nazis. ”
This is hardly tolerance. That is like me saying I find that theists are inclined to hijacking and murder.
You cannot ask for telerance and then not show it in return.
Children of non-religious parents have no similarity with Nazis.
And religion attendance and observation in Ireland have clearly declined to somewhere around 30-40% (figures from Lolek the PR company trading as “Iona Institute”) yet religious control of schools remains at >98% for primary schools.
Throwing away an unwanted bible that was foised on a child in a religiously controlled environment is restrained act of rebellion and to be welcomed. Image the reaction if the child had had the temerity to question the belief of the bible giver!
Wow Sharon, I am blown away by your reaction! I am so sorry that you have encountered people who do not respect your beliefs and your right to hold them. It will be obvious to you that I would not condone that lack of respect – quite the opposite, since I DO think people should be respected and accepted for who they are.
I imagine there are many good ways to approach those ‘insolent’ students you seem to have encountered, in a mutually respectful atmosphere, when they are expressing their views about religion – as a teacher I am sure you understand adolescent behaviour and will know that it can be over the top – if you were going to get upset about every incidence of it, it would be difficult to be a teacher. Perhaps if you try to see it from their point of view – they may resent being in the class because they do not want to be in the class.
How did the ‘insolent’ students you are talking about show their lack of tolerance and respect for the views of others? I would be interested to know what you mean by that. Of course rudeness and lack of respect, whether it is shown either by students or by teachers, must be challenged to see what is causing the problem, and an authoritarian approach will never get to the bottom of it.
I’m sorry you found the throwing of the book onto the roof so upsetting – I am not saying it was good behaviour and I told my sone he should not have done it. Perhaps you might try to understand that my son was forced to attend this class, since there was nobody else to supervise him out of the class. He was not entitled to exercise his rights in that respect, so I think I can understand his frustration.
You may say parents should conform with the ethos of the school, but in a state where our state and state-funded education makes no provision for the (now) majority of parents who do not want a religious education for their children, there is no other choice, which is incredibly unjust since we are all tax-payers and citizens. The state needs to be contracting with at least some inclusive organisations when it is awarding funding to deliver our state education to our children.
Your diatribe about young people is very sad indeed – I am sorry you have such a poor view of young people, especially as a teacher.
I have no idea why you have launched this astonishing diatribe against me as being anti-Christian. I am not anti-Christian. I am against the forced indoctrination of children who are not Christian but for whom the state does not provide an appropriate education. I am against the fact that there are no post-primary schools in our state, and state-funded education system, that are not religious, when successive polls show that a majority of parents want a non-religious education for their children. Have I cited the actions of clergy as part of my post – please show me where. I personally try not to engage in the kind of accusatory dialogue – everybody is entitled to their own views on religion and to follow the path they wish. I never join in diatribes against Christianity or Islam – quite the opposite – I stand against it.
Thanks for your suggestion that I teach my son some basic tolerance and respect of those who do belong to a faith, but no need because he has that tolerance and respect in bucketfuls. He threw the bible on the roof out of frustration at being made to take it and being made to attend a religion class because there was nobody else to supervise him. Where did I say that he ever showed disrespect for other people’s beliefs? I wish there could have been respect shown for HIS beliefs, or lack thereof. And why are you talking about bullying? Who would support bullying of children for their beliefs? My son is a tolerant, kind and caring person and I am incredibly proud of him.
If you truly do encourage the rights of atheists to have a secular education (and because I am an atheist it does not mean that my son is – I would never ever seek to influence him), then that is great, because we need all the help we can get in this unjust education system. Perhaps that would be a good discussion for your religion class – ask the students in the class if there are any who are not themselves religious and how they feel their rights to have a secular education could better be catered for.
Who is trampling on the right of those who wish to attend a school with a specific religious ethos? Surely you are not suggesting that the many parents in this country who want an education in line with their own ethos but do not have that choice complaining about this is somehow trampling on the rights of those who wish to attend a school with a specific religious ethos? Religious schools are not in any way self-funding – they are paid to deliver a state education on behalf of the state. When more than half of all Irish parents do NOT want a religious education for their children and yet our government is contracting with 96% religious organisations to deliver our state education, that is a fundamental injustice.
I am sorry too that you have chosen to go on the attack. Most of what you accuse me of is in your imagination, and certainly does not come from my post. If that is an example of love thy neighbour or even turn the other cheek, I am disappointed.
Right Sharon, I have decided to come back with a more conciliatory approach. When I made my earlier posts I was angry at your unwarranted personal attack on me. Let’s agree that we both subscribe to respect for people’s own personal belief system. However, in the situation I describe I do not feel that my son’s own personal belief system was respected.
Try to understand that from the viewpoint of a lot of parents in this land the state should provide and fund a state education system that respects the personal belief systems of individual students. We may differ insofar as you see religious schools as private institutions that receive government funding; I see it as our money being given to schools in a contract where those schools deliver a state education on behalf of the state. After all, none of those schools are independent and capable of doing what they wish to do without state funding.
In light of this, our state should contract with an array of education providers in a way that reflects the wishes of parents and their right to an education for their children that respects the belief systems of those children. That is not the case at the moment, so the best we have is an imperfect system where our children have no choice but to attend faith state schools but have a chance to opt out of religious formation classes. However, even this is not working properly.
I would be interested, if you do respect the belief systems of others, to see what would happen if you asked the children in your RE class how many of them considered themselves to be practising Christians, or whatever the faith base of your school is. In that way you would have the chance to understand where they were coming from and the chance to act in a way that respects their belief systems, since you say this is something that is important to you. My own experience is that only a minority are likely to consider themselves to be practising Christians.
Meanwhile, let us continue to try to practise the respect for each other’s views that we should.
I find the comments of Michelle Rogers to be vulgar, condoning the actions of her son throwing a copy of the bible on the roof of his school, and applauding him! Wow, if that is to be condoned in the name of rights, sher why not make intolerance of religious beliefs a core part of the curriculum. If one does not believe in a mode of religious education, that should be respected but by disrespecting those that do have faith, clearly respect and tolerance is a one way road to some…..
What Twat! Throwing something on the roof is not a prediction of anti social behaviour and thankfully this young person has the use of his arms legs and brains! Intolerance in those unbagaged by indoctrination is often viewed as intimidating , better perhaps to investigate read and explore outside your comfort zone before passing comment, best of luck.
Sorry mistype there S, what I meant so say is that I am mystified as to how you translated my son’s action into a lack of respect or tolerance for those who do have faith – if there were any young people in his class who did have faith, he certainly had no lack of respect or tolerance for their beliefs, and nor did they for his – in fact quite a number seemed to share his feelings about having the bible foisted on them by the Gideons. His annoyance was about being forced to endure a religious education curriculum that was narrowly Christian, and being forced to accept the bible, even though all of this was against his own beliefs. He had no choice. So where is the real intolerance in that situation? It is not my son or his classmates who are the problem – they are by and large great friends and tolerant and accepting of one another and one another’s differences and unique beings.
Don’t be so po-faced. Why do you think he is intolerant of religious beliefs? He certainly is not. What he faced as a non-believer in his state, and state-funded, school was a situation where neither he, nor we, were able to exercise his right to opt out of the religious education class as there was nobody to supervise him. He was the one who was not accepted and respected for who he was. In light of this I was not surprised he was frustrated enough to throw the book on the roof after the class, since he said he was made to take the book. However, to his face I told him he should not have done that. But come on, it is hardly a hanging offence for a young adolescent! I am still mystified as to how you translate this into a respect for the belief systems of others – he is not a Christian, but he was treated as if his own beliefs were not respected, or even tolerated. He was a child at the time – I am sure none of us were angels all the time at that age. So perhaps a bit less of the moral outrage.
That would the the gideons, they a christian evangelical organisation who put bibles everywhere. We had the same thing happen in my son’s VEC school, the Gideons were allowed to come in address the class and hand out their mini new testament tracts, which had certain passages marked in an index. The pupils were told to put them in their bags and that they should a passage every day by the teachers. Parent’s were not informed this was happening and we were very annoyed. The book went in the recycling bin.
Yes I think that was it… I seem to be getting a lambasting here for finding it amusing that my son threw the book on the roof of the school. He was a young adolescent at the time and of course I told him he should not have done it. But in the context of his not being allowed to exercise his right to opt out of religious class because there was nobody to supervise him, exactly who was being disrespected. Similar to you, he was told he had to take the bible. If there was provision in our state education system for all, I wouldn’t mind, but there was no non-religious state school available for him, which I think is an injustice of our education system. Some rabid people above seem to have extrapolated out of this that my son would have been disrespectful and intolerant in the class – he was not – he listened, as he had no choice, took the book obediently and, as an act of defiance threw it on the roof of the school – bring back the death penalty!
how would a student over 18 apply this? as this letter seems geared to that of an adult. would it be simply a matter of adaptation or is there a different route necessary
This is the Section of the Education Act 1998 that gives you the right to opt yourself out of religion classes . Once you are over 18 you cannot be forced to take religion. You may have to sit in the class but they cannot make you take the class.
Section 30(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister—
(e) shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which 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.
You are constitutionally protected and can exercise your own rights not to participate in religion. You do not need any permission from parents.
This is the letter that was sent to Parents in a County Clare School on the issue of the parents voting on patronage:-
Dear parent(s)/ guardian(s),
You may or may not be aware that the Minister for Education has in recent times established
a group to advise him on the issue of patronage in schools. Shannon was identified as one
area where a change in patronage may be sought. On Monday of this week it emerged that
our schools have been included in the catchment area for Shannon. We had no prior
notification that this would be the case. The Patron bodies who have expressed an interest in
operating a divested school are:
The Redeemed Christian Church of God
An Foras Patrunachta
It is important to point out that our three schools have always been inclusive schools which
welcomed and accommodated families of other faiths and no faith. We respect, value and
celebrate the traditions of the school community in its totality. A change of school patronage
would have enormous implications for staff, Boards of Management, children and parents.
Preparation for the Sacraments of First Confession, First Communion and
Confirmation would no longer take place in school for example. All preparation work
would have to be done at home. Nativity plays would no longer be part of the school
tradition. These are just two examples of the changes that a change in Patronage at our school
The department of Education has made a survey available online which can be accessed on
http://www.education.ieAn information letter accompanies this letter. We encourage all parents to
complete this short survey and make your voices heard. A hard copy of the survey is also
available to fill out at each school and in ——- library. If you need any assistance
accessing the online survey, we win make a computer available to you here at the
schools and offer any assistance necessary.
For any additional information, please contact the principal.
i think religious studies should be removed from all schools, and let people select which place of worship they attend, the coverage is very biased in school i remember my own children covering every thing except christianity , and i felt that was unacceptable