Secular Sunday #477 – Timeline of Religious Discrimination in Schools

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Timeline of Religious Discrimination in Schools


Over the past fifty years, the Irish education system has evolved to include religious discrimination that was not intended to be there. The influence of the Catholic Church has undermined attempts by politicians to respect and balance the Constitutional rights of all families.

We have published today a timeline of how this religious discrimination evolved. It started in 1965 with the introduction of the integrated curriculum, and went through several Green and White Papers on Education, the Campaign Case, the Education Act 1998, the Forum Report, and several updates of the Curriculum.

Please lobby your politicians to introduce legal changes and statutory guidelines to reverse this religious discrimination. Please also join Atheist Ireland as a member and help us to continue or work as a voluntary advocacy group on this and other secular issues.

– Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach


Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:

  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News


How unintended religious discrimination in Irish schools has evolved since 1965

Over the past fifty years, the Irish education system has evolved to include religious discrimination that was not intended to be there. The influence of the Catholic Church has undermined attempts by politicians to respect and balance the Constitutional rights of all families.
Please lobby your politicians to introduce legal changes and statutory guidelines to reverse this religious discrimination. Here is some of the timeline of how it evolved.
The Education System as Established
When the Irish school system was established, schools had to offer a curriculum which combined moral and literary instruction but separate religious instruction.
Article 44.2.4 supports the right of students to not attend religious instruction. Article 42.1 guarantees the inalienable rights of parents in relation to the education of their children.
The Integrated Curriculum 1965 and 1971
In 1965 the Rules for National Schools were put in place. Rule 68 removed the separation between religious and secular subjects that had been in place since the start of the education system with no regard for minorities.
The 1971 Curriculum (Teachers Handbook) endorsed the religious integrated curriculum.
The Green Paper 1992
In 1992 the Green Paper ‘Education for a Changing World’ was published. The Green Paper raised this issue and recognised that the Rules for National Schools and the 1971 Teachers Handbook for Primary schools needed to be amended to ensure the Constitutional Rights of All children are fully safeguarded (page 90, 91).
The Constitutional Review Group 1995
In 1995 the Constitutional Review Group Report commented on this issue and said that:

“Requirements that the school must be prepared in principle to accept pupils from denominations other than its own and to have separate secular and religious instruction are not unreasonable or unfair.”

The White Paper on Education 1996
In 1996 the White Paper on Education 1996 supported putting in place guidelines on the Constitutional rights of minorities to not attend religious instruction and of their rights in relation to integrating religion into secular subjects.
In the White Paper there was no intention of providing a legal basis for encroaching on the time allocated for secular subjects while preparing children for religious sacraments.
The White paper stated that:

“While each school may properly nurture and support its particular ethos, it is also obliged to acknowledge and reflect the principles and requirements of a democratic society, respecting the diverse beliefs and ways of life of others.”
“Religious Education
The revised curriculum will reiterate the right of schools, in accordance with their religious ethos, to provide denominational religious education and instruction to their students, while underpinning the constitutional rights of parents to withdraw their children from religious education instruction. In the context of the revised curriculum, the Rules for National Schools and the Teacher’s Handbook will be reviewed to ensure that the Constitutional rights of children are fully safeguarded. Therefore, while recognising and supporting the denominational ethos of schools, all schools will be required, in their management and planning processes, to ensure that the rights of those who do not subscribe to the school’s ethos are protected in a caring manner.
A sensitive balance is required between the rights, obligations and choices of the majority of parents and students, who subscribe to the ethos of a school, and those in a minority, who may not subscribe to that ethos, but who do not have the option, for practical reasons, to select a school which reflects their particular choices. In very many instances, the concerns of the parents and students are dealt with successfully, but problems have arisen in some cases. In this regard, the Report on the National Education Convention noted that: “The dilemmas and challenges posed for policy-makers and school authorities require not only dialogue at school level but the development of “good practice” guidelines by a suitably qualified and representative working party convened by the Department” (p. 33).
“Such a working party will be convened in the near future.”(Page 25)

The Campaign Case 1998
In March 1998 the Supreme Court case (Campaign to Separate Church and State) referred to the ethos of schools influencing minorities. This was in relation to second level schools. The court was quite specific, they said that the religious ethos could influencing minorities to ‘some degree’ if they choose to attend that particular school. They referred to this influence happening in the general atmosphere of the school and did not refer to ethos influencing children because of integrating it into secular subjects.
The Education Act 1998
The Education Act 1998 does not specifically sanction integrating religion into secular subjects or taking up time allocated to secular subjects for preparing children for religious sacraments.
The Oireachtas debates on the Education Act 1998 and in Particular on Section 15 of the Act did not refer to integrating religion into all secular subjects including RSE.

  • Section 15-2(e) of the Education Act refers obliges the Board of Management to have regard to the principles and requirements of a democratic society and have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society.
  • Section 30-2(d) of the Education Act envisages space being left in the school day for the expression of the ethos of the school. That is not the same thing as integrating the ethos of the school into secular subjects including Relationship and sexuality education and giving children a choice be catholic moral education or no moral education at all.

The Primary School Curriculum 1999
In 1999 the updated Primary School Curriculum developed by the NCCA sanctioned the integrating of religion into secular subjects and bringing all children to a knowledge of god.
While it recognises pluralism, it failed to take on board the Green Paper on Education, the White Paper on Education, the Report of the Constitutional Review Group, the Supreme Court case (Campaign to Separate Church and State), and the underlying purpose of the Education Act 1998 in balancing rights in a democratic society and respecting the right of minority parents in relation to the education of their children. Read more…

Protecting democracy from the undue influence of money between elections

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Local Government is discussing the Electoral Reform Bill 2020. Atheist Ireland has written to the Committee, asking them to protect our democracy from the undue influence of money between elections.
Dear Committee Member,
We note that your Committee met on 22 January and 2 February to discuss pre-legislative scrutiny of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Committee to address any questions that you may have about the issue that we raise here.
Last October the Seanad debated the Electoral (Civil Society Freedom) (Amendment) Bill 2019, and there was agreement to incorporate into the current Bill some issues raised by that Bill about regulation of political funding.
We urge you to reject the attempts in that Seanad Bill to weaken the scope of the SIPO regulations in order to enable Third Parties to raise money between elections for political purposes. We ask you to to instead support strengthening the SIPO laws to protect our democracy from the undue influence of big money between elections as well as during them.
This is important because most political influence is sought outside of elections, including by politically active religions such as the Catholic Church, their allies, and other civil society groups. Far right activists also seek to influence our democracy between elections, just as much as other groups with whose aims we agree. It is old-fashioned and authoritarian to see democracy as happening only during elections.
In the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill, Head 1 (Title etc) says:

“Political purposes” has the meaning assigned to it by section 22(2)(aa) of the Electoral Act 1997 as amended by the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001;

The notes on this Head say:

The meaning of “political purposes” is similarly taken to be that set out in the Electoral Act 1997 to ensure a consistent approach is taken across the electoral codes. It should be noted that this definition is the subject of concern for a number of civil society groups who contend that it is too broad and adversely affects the ability of third parties in funding raising in support of undertaking their ordinary day-to-day advocacy work.

This concern does not stand up to scrutiny. The existing law does not hinder freedom of association or political lobbying. As a small voluntary civil society group, Atheist Ireland functions perfectly freely within this law. We are very politically active. We led the campaign to remove the blasphemy law. We remain very active on secular education. We regularly lobby Government Departments, Ministers, and the United Nations, as indeed we are doing now on this issue.
Indeed, as a small voluntary civil society group, the existing law helps us, not hinders us, by trying to make democracy a battle of ideas not bank accounts. It does not prevent any civil society group from raising money. We just have to raise it in small donations from the many, not large donations from the few. This is good for democracy, not bad. The campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment raised €500,000 in a week within this law.
If you want civil society groups to benefit more from legitimate donations, a more democratic way would be to amend the Charities Act under the ‘religion’ category to ‘religions and beliefs/philosophical convictions,’ and insert another category to ‘promote human rights.’
If you endorse the flawed proposals of the previous Bill, politically active religions including the Catholic Church and its allies, some larger and wealthier civil society groups whose aims we agree with, and far right activists with whom we strongly disagree, will all have access to even more big money to spend on lobbying decision makers between elections. They and their wealthy donors will have even more undue influence on our democracy, which is bad whether or not we agree with their aims.
We attach a briefing document that we sent last October to Senators when they were debating the misleadingly-titled Electoral (Civil Society Freedom) (Amendment) Bill 2019. As mentioned, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Committee to address any questions that you may have about the issue that we raise here. Read more…

The Aim of the State’s Religous Education Course

Irish second level schools indoctrinate non religious students.

The main aim of the state Religious Education course is to develop values to enable students to come to an understanding of the relevance of religion to their lives.
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley supports this indoctrination and continues to claim that it is suitable for students from non religious families.
Teachers continue to support indoctrinating minorities and if students do manage to opt out, no other subject is offered


Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at


List of Atheist Ireland Submissions



Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

**Schools Special Offer**

As Covid continues and schools start back online, Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book during their online school term. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…

Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.


Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans here



Be Good without Gods


Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $30,825 to 1070 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland’s ‘‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1803 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,044 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

Tell us what you think

Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at

Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:

  • You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
  • You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
  • You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
  • You will have access to our members only Facebook group
  • Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.

You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support


Atheist Ireland Committee



Take Action

Case against Sri Lankan rationalist dismissed


By Humanists International


On 9 February 2021, the case against writer and rationalist, Shakthika Sathkumara, was finally dropped, 22 months after his original arrest.
According to a Tweet from his lawyer, Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekera:
Arrested on 1 April 2019, he was arbitrarily detained for 127 days while police conducted their investigation into allegations that his short-story ‘Ardha’ (meaning ‘Half’) hurt the religious feelings of Buddhists and advocated hatred. He was also suspended from his job, without income to support his family, for eight months. If charged and convicted, he could have faced up to 10 years in prison.
Despite the completion of their investigation on 25 June 2019, Sathkumara was forced to wait for 18 months before the Attorney General released their decision as to whether he would be charged. Read more…


Raise awarness on blasphemy law abuse

Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.


Blogs & Opinions



‘A nun poured urine on my head because I snored’: Survivors contact DPC and gardaí over destruction of testimony


By Órla Ryan


PEOPLE WHO GAVE evidence to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission are contacting the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) and gardaí about the destruction of audio recordings of their testimony. One witness, Mary Teresa Collins, says she was not informed that the recording of her testimony would be destroyed and she would not have testified if she knew this was the case. Read more…

Irish journalism, mother and baby homes and ecclesiastical terror


By Mark O’Brien


The publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Report has inevitably led to questions of where responsibility for what happened should rest. Was society to blame? Was it the fault of men who dodged their parental responsibilities, our politicians or the Catholic Church? Maybe a mix of all of them. Read more…

UN quizzes Ireland over institutional abuse and religious schooling


By National Secular Society


A UN committee has asked Ireland to take steps to guarantee accountability for past human rights violations in religious settings and highlight its progress on providing access to secular schools. The Human Rights Committee (HRC) questioned Ireland over these issues as part of its recent universal periodic review (UPR) process, which monitors the human rights records of all UN member states. Read more…



From the hijab to freedom


By Rahila Gupta


On World Hijab Day, 1 February, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) will premiere Women Leaving Islam online, a documentary which explores the violence and repression that Islam’s modesty culture visits upon its women. Six women from the most diverse backgrounds, from different countries in the world and different wings of Islam but now settled in Europe and Australia, talk movingly of their journey from the hijab to freedom. Read more…

Ohio’s abortion laws interfere with the practice of my religion


By Megan Doherty


OBERLIN, Ohio — There is one word that can decide an election, change the makeup of the Supreme Court, incite taboos, and be deemed sacred or ungodly all at the same time: abortion. In Judaism, abortion is permitted and sometimes required if the life of the pregnant person is at risk. Read more…

Facebook blocks Atheist Republic page on government directive, Twitter suspends founder


By Tushar Dhara


Following government directives, on 14 January, Facebook blocked Atheist Republic’s page in India. On 11 October 2020, Twitter had suspended the account of its founder Armin Navabi. Atheist Republic is one of the largest online groups of non-believers worldwide, with a website and a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read more…

South Africa: Atheists Go to Court Over Right to Die


By Tania Broughton


A medical doctor and her patient, both of whom have terminal diseases, have applied to the Johannesburg High Court to allow physician assisted suicide and physician assisted euthanasia. The application by Suzanne Walter, a palliative care specialist, and her patient Diethelm Harck, is supported by Advocate Bruce Leech and Dr Paul Rowe – both atheists. Read more…

Letter: If religious freedom is constitutionally protected, freedom from religion should also be


By Vidda Crochetta


To the Editor: In this era of conspiracy-fantasists there are down-to-earth issues needing our attention. Did you know that the Supreme Court is composed of seven Catholics and two Jews? Despite some recent progressive stances by Catholics, the domestic Catholic nationalistic surge is integral to nativist, nationalistic Evangelism. Read online…

The Supreme Court’s new, deeply fractured decision on churches and the pandemic, explained


By Ian Millhiser


The Supreme Court handed down a messy order Friday night, in a case brought by a church claiming that it should be exempted from several rules California put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The justices split four ways in the case, South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, with members of the Court’s Republican majority divided into three camps. Read more…

Humanists International has hosted its first virtual training session for Members in Greece, Lithuania, Hungary and Iceland.


By Humanists International


The training session served as a practical guide to Members wishing to engage in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. This unique mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council examines the human rights performance of all 193 UN Member States once every five years. It aims to improve the human rights situation on the ground and to ensure States’ commitment to their human rights obligations on an ongoing basis. Read online…

If you are a blogger or vlogger writing or talking about atheism, secularism, ethics, skepticism, human rights etc. and would like us to include your work here please email the link to

Podcasts, Videos and Interviews


Do you host an Irish-based podcast on atheism, secularism, science, skepticism, human rights etc.? Let us know and we will link to it here.

RTE Player – Redress: Breaking The Silence – Part 1 Using the personal testimonies of survivors of residential abuse who sought redress, this two-part series examines the Irish state’s response to those survivors.

Áine Ryan – The Road to Democracy in Irish Primary School Education


*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=CxFysNQQVQQ]|*

Freethought Radio – Natural Born Rebel – Rachel Holmes

Friendly Atheist Podcast – This Church Doesn’t Represent America
The National Secular Society – Charles Bradlaugh – Atheist and Republican

Media Watch

News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement. 




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