Minister Bruton Must Address Human Rights Abuses In State Curriculum

In recent weeks, Atheist Ireland has researched hundreds of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) about how it devised the State Religious Education course at second level. This Religious Education course is supposed to be for all religions and none.

These documents support the case that Atheist Ireland has been making for years:

(a) That the State second level Religious Education Course disrespects the philosophical convictions of atheist and secular families and that, contrary to Article 42.1 of the Constitution, it discriminates against atheist and secular families.

(b) That State-funded Irish schools are illegally forcing children of atheist and secular families, and religious minorities, into religious instruction and Catholic faith formation, contrary to Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, and several human rights treaties that Ireland has signed up to.

Atheist Ireland is today publishing a detailed report on this State curriculum and the full report is available to download here. The documents that we found under Freedom of Information were genuinely shocking, in terms of how the curriculum was defined in an overtly unconstitutional manner, which was contrary to the legal advice from the Department of Education. As a consequence, we are also calling on the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, to take the following urgent actions:

1. The Minister for Education should immediately issue a Circular Letter informing all schools at second level that:

(a) the State Religious Education Course is not compulsory and students can choose another subject, and

(b) schools should actively inform students and parents about this.

2. The Minister for Education is proposing a new Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. This Bill should be amended to ensure that:

(a) in setting out the characteristic spirit and general objectives of a school,

(b) outside of the specific context of faith formation and religious instruction classes where exemptions apply,

any information with regard to religion and belief should be delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination.

3. The NCCA is scheduled to review the State Religious Education Course at second level later this year. The Minister for Education should instruct that:

(a) the NCCA review of this course should be a fundamental review, taking into account the contents of this report,

(b) the members of the review committee should be impartial and free from bias towards any religion or belief,

(c) the review committee should consult on the basis of equality with all interested religions and beliefs,

(d) the review should take into account both the content of the curriculum and its practical delivery on the ground, and

(e) the revised course after the review should have to meet at least the same constitutional and human rights standards as are included in the NCCA’s plans for the proposed new course on Religion, Beliefs and Ethics course at primary level.

4. The Minister for Education should ensure that students from minority backgrounds can have access to teacher training, and have access to the teaching profession, without having to teach Catholic Religious Instruction and Formation.

5. The Minister for Education should urgently remove all religious discrimination in the education system:

(a) consistently with the equal constitutional and human rights of people of all religions and beliefs,

(b) as recommended by nine sets of United Nations and Council of Europe human rights committees, and

(c) in the four areas covered by the Atheist Ireland Schools Equality PACT — Patronage, Access, Curriculum, Teaching.

John Hamill