Atheist Ireland questions for local election candidates about religion in ETB schools

Atheist Ireland has written today to all political parties that are contesting the Local Elections on 24th May, asking them to support the right of students to attend ETB schools without attending religion classes, and for students who do not attend religion classes to be given an alternative timetabled subject.

If you support this right, please use this information to contact your own local election candidates, and to question any candidates who call to your door.

Here is the text of the letter that we have sent to the political parties.

Dear Director of Local Elections,

We are writing on behalf of Atheist Ireland to ask about the position of your party’s Local Election candidates with regard to freedom of religion and belief in Education and Training Board schools.

Local Authority Councillors serve as members of the Education and Training Boards, and as members of Boards of Management of ETB Schools. We will be publishing the responses to this letter, in order to enable people to factor this information into their voting intentions on 24th May.

The background is that, last year, the Department of Education issued a directive to ETB schools to give students an alternative timetabled subject if they opt out of religion class in ETB schools. The ETBs, the TUI, and the Catholic Church opposed that directive, and the Department responded by saying that the directive to give an alternative subject does not apply to the State curriculum devised by the NCCA.

1. We ask you to support the following rights for all students attending ETB schools, including students whose parents are atheists, members of minority faiths, or secular Catholics.

  • The duty of the State to not affect prejudicially the right of a student to attend an ETB school without attending religious instruction at that school (under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution).
  • The right of any student in an ETB school to not attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the student’s parents, or of the student if they are over eighteen (under Section 30.2.e of the Education Act 1998).
  • The duty of ETBs, as public bodies, to eliminate discrimination and to protect the human rights of their members, staff, and persons to whom they provide services (under Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014)
  • The inalienable right and duty of parents to provide for the religious and moral education of their children (under Article 42.1 of the Constitution).
  • The duty of the State, in providing ETB schools, to have due regard for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation (under Article 42.4 of the Constitution).

2. Based on the above rights, and with regard to the practical application of these rights in ETB schools, we ask you to support the following.

2(a) Many ETB schools are now making the NCCA Religious Education course compulsory for students, thus undermining the right of students to not attend that class. We ask you to support the right of students to attend ETB schools without attending any religion classes in the school, whether those classes are devised by any religious authority or by the NCCA, and whether those classes are described as Religious Instruction or Religious Education.

2(b) Many ETB schools are now refusing to give an alternative timetabled subject to students who do manage to exercise their Constitutional right to not attend the NCCA Religious Education course. This affects prejudicially the rights of those students, contrary to Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. We ask you to support the right of students, who do not attend the NCCA Religious Education Course in ETB schools, to be given an alternative timetabled subject instead.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Atheist Ireland

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