Atheist Ireland welcomes new forum on Catholic patronage of Irish schools
Atheist Ireland welcomes the decision by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to establish a forum to identify how schools can be transferred out of Catholic patronage as a matter of immediate priority.
We hope to participate as fully as possible in this forum as an advocacy group for an ethical and secular society.
This has the potential to be the most significant step towards a secular education system ever taken by an Irish Education Minister. However, it is important that the forum vindicates the right of all children to a secular education, and does not leave behind children in geographical areas where there are small numbers of nonreligious people.
Atheist Ireland wants a secular education system based on international human rights law. Parents have a right to not have their children indoctrinated at school with religious beliefs contrary to those of their parents. In Ireland, in practical terms, most nonreligious parents are denied this right.
In fact, it is impossible for this right to be respected in Roman Catholic schools. The Irish Catholic Bishops say that “Catholic schools seek to reflect a distinctive vision of life and a corresponding philosophy of education, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This ethos permeates the entire curriculum.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has already told Ireland to increase its efforts to ensure that nondenominational primary education is widely available in all parts of the State.
And the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that children should be taught about religious culture and ethics in an objective, critical and pluralist manner. It has also ruled that primary schools in Italy should not display religious symbols on school walls.
Atheist Ireland believes that State education should be secular. Children should be taught about the diversity of religious beliefs in an objective manner. Children should be educated in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge. Faith formation should be a matter for parents and religions.
Atheist Ireland wants a secular state for a pluralist people. This nuance is important: a pluralist society, with freedom of conscience, religion and belief, is best protected by a secular government, with public policy formed by applying reason to evidence.