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.

“Ruairi Quinn” by The Labour Party is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Michael Nugent


  1. Avatar
    Steve Ewart March 14, 2011

    I find it amusing that…

    folks in the south of Ireland home-school to stop their kids from being indoctrinated &
    folks in the north of Ireland home-school in order to indoctrinate their kids in their religion

    of course, I’m inappropriately extrapolating from a small sample set of friends!

  2. Avatar
    Kevin March 14, 2011

    It just popped into my head that it must really suck to be an atheist in Ireland.

    Thought pops into head–>Google search–> arrives at

    Keep up the fight, my friends. Keep up the fight.

  3. Avatar
    Lu March 24, 2011

    I’m thrilled at this news though it has come too late for me, after applying to four schools for my son none of them offered him a place as all bar one (educate together) sited member of parish as a top admission priority. As we did not christen our son and we do not belong to any religion he was obviously at the bottom of the selective list for nearly every school.
    Educate together schools are nigh impossible to get into as demand is so high- a reflection of Irish society today.
    We resigned ourselves and ended up applying to a good local but roman catholic school and we’re currently on the waiting list for a church of Ireland school also. Incidently there are no schools in our area which are not RC and we’ll have to journey out if he’s offered a place in the C o I school.
    The whole experience has been very stressful. Also so many people have asked us where he’s going to school that I’ve had to explain our situation over and over. I don’t like telling people that we’re atheist and having to tell my neighbour my opinion of Catholicism when she’s telling me St.whatever down the road is a good school and is his name down for that. Of course I’m tactful.
    Looks like it’s a catholic school he’s going to anyway and we’ve no choice about it because he starts this September. We started applying to schools three and a half years ago before we even knew where we’d be living. So many people told me to baptise him so that we’d have a better chance. I’ve no helpful advice for prospective atheist parents- it’s hell (pun intended) trying to find a school for non-religious children.

  4. Avatar
    Sean April 08, 2011

    Lu, that’s a pretty nasty story. Fair enough if some religious group wants to entirely fund its own schools, but not when they’re being funded by the state to provide education that is guaranteed by our constitution.

    I’m fine with having patrons running schools, but not when exceptions to human rights norms are allowed for them. Better to just get the church out of schools and anything else concerned with the state. There’s something quite insane about allowing Catholics to run schools when they’ve demonstrated an astonishing ability to cover up the rape of children, and any apologies from the church are rendered insincere by their shifting the blame for these scandals on to secularisation, or as the Vatican’s chief exorcist said, Satan and his minions. Seriously, these guys believe that crackers turn in to messiah salami, yet they’re still trusted to run schools?

  5. Avatar
    abucs May 22, 2011

    People who want an education for their loved ones through their religious community have that right. Secular does not mean anti-religion. And the thought that the state should have the power to control all facets of education is not only totalitarian but shown to be disastrous in the last century.

    To addres the above comment, the sexual abuse of school kids in non religious education systems around the world are far, far, far worse.

    quote ……. “… the physical sexual abuse of students in [public] schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by [Catholic] priests.” She estimated that about 290,000 students were victimized between 1991 and 2000