Religious ethos will sabotage any new sex education curriculum

The NCCA is updating the sex education curriculum, but this will not matter if schools can deliver the content according to their religious ethos. They can do this because of the Education Act 1998. Atheist Ireland has raised this issue with the Oireachtas Education Committee and the United Nations.

When the Department of Education appeared before the Oireachtas Education Committee, it argued that a religious ethos should not affect the content of the state curriculum, but it can have an impact on the resources used and how students ‘hear’ it.

Deputies Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fail, Paul Murphy of RISE/Solidarity-PBP, and Catherine Martin of the Green Party asked several important questions on the issue.

  • Thomas Byrne asked why religious textbooks were on the list of recommended resources for sex education, given that the Book of Genesis would not be recommended instead of books on evolution for science education? He said that he was shocked when he saw these books listed as he read the curriculum.
  • Paul Murphy asked how you can guarantee quality modern progressive sex education without removing the right of schools to use religious ethos to affect the delivery of the course? He described the Department’s distinction between content and implementation as Jesuitical, and the Department agreed with him.
  • Catherine Byrne asked whether it is not the case that what students hear is what is being said to them, and does that not mean that ethos has a major impact on what is being presented?

The Department’s response to Catherine Byrne’s question was:

“That may well be. As I said, that is one of the reasons why the review is charged with looking at the implementation of the curriculum.”

Thomas Byrne then interjected:

“But let’s be clear. Legally, it shouldn’t?”

The Department responded:

“It should not impact the content of what is taught, and I made the comment about what the student would hear in response to Deputy Murphy’s statement about it being a bit Jesuitical in separating them out.”

You can listen here to these questions and their answers.

Impact on teachers

This issue also affects teachers in schools that have a religious ethos.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act is still in place, which obliges teachers to uphold the religious ethos of the patron.  Why would teachers put their jobs in jeopardy by refusing to teach sex education according to the religious ethos of the Patron and the policy of the school?

It is not a matter of training teachers to be more confident about teaching objective sex education. Why would the Department of Education leave teachers in a position whereby they are left balancing the religious ethos of the school with the rights of students to objective sex education when Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act is still in place?

Why does the Department of Education want to even put teachers in this position?

It is the duty of the Minister for Education to give practical effect to the right of all students to objective sex education and not leave teachers in the position of balancing rights because successive Ministers for Education are afraid to take on the Catholic Church.


Atheist Ireland