The Catholic Church rejects teaching about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

In an article in the Irish Times today the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin is quoted as stating that a pluralist Ireland can only happen through “dialogue and respect”. He is also quoted as stating that “Elements in society are ‘allergic’ to mention of faith in schools’ system.”

The Catholic Church in Ireland speaks about pluralism in education on a regular basis, while at the same time rejecting the teaching about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

The Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs were issued by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2007. These Guidelines set out the human rights principles for teaching about religions and beliefs in a democratic pluralist society.

Out of the 56 States in the OSCE, the Holy See is the only one that has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles. Their reason for rejecting these human rights based guidelines was:-

The Document contains a reductive view of religion and a conception of the secular nature of States and their neutrality that obfuscates the positive role of religion, its specific nature and contribution to society.”

This is what the Catholic Church is rejecting, while at the same time claiming that it supports pluralism:-

“The starting point of the Toledo Guiding Principles is the understanding that teaching about religions and beliefs is not devotionally and denominationally oriented. It strives for student awareness of religions and beliefs, but does not press for student acceptance of any of them; it sponsors study about religions and beliefs, not their practice; it may expose students to a diversity of religious and non-religious views, but does not impose any particular view; it educates about religions and beliefs without promoting or denigrating any of them; it informs students about various religions and beliefs, it does not seek to conform or convert students to any particular religion or belief. Study about religions and beliefs should be based on sound scholarship, which is an essential precondition for giving students both a fair and deeper understanding of the various faith traditions.”(page 21)

The Toledo Guiding Principles are based on human rights, and in particular the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief and the right to education. Despite rejecting these human rights based Guidelines on teaching about religion in schools, the Catholic Church has no problem with lecturing everyone about dialogue, respect and pluralism in education.

The Toledo Guiding Principles state that:

“freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a ‘democratic society’ […]. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and the un-concerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it.”(page 30)

“Regardless of the particular model of church-state relations within a country, the state has important responsibilities in the field of education and, in exercising these, it has a duty to act in a neutral and impartial fashion where matters of religion and belief are concerned — a duty that is “incompatible with any power on the state’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs,” and thus should not take a stand on the truth or falsi-ty of any form of religion or belief.”(page 33)

In Ireland the State does not act in a neutral and impartial manner in the field of religion. It privileges religion, and in particular the Catholic Church. Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, the Primary School Curriculum, as well as the Religious Education course at second level, cannot be regarded as neutral or pluralistic.

In a recent case at the European Court of Human Rights the court found that Turkey had failed to respect the rights of parents in Turkish schools because:-

”the applicants could legitimately have considered that the approach adopted in the classes was likely to cause their children to face a conflict of allegiance between the school and their own values.”

This is an aspect of human rights that Church and State fail to take on board. The obligation to respect parents’ convictions is not only about protecting children from indoctrination and coercion; it also obliges the state to ensure that the approach to religion in schools does not cause children to face a conflict of allegiance between the school and their own values. The Catholic Church wants atheist/secular parents to accept that their children should be taught that religious faith will enrich their lives. Can you imagine if Catholic children were taught in school that atheism would enrich their lives, we would never hear the end of it?

Secularism is regarded as a philosophical conviction protected under Article II of Protocol 1 of the European Convention (the right to education) and Article 9 (the right to freedom of conscience). There is a positive obligation on the State to respect the right of secular parents to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. We have exactly the same rights as religious parents.

Last July the UN Human Rights Committee raised the issue of a neutral studying environment in denominational schools, and asked the Irish state the following:-

“I would appreciate, whether orally or in writing, the Delegation’s theory on this point, on this legal point. And whether the State believes or not that it is required to ensure a neutral studying environment in those schools, in denominational schools, outside the confines of religious instruction classes that can be opted out from?”

The state has not responded to this request from the UN Human Rights Committee, because to do so would show how they fail in their duty to act in a neutral and impartial manner where matters of religion and belief are concerned.

The Catholic Church are in a position of power and control in the Irish education system. They are patron of the majority of schools in the country. They have not acknowledged that the UN Human Rights Committee are raising concern about the rights of minorities in their publicly funded schools.  They are not seeking the removal of Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools on the basis that it is clearly not pluralistic and breaches the human rights of many families. They are not remonstrating with the government over the Primary School Curriculum that seeks to bring all children to a knowledge of god, and they are certainly not encouraging the state to abide by its duty of neutrality with regard to religion and the education system.

The Catholic Church works with the UN and the OSCE but has failed to convince them that its version of pluralism respects the rights of ALL parents and their children in the education system. Despite this we are being told that “if we truly cherish the children of Ireland it means that we will work together to ensure that all our children can enjoy the most favourable possible environment for their education.” The environment that they are speaking about is one where they have a privileged position and where their version of pluralism rules.

The Catholic Church are seeking to hold on to their privileged position in the education system. We are being lectured about respect and dialogue from the very organisation that undermines our human rights, and that discriminates on religious grounds in the education system. What we are being asked to accept is pluralism and respect according to the Catholic Church, not pluralism based on human rights and fundamental freedoms.


“File:Diarmuid Martin World Economic Forum 2013 crop.jpg” by World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Atheist Ireland