New directive on religious instruction will change the culture of ETB schools

Atheist Ireland welcomes the Department of Education’s new directive on religious instruction in second-level ETB schools. It is the most significant recognition of the constitutional and human rights of atheist, minority faith, and secular families in Irish schools since Atheist Ireland was founded.

These rights have always existed, and now they can finally be exercised in ETB schools. This will immediately change the culture of undue Catholic religious influence in ETB schools. It will also intensify pressure to recognise the same rights in State-funded denominational schools.

The new directive vindicates and addresses the concerns that Atheist Ireland raised in our 2016 report: ‘How the State Religious Education Course Breaches Human and Constitutional Rights’. It also implements the main recommendations of our Report, which were

  • to stop telling parents that religion is a compulsory core subject,
  • to provide alternative timetabled subjects to religion,
  • to respect the privacy of families with regard to their religious or philosophical beliefs,
  • to ensure that parents and pupils are aware of how to exercise their rights.

Under the new directive, ETB second-level schools can continue to provide religious instruction and worship for those pupils whose parents choose to take part in these. This right is protected in the existing legal instruments under which the schools are governed. However, they cannot continue to assume that this only applies to Catholic religious instruction and worship.

Alongside that, ETB schools:

  • will have to treat atheist, minority faith, and secular pupils with the same respect as they do Catholic pupils.
  • will have to let parents know that they are merging the State religion curriculum with Catholic religious instruction, in line with the requirements of the Catholic Church.
  • will have to provide alternative timetabled subjects, that pupils can choose instead of these religion classes, .
  • will have to do this by consulting parents at the start of the school year, as part of the normal timetabling process, rather than waiting for parents or pupils to say that they want to opt out of religion.
  • will have to provide parents at the start of the year with information about religious worship and events during the year, and give parents the opportunity to decide whether or not they want their children to participate in or be present during these events.

Most significantly, under the new directive:

  • ETB schools will have to respect the privacy of families who do not want to engage in religious instruction or worship. This is one of the human rights issues that Atheist Ireland stressed with the Department.
  • ETB schools will no longer to be able to interrogate parents about why they do not want their children to study religion. The only information that schools required is that the parent wants to opt for the alternative subject or subjects.
  • We would like to thank all of the parents who courageously challenged this issue, including the parents in Castletroy College who agreed to go public on their treatment.

This has been one of Atheist Ireland’s most important lobbying campaigns. It is the single part of the education system that parents have most often complained to us about. We would like to thank everyone who helped to fund our recent Freedom of Information requests into the influence of religion in ETB schools. These FOI requests repeatedly vindicated our concerns.

Last December, we met with the Department of Education, along with our secular colleagues in the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland. At this meeting, we raised several issues which have been incorporated into the new directive. We recognise the skill of the Department officials in framing these positive changes within the confines of the anachronistic existing deeds of trust and legal instruments of ETB schools.

We will publish a more detailed analysis of the directive later.

Atheist Ireland

18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Kate February 19, 2018

    So your not against all religion, just Christianity and cosying up with the Muslims to wipe Christianity from Ireland. Well your plan is going very well, but remember, when its gone, you’ll have Islam, but of course your shit scared of them.

    • Avatar
      Diarmuid March 24, 2018

      I don’t wish to offend you Kate but there is a lot of nonsense in what you wrote there. Atheists are opposed to all religion. With regard to Islam it is nowhere near the position of authority and undue influence occupied by the Catholic Church in this State and by the Presbyterian Churches in the Six Counties. Nor ever likely to be on any sane projection of religious or ethnic or migration statistics.

      I recognise that irrational fear is still fear but it doesn’t help to pander to it.

  2. Avatar
    Michael February 21, 2018

    Hi,

    Great website.

    I am an RE teacher, scooting around the net trying to see who understands this new circular, who doesn’t, and who’s already trying to manipulate it.

    Atheist Ireland clearly gets it, while much of the media — including RTE and The Irish Times — do not. Nor, it appears, does the minister (unless he is deliberately dissembling — perish the thought).

    What Atheist Ireland correctly identifies, and has long rightfully objected to, is that which the circular specifically addresses: religious ‘instruction’. This means faith formation, or teaching something as truth (for example, Adam and Eve, or the resurrection, or reincarnation, etc). Such instruction has no place in school where the audience is captive and bound to be mixed as regards belief and non-belief.

    Religious ‘education’, on the other hand, is — in theory at least — the objective, academic investigation of religion. That’s what I do. That’s what virtually all the RE teachers I know do. Stories such as that from Castletroy are of course an indictment of education authorities and an outrage. But can I venture that they are the exception rather than the rule? Think of how many post-primary schools are providing exam and non-exam RE classes 3-4 times per week to every year, all year long. If teachers were constantly attempting to indoctrinate kids I think we’d have a fresh bunch of Castletroy stories every day. (If a bank of those stories exists please direct me to it).

    The vast majority of RE teachers I know have no hidden proselytising agenda. Yes, have heard some let their personal affiliations slip sometimes — ‘Muslims do this, whereas WE do this’. It may well reveal a false assumption that immediately alienates anyone in the class who doesn’t belong to whatever ‘WE’ the teacher means, but it’s inadvertent, hardly conspiratorial.

    Consulting either Jr Cert or Leaving Cert RE syllabuses will demonstrate the absence of ‘religious instruction’. Of course, heretofore there’s been little to stop a teacher from attempting to add some, but I just don’t know any who do.

    The media’s response to this circular has created the impression that September will see a nationwide stampede out of post-primary RE classes, plus the concomitant headaches of ‘alternative tuition’, resources and personnel, etc. But as things stand, according to the circular, this is not the reality. The circular does not mention RE, only religious instruction, and appears to be tightening up students’ constitutional right to opt out of it. But there can’t be a stampede since there are no grounds for opting out of RE.

    Whether or not RE is a valuable part of the curriculum is a discussion for another day. All I’m pointing out is that RE is not the same as religious instruction. The circular does not talk about RE.

    The issue of schools — rather than RE teachers — and worship, which is also mentioned specifically in the circular, is another matter again. Perhaps the circular will represent a positive development there.

    And one opinion: that this is just Bruton and the government playing to the gallery for political point-scoring. There are a lot of politicians who currently want their photo taken as they put their boot to the already disabled Irish Catholic Church.

    Michael

    • Avatar
      Jane Donnelly February 21, 2018

      Hi Michael,

      I think that the Circular is very clear. Students can opt out of RE classes in ETB schools and colleges. Circular Letter 73/74 obliged all ETB non designated Colleges to have Religious Instruction. The Deeds of Trust and the Model Agreement also oblige these particular type of ETBs to have religious instruction and worship. The new Circular recognises that Religious Instruction still takes place and in many instances it is integrated into the state RE course. The reason that this happens is because all ETB schools and colleges are legally obliged to have religious instruction and worship. Circular Letter 73/74 is now revoked. From our meeting with the Dept of Education last December it is clear to us that all students can now opt out of RE in ETB schools and colleges and that includes the State RE Course, we were very clear about this point. We have human rights based issues with the State Religion course as well as Catholic Religious Instruction. Maybe you are not aware of those human rights based standards but it is clear to us that the State RE course breaches the Constitutional and Human Rights of minorities and therefore we have a right to opt out. The new Circular Letter gives practical application to that right.

      In addition to the above we have recently used the FOI Act to get documents from the ETBs in relation to religion and the Catholic Church. It is clear to us from these documents that the Catholic Church has still an awful lot of influence and particularly in relation to RE policy in ETBs.

      The Minister also recognises that Religion is practically compulsory in nearly all ETB even though there is an opt out. Over the years we have got complaints from parents that they can’t opt their children out of religion in ETBs. There are an awful lot of other stories just the same as Castletroy and some worse. We heard another one just today.

      Have you ever read our Report on the second level RE Course? See link below. This will give you an idea of why we believe that the State Religious Education course is not objective and was never meant to be.

      One of the main aims of the curriculum RE course is to promote the moral and spiritual development of students through Religious Education. It only acknowledges the non religious interpretation of life. According to the European Court ‘acknowledging’, does not constitute ‘respect’. In addition atheist and humanists are mentioned in a Section called ‘challenges to faith’ alongside fundamentalism and materialism. The State RE course does not ‘respect’ parents convictions as it is not up to human rights standards. It was built around the standards that the Catholic church adhere to, those standards are very low and do not conform to human rights.
      Here is a link to our website Teach, don’t Preach. You can download our Report on the State RE course on this https://www.teachdontpreach.ie/

      Let me reiterate, all students can now opt out of the Religious Education course at second level. It matters not whether it is referred to as religious instruction or religious education, all students have a Constitutional and Human Rights to opt out of it.

      • Avatar
        Michael February 22, 2018

        Hi Jane,
        Thanks for the reply. The teachdontpreach link you posted leads to a more general critique of religion and Irish education (and I would take issue with none of it) — did you intend a different link for the AI report on the second-level RE syllabus? I am very interested.

        You say that the circular is very clear — so do I. But you want the words ‘religious instruction’ to mean something which they don’t. By all means, students and parents should never be inhibited from exercising their constitutional right to opt out of a class or situation that involves ‘religious instruction’. You don’t need to invoke FOI discoveries for me — I’ve taught in ETBs and have seen first-hand how the Catholic tail can get away with wagging the school dog. Hopefully the circular will go some way to preventing this.

        However, when I myself teach religion — when I deliver either the JC or LC RE syllabus — there are no grounds for opting out. This is because I don’t do ‘religious instruction’. If there are teachers who do, then legislation would be better aimed at calling them out and making them stop, rather than effectively wiping out RE by giving all students an opt-out license that is based on false pretenses.

        Unless that’s what AI in fact actually wants. This is probably where you and I diverge, in that I believe that religion — alongside economics and politics — plays such a massive role in human affairs that everyone, believers and non-believers, needs to understand it and that therefore it fully belongs in the school curriculum. And as long as no one is telling students what to believe — or implying it — then students should not be opting out of it, no more than they should be opting out of geography, science or Irish. But I get the impression AI would prefer to see it discarded as a subject.

        You identify real faults in the syllabus. It is now well into its second decade and definitely due for an upgrade. That said, if you are aware of or can recall how religion was taught in post-primary schools prior to the launch of JC RE, you would have to admit that the new state syllabus represented a revolutionary change in direction and a remarkably brave move considering the theocratic establishment that permitted its creation.

        So for example, while I completely agree that merely acknowledging ‘atheism’ is inadequate (in my class it is always accorded equal status with belief — important when the make-up of every class invariably consists of both), you must be forgetting how unthinkable it would have been — right up to the years which saw the development of the JC RE syllabus — from the establishment’s point of view for a state religion course to countenance any neutral mention of atheism, agnosticism or humanism at all. It really was quite a triumph. But yes, the times have moved on, that revolution is long over, and the course needs an overhaul.

        Further to that, I have plenty of my own reservations regarding the JC syllabus and would take pride in my capacity to manage those parts of it that in my opinion risk jeopardising the neutrality I work hard to establish. However, I would not pretend to have spotted everything, hence my genuine interest in the AI critique.

        Meanwhile, acknowledging both your reservations and my own concerning the syllabus, and with all due respect to your concluding assertion, it matters a great deal to me that the new circular refers specifically to religious instruction rather than to religious education. And since I strictly deliver the latter without the former, the circular brings nothing new to my students as regards opting out since I never give them any reason to do so. There are many, many RE teachers who would feel the same and who object as strongly to Catholic Church interference as you do.

        Cheers,
        Michael

        • Avatar
          Jane Donnelly February 22, 2018

          Hi Michael,

          As my response to your points is lengthy, I have divided it into three parts.

          Part One

          You will find a link to the Report on Religious Education on the right hand side of the first page of Teach, Don’t Preach. This will give you factual information of how the State RE Course came together and the influence of the Catholic Church on it.

          I think that your attitude as a religious education teacher has helped lay the foundation for the New Circular Letter which gives practical application to the Constitutional and Human Rights of Parents and their children. There are many other Religion teachers such as you who for some reason believe that they have control over the rights of parents and their children. You have stated that:

          “However, when I myself teach religion — when I deliver either the JC or LC RE syllabus — there are no grounds for opting out. This is because I don’t do ‘religious instruction’. If there are teachers who do, then legislation would be better aimed at calling them out and making them stop, rather than effectively wiping out RE by giving all students an opt-out license that is based on false pretences.”

          You have absolutely no moral or legal power to decide whether or not any parent can or cannot opt out of religion.

          You have no power and never had to decide whether any reason given by a parent for opting out is legitimate or not.

          ‘False pretences’ simply don’t apply.

          You have no right and never had to question parents or their children on what they do or do not believe in when they wish to exercise their Constitutional and Human Right to opt out of religion.

          The Religious Education Course at second level was never meant to be compulsory. Whether you believe it should or should not be is of no consequence.

          Over the past few years we have heard different Ministers for Education state that Religious Education is not compulsory in schools and that parents can opt out their children. One of the reasons that we need this New Circular Letter is that many schools and teachers continue to ignore this fact which has meant (as Minister Bruton pointed out) that religion is effectively compulsory.

  3. Avatar
    Jane Donnelly February 22, 2018

    Part 2

    The issue in relation to religious instruction / religious education is not new, it has of course been taken into consideration.

    The Constitution, Deeds of Trust, Model Agreement and Circular Letter 73/74 (1974) are of their time. They refer to Religious Instruction, however the language around the rights of parents has changed. That change is reflected and enhanced in legislation.

    The New Circular Letter refers specifically to Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution and Section 30 of the Education Act 1998.

    “Religious instruction and worship in certain second level schools in the context of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution of Ireland and Section 30 of the Education Act 1998″

    Section 30 of the Education Act 1998 does not refer to Religious instruction or religious education. Section 30 of the Education Act 1998 reflects the Constitutional right to opt out and covers anything that is against the conscience of parents. In other words it is more expansive than confining the opt out to what one particular religion / school or teacher defines as religious instruction, religious education or respect. All any teacher or school need know is that a parent has requested that their children be opted out and that they are exercising their Constitutional rights which is reflected in Section 30 of the Education Act 1989.

    It is also worth pointing out the Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission Act 2014 obliges all public bodies to:

    “protect the human rights of its members, staff and the persons to whom it provides services.”

    The ETBs are public bodies. The right to education under the European Convention and the case law at the European Court does not refer to religious instruction or religious education, but regardless the right to opt out is still there.

    The European Court has said that States are obliged to respect parents’ convictions be they religious or philosophical throughout the entire education system. The case law has defined what ‘respecting parents’ convictions’, means. The State Religious Education course simply does not comply with human rights law. These issues are not just ‘faults’, they are fundamental issues in relation to the rights of parents and their children.

  4. Avatar
    Jane Donnelly February 22, 2018

    Part 3

    Parents and their children are not obliged to accept or be bound by what any school or teacher considers is religious instruction or religious education. All schools need to know is that a parent is exercising their Constitutional and Human Rights to opt out. Schools or teachers cannot question parents as parents have a right to private and family life. This right is now reflected in the Circular Letter:-

    “The only information required is that the parent wants to opt for the alternative subject(s).”

    Making Religious Education compulsory in ETB secondary schools is over. Teachers and schools are going to have to accept that. This is about the rights of parents and their children and what they want.

    If you are a religious education teacher in an ETB school, would you mind giving us the name of the school? You can do so privately if you wish. We would like to write to the Board of Management of the school or college and copy in the Dept of Education, to ensure that your school is fully aware of the requirement to respect the right of parents and their children to opt out of religion.

  5. Avatar
    Michael February 22, 2018

    Hi again, Jane.

    And thank you for the detailed reply. You’ve provided a lot of information which leaves me with homework to do before I get back to you (not tonight — stayed up too late writing to you last night!). I am not currently in an ETB school (but was previously).

    In my career I have twice had parents/students opt out of RE. Although on neither occasion was I aware of rights which prohibited me from questioning them about it, I in fact didn’t ask for reasons — just being courteous. I did, however, appeal to them not to go, and did my best to sell the class. In one case I succeeded, the other not. I don’t actually believe that RE is or ought to be compulsory, while at the same time believing that it is such a valuable subject that everyone should study it.

    I have also had students opt out of RSE, both junior and senior. I don’t know and you probably do: does the Constitution give students/parents the right to opt out of any subject? Or is RE a special case?

    The most interesting thing to me in your three mails is that they disabuse me of the notion that it’s a kind of RE teacher different from me from whom Atheist Ireland is zealously protecting the school-going public. In fact, and to my surprise I admit, it’s teachers like me.

    Like I said, homework to do before I get back to you on that.

    As long as you are happy to engage this way, I am also. In addition to this, however, there are other issues which I would welcome the chance to present to you privately if that’s an option.

    Good night, and thank you again for the lengths to which you’ve gone to reply,
    Michael

  6. Avatar
    Michael Nugent February 23, 2018

    Michael, Regarding your question about subjects other than RE, Section 30 of the Education Act says that “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.”

    That makes no distinction between religious instruction, religious education, or RSE. The Department and successive Ministers had already acknowledged that right, even before they have now admitted that the NCCA state curriculum incorporates Catholic Religious Instruction.

    It is interesting to speculate about what would happen if there was an RE course that did not include RI. Maybe more parents would find such a course more consistent with their conscience, and maybe not. But they would still have the right to opt out if they did find it contrary to their conscience.

    In any case, such a course does not exist in reality. The Circular Letter states that “the NCCA developed curriculum for Religious Education currently also serves to meet the religious instruction requirements of the Catholic Church.” So there is no alternative “RE without RI” course for parents who might be happy with that.

    The NCCA tried to bring in one for primary schools with ERBE, but the Catholic Church has so far prevented that from happening. Even that course had problems in meeting human rights standards, but the Catholic Church was not prepared to let it happen.

    • Avatar
      Michael February 25, 2018

      Hi Michael and Jane,

      Thank you both again for taking the time to reply.

      Jane, I opened the report — brilliant document. As someone who delivers the course that emerged from it all, I found it fascinating to read the backstory and the related correspondence which you unearthed via FOI. (I thought I could read the whole thing over the weekend and respond, but correcting mocks etc alas had to take precedence). Maybe Easter, maybe summer.

      Based on some of the extracts I read, I can see why you and AI have put yourselves on a war-footing. It looks like your 52 pages are painstaking and legalistic, and bits of argument I saw looked pretty airtight, especially as regards human rights and the responsibilities of education.

      But your war-footing! It comes across both there and in these exchanges that not only do you oppose behind-the-scenes attempts by the Catholic Church to incorporate Catholic faith formation into what is intended to be religious education for those of any beliefs and none, but that in fact you oppose religious education altogether. Perhaps you don’t, but your zeal leaves you open to that perception.

      Jane, this comes across in the projection you apply to my comments. You quote back at me my assertion that a student in my RE class has no grounds to opt out. This is a fact. In relation to how I deliver the syllabus, this is a fact. The student, of course, still has a constitutional right to opt out which I don’t deny, and I would have no choice but to let them go. However, given that they would be receiving ZERO religious instruction from me, they would have no grounds. If they opt out because they or their parents/guardians just don’t want them doing RE, or because a faith they belong to prohibits it, or they don’t like my jokes or anything else about me, off they go. But the current circular is specifically about ‘religious instruction’, ZERO of which I do, and therefore, even though I am obliged to let them go, and would do so, they would have no grounds.

      My asserting this makes you project that I ‘and many other Religion teachers… for some reason believe that they have control over the rights of parents and their children’. Take it easy! This is only true if I try and deny them their constitutional right. I don’t.

      Projection also leads you to believe that I need this lecture: ‘You have absolutely no moral or legal power to decide whether or not any parent can or cannot opt out of religion. You have no power and never had to decide whether any reason given by a parent for opting out is legitimate or not.’ Where do I claim any of those powers?

      Overkill.

      Education isn’t like this. Perhaps you are looking in from the outside. What happens in school is this: if a student thinks a teacher is picking on them, if they think they need to be in a higher or lower class, or in another class away from certain other students, or need to reconsider a subject choice, or need extra help, etc etc, the first thing that normally happens is a chat between parent/guardian — with or without student — and teacher. Dialogue, exchange, previously unknown information emerging, possibilities explored, explained. It’s a healthy thing. Sometimes the teacher can fix things alone, sometimes there’s a need to involve a year-head or principal etc. But the point is, it begins with questions, answers and discussion involving the key players: student, parent/guardian and teacher.

      The same would apply to an opt-out. There is no question of denying what the constitution grants, but long, long before there would be the need to have Atheism Ireland arriving with all guns blazing, there would be dialogue, which, yes, includes, questions. It has never happened to me, but in theory, a parent/guardian could want to remove their kid from Jr Cycle English because the word nigger appears repeatedly in the great Steinbeck novel ‘Of Mice and Men’. Or from Leaving Cert English because there is sex — some of it crude and debased — in set texts including Shakespeare’s plays, in poetry, in novels. While acknowledging the constitutional right to opt out, it would however be irresponsible of me not to ask why, not to put across the argument that such content, however offensive, still provides valuable opportunities for learning. Class discussions of the word nigger, for example, have great value. Maybe I can sell it to the student/parent/guardian, maybe I can’t. But I definitely I have to try, and I can’t try unless I know why they are opting out. Therefore I have to ask.

      You, however, would have the conversation end at, ‘I’m withdrawing my child from English.’

      You would also like the conversation to end at, ‘I’m withdrawing my child from RE.’ Well, it won’t. While, again, I have no difficulty respecting the constitutional right to opt out and the right to privacy should they choose to exercise it, I will still ask the question: can you tell me why? And I CAN ask because of the relationships I have with my students and their parents/guardians. Schools are communities, and communities are based on relationships — a factor you don’t appear to have factored into a rather distorted view of school that posits opposing forces locked in perpetual conflict. Teachers have relationships with students and parents/guardians, based on a few years of teaching them and perhaps also their siblings, possibly more than one subject, possibly additionally through sports and other extra-curricular activities, etc etc. If a parent wishes to exercise the constitutional right to privacy concerning an opt-out which you so valiantly advance, so be it. The far, far greater likelihood, however, is that they will welcome the opportunity to discuss it with the teacher.

      A religion teacher inviting that discussion is not the same as a religion teacher believing they have the moral or legal power to decide whether an opt-out is legitimate or not, or to allow it or not. That is a spectacular bit of over-zealous projection on your part, Jane. You need to think about rowing back because there are so many, many teachers NOT doing what you accuse them of. They deliver the two RE syllabuses without attempting any indoctrination, the only syllabuses in the entire curriculum that present the topic of atheism, and indeed include it as a valid worldview, which alone introduce Darwin and evolution (Jr Cert) and Big Bang (Leaving Cert) (Science covers neither of these), and explores the disparity between these and fundamentalist interpretations of human origins and the existence of the universe.

      Forgive me, but your preoccupation with affirming human rights — and I completely agree that these need not only to be affirmed but upheld — leaves you guilty of considerable assumptions and projections as I’ve said, and sweeping generalisations, and exposed for a very limited knowledge of the actual day-to-day working reality of schools. There are definitely targets out there for you to line up — no question — but you need to tighten up your precision. This means not unloading your weaponry indiscriminately on all teachers of RE when so many of them have no case to answer, when so many of them would agree with most of what you and AI say. So please pick your targets with more care.

      Unless, of course, the target for you and AI IS in fact all RE teachers and the subject itself. If so, say so, and the conversation will be a different one.

      Michael, you assert that an Irish RE syllabus void of religious instruction does not exist. Of course it does. In fact, there are two: the JC and LC RE syllabuses. They are not perfect, and coming up on 20 years they are ready for review. But irrespective of the skirmishing prior to their introduction, the end result was a brave, honest attempt to produce objective, academic syllabuses.

      1) please cite page numbers from either syllabus where there is religious instruction.

      2) please explain how Church of Ireland and other non-Catholic schools which use these syllabuses have allowed themselves to be duped into providing religious instruction on behalf of the Catholic Church. This is a logical extension of your assertion.

      Michael

  7. Avatar
    Brian February 25, 2018

    Dear Jane,

    It seems apparent you opted out of debate class – as is your human right!

    Le gach dea-ghuí,

    Brian

  8. Avatar
    Michael Nugent February 28, 2018

    Michael, I will try to address some of your points as I read them, and come back to others later.

    You write: “But your war-footing! It comes across both there and in these exchanges that not only do you oppose behind-the-scenes attempts by the Catholic Church to incorporate Catholic faith formation into what is intended to be religious education for those of any beliefs and none, but that in fact you oppose religious education altogether. Perhaps you don’t, but your zeal leaves you open to that perception.”

    We don’t oppose religious education altogether. We actively support teaching about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner, and in accordance with human rights law.

    Our second recommendation of five on page 3 of our report states:

    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.

    Section 1.4 of our report states:

    Since we were founded in 2008, Atheist Ireland has been actively lobbying for a human rights based State course:
    * that can teach children about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner (as per Article II of Protocol 1 in the European Convention);
    * that can fulfil the State’s constitutional obligation to respect the inalienable rights of all parents (Article 42.1);
    * and that can observe the duty to provide for the moral education of all children (Article 42.3.2), without doing so through religion.

    Section 1.7 of our report states:

    It is the responsibility of the State under Human Rights law to take care that the information in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. See Kjeldsen, Busk Madesen and Pedersen v Denmark, ECHR on 7th December 1976, para 53), (TGP).

  9. Avatar
    Michael Nugent February 28, 2018

    Michael, you say with regard to opting out from religion: “But the current circular is specifically about ‘religious instruction’, ZERO of which I do, and therefore, even though I am obliged to let them go, and would do so, they would have no grounds.”

    But they would have grounds. They already have the right to opt out from RE, even without RI. That right was already there. The new part of this directive is not the right to opt out, but the right to have an alternative timetabled subject to choose instead.

    Broadly speaking, the reason that the Circular Letter focuses on the phrase Religious Instruction is because it is using the phrasing that is used in the deeds of trust and legal instruments under which ETB schools are governed, and because it is addressing the parts of the currriculum that are under the patron’s control rather than the NCCA.

    But the right to opt out applies equally to RE, even without RI.

  10. Avatar
    Michael Nugent February 28, 2018

    Michael, I understand why, from your perspective, you believe that we are engaging in overkill and are making generalisations. Let me clarify what we are doing from our perspective.

    We are trying to put in place an educational system, where the rights of all parents and pupils, and indeed teachers, are unambiguously protected by legislation and departmental directives.

    Parents, pupils, and teachers should not have to depend on individual teachers, such as yourself, using their own initiative to ignore the worst of the system that is officially controlled by patron bodies.

    But that has been the situation for decades. We now finally have a breakthrough with this directive, which could institutionalise the protection of rights in at least some schools.

    You also suggest that we have a very limited knowledge of the actual day-to-day working reality of schools. That is not accurate. Some of our members, who have helped to shape this policy, are teachers.

    We have been engaged in detail with this topic for many years. It is the area about which we get most complaints from families. We understand what is happening in schools.

    We understand how the Catholic Church has successfully subverted the possibility of an objective RE course, even in the ETB schools that are supposed to be the State-run alternative to denominational schools.

    We want to address this underlying problem, in a way that effectively protects everybody’s rights, not just be happy with some teachers choosing to not go along with the evangelising policies of patron bodies.

    I hope that you will consider helping us to do that, perhaps as part of your union. We already have some members who are promoting our policies at union level.

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    Michael Nugent February 28, 2018

    Michael, I want to next address your argument that you agree that human rights have to be upheld, but that we are not taking into account how schools actually operate on the ground.

    Please consider another possibility: that we are taking into account how schools actually operate on the ground, and that we are saying that this practice breaches human rights.

    That does not apply only to the overt evangelising of the Catholic Church and its allies on ETBs and ETB school boards. It also applies to the benignly-motivated “discussions about options” that you refer to.

    Teachers should not discuss the reasons for opting out, because of the right of individuals not to be put in a position where they have to reveal their convictions. It goes even further than that: they should not be put in a position where they have to reveal directly or indirectly their convictions.

    If a teacher sits parents down, and tries to discuss the reasons for opting out, or tries to persuade parents in any way, then they are putting parents in a position whereby they may reveal directly or indirectly their convictions. 

    That is why we specifically asked the Department to include in the directive the clarification under section 4 that: “While in respect of those who want instruction in line with the requirements of a particular religion the school may appropriately engage with the parents in relation to their religious beliefs, there is no basis for a school to intrude in that regard on the privacy of those who are opting for the alternative subject(s). The only information required is that the parent wants to opt for the alternative subject(s).”

    I understand that you have good motivations, in line with your own conscience, for wanting to discuss these issues with pupils and parents. But it is simply not the function of teachers to do this. If it was, how could we restrict it to you, or to teachers with your specific outlook?

    Should a more evangelising religion teacher be allowed discuss with pupils the merits of religious instruction over objective religious education? Should another teacher be allowed discuss with Catholic pupils the merits of opting out instead of studying religion? Of course not.

    Here are two human rights cases that elaborate on this right.

    See Grzelak v Poland – ECHR

    “87. The Court reiterates that freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs comprises also a negative aspect, namely the right of individuals not to be required to reveal their faith or religious beliefs and not to be compelled to assume a stance from which it may be inferred whether or not they have such beliefs (see, Alexandridis v. Greece, no. 19516/06, § 38, ECHR 2008‑…, and, mutatis mutandis, Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey, no. 1448/04, § 76 in fine, ECHR 2007‑XI). The Court has accepted, as noted above, that Article 9 is also a precious asset for non-believers like the third applicant in the present case. It necessarily follows that there will be an interference with the negative aspect of this provision when the State brings about a situation in which individuals are obliged – directly or indirectly – to reveal that they are non-believers. This is all the more important when such obligation occurs in the context of the provision of an important public service such as education.”

    See also Leirvag v Norway (UN)

    “14.6 The Commitee considers, however, that even in the abstract, the present system of partial exemption imposes a considerable burden on persons in the position of the authors, insofar as it requires them to acquaint themselves with those aspects of the subject which are clearly of a religious nature, as well as with other aspects, with a view to determining which of the other aspects they may feel a need to seek – and justify – exemption from. Nor would it be implausible to expect that such persons would be deterred from exercising that right, insofar as a regime of partial exemption could create problems for children which are different from those that may be present in a total exemption scheme. Indeed as the experience of the authors demonstrates, the system of exemptions does not currently protect the liberty of parents to ensure that the religious and moral education of their children is in conformity with their own convictions. In this respect, the Committee notes that the CKREE subject combines education on religious knowledge with practising a particular religious belief, e.g. learning by heart of prayers, singing religious hymns or attendance at religious services (para 9.18). While it is true that in these cases parents may claim exemption from these activities by ticking a box on a form, the CKREE scheme does not ensure that education of religious knowledge and religious practice are separated in a way that makes the exemption scheme practicable.

    14.7 In the Committee’s view, the difficulties encountered by the authors, in particular the fact that Maria Jansen and Pia Suzanne Orning had to recite religious texts in the context of a Christmas celebration although they were enrolled in the exemption scheme, as well as the loyalty conflicts experienced by the children, amply illustrate these difficulties. Furthermore, the requirement to give reasons for exempting children from lessons focusing on imparting religious knowledge and the absence of clear indications as to what kind of reasons would be accepted creates a further obstacle for parents who seek to ensure that their children are not exposed to certain religious ideas. In the Committee’s view, the present framework of CKREE, including the current regime of exemptions, as it has been implemented in respect of the authors, constitutes a violation of article 18, paragraph 4, of the Covenant in their respect”

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    Michael Nugent February 28, 2018

    Michael, I know that we have still to respond to some of your points. Either Jane or I will come back to those points later. I hope we are not distracting you too much from your correcting!

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    Diarmuid March 24, 2018

    Kate, I recognise that irrational fears are still fears and affect the people that experience them. However, colluding in them neither helps the individual nor society.

    Atheists are opposed to all religion. Freedom from being dictated to or discriminated against by any religious institution or other institution influenced by religion is a civil and human right.

    Islam in not even within shouting distance of the dominance of the Christian religions in Ireland and, in particular within the Irish state, the Catholic Church. No rational projection of immigration or religious affiliation statistics indicates that Islam will ever get near there in Ireland either.

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