Schools and teachers should not ask students about their beliefs
Irish schools and teachers regularly breach the right to freedom of religion and belief of students and families. Teachers are not trained to understand the practical application of the right to freedom of religion and belief, or the positive and negative aspects of it.
Freedom of religion and belief has a positive side and a negative side. Schools and teachers only recognise the positive aspect of freedom of religion and belief, and only for families with religious beliefs. They do not understand that non-religious families also have a positive right to freedom of religion and belief.
Teachers do not understand at all the negative aspect of freedom of religion and belief. This means that students and parents should not have to reveal their religion or belief, or be put in a position directly or indirectly where they feel obliged to reveal their religious or non-religious convictions.
This negative aspect of freedom of religion and belief is also connected to the right of parents to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. The European Court links Article 11 of Protocol 1 (the Right to Education) with Article 9 (the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief).
The European Court has stated that:
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.
Religion teachers regularly ask students about their beliefs and how they practice them. Students are encouraged to discuss their religion or beliefs in class, and exam questions ask students very personal questions about their beliefs.
Parents have informed us that Teachers who teach the second level Religious Education course regularly ask students about their beliefs. Parents are never informed that their children are expected to leave their human rights at the school gate.
This behaviour by teachers breaches the right of students and their families to freedom of religion and belief.
In addition, if parents wish to remove their child from religion classes, they are asked to come to a meeting in the school contrary to Section 62.7(n) of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018.
This puts parents in a position where they may feel obliged to reveal their convictions in order to access the right to not attend religious teaching. There is no need for this breach of the rights of families to freedom of religion and belief.
Atheist Ireland will continue to challenge the failure of our education system to protect the rights of students and their families. We are constantly told about the rights of families to religious freedom but when it comes to the rights of non-religious families to freedom of religion and belief, the right is suddenly suspended.