Secular Sunday #492 -The rights of atheist and secular parents in Irish schools

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The rights of atheist and secular parents in Irish schools


Last week we reported that the Department of Education is ignoring a Supreme Court judgment from 1998, Campaign to Separate Church and State versus the Minister for Education, that supports the rights of atheist and secular parents in Irish schools.

Today we report on a High Court case from 2011 that stated that: “There is no doubt at all but that parents have the constitutional right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views.”

We also reveal that the NCCA has removed from its website the the names of the Religious Education Reference Group members who shaped the State syllabus Religious Education course. In the interests of transparency, we have published their names.

The main aim of the course that they shaped is to develop values in students to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives. This disrespects the rights of atheist and secular parents, as reflected in the Constitution, human rights law, and the court case we refer to above.

Atheist Ireland continues to campaign for the rights of children, parents, and teachers in the Irish education system. Please join Atheist Ireland as a member and help us to continue this important work.

– 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


Another court judgment that supports the rights of atheist and secular parents


In Ireland parents have a constitutional right to raise their children in accordance with their philosophical convictions.  The State is constitutionally obliged to respect that right in the education system.  Despite this Church and State continue to ignore the findings of the courts in Ireland and evangelise all children into a religious understanding of the world.
In the High Court in 2011, Justice Hogan stated that:

“35. There is thus no doubt at all but that parents have the constitutional right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views.”
“27. Along with the guarantee of free speech in Article 40.6.i, Article 44.2.1 guarantees freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion. Taken together, these constitutional provisions ensure that, subject to limited exceptions, all citizens have complete freedom of philosophical and religious thought, along with the freedom to speak their mind and to say what they please in all such matters….” (AB v Childrens Hospital Temple Street & CD & EF – January 2011)

Successive Ministers for education have supported developing morals through religion and bringing all children to a knowledge of God (Primary School Curriculum 1999). The updated second level Religious Education course (2019) seeks to develop values in all students to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives.
Norma Foley the Minister for Education insists that this is suitable for all religions and those with no religion. She obviously does not respect the philosophical convictions of those parents who seek secular education for their children on the basis of their conviction.
In addition to developing values through religion, the State supports delivering sex education through religion and has done nothing concrete so far to ensure that all students have access to objective sex education.
Children are not supervised if their parents manage to opt them out of religion, and no other subject is offered.  At second level, schools continue to insist that syllabus religion is not religious instruction, and that therefore there is no constitutional right to not attend. Some schools force students to take the course.
The education system is Ireland disrespects the philosophical convictions of parents and simply ignores their Constitutional Rights. Read more…


NCCA removes names of Religious Education Reference Group members from its website


The syllabus Religious Education Course was updated in 2019. The NCCA recently removed from its website the names of the Religious Education Reference Group members who shaped the course. In the interests of transparency, we have published their names below.
This Religious Education Reference Group was heavily influenced by religious bodies whose aim is to promote religion in the education system. There were no representatives from atheist or human rights bodies.
The main aim of the course that they shaped is to develop values in students to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives. The course teaches students to respect beliefs and learn different understandings of the divine, even if your family does not believe there is such a thing as the divine.
The Chair of the Group was Dr. Gareth Byrne. The information that the NCCA recently removed from its website did not mention that Dr. Gareth Byrne is a Catholic priest, and Director of the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at DCU.
The Group included representatives of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference and the Church of Ireland and Methodist Boards of Education, as well as school management bodies, teachers’ unions and the Department of Education.
The syllabus Religious Education Course
The main aim of syllabus Religious Education is:

Religious education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world. It aims to develop the students’ ability to examine questions of meaning, purpose and relationships, to help students understand, respect and appreciate people’s expression of their beliefs, and to facilitate dialogue and reflection on the diversity of beliefs and values that inform responsible decison-making and ways of living.

In addition to the above in schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church the state syllabus is taught alongside the Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students.
In Religious Education and the Framework for Junior Cycle the Catholic Bishops Conference states that:

Religious Education at Junior Cycle will continue to follow the syllabus (or subject specification for the new Junior Cycle) as agreed by the Bishops’ Conference and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
Religious Education will also continue to be taught in conjunction with the Bishops’ Conference Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students.

Atheist Ireland’s Legal Opinion on the right to not attend religious instruction in schools states that the practice of combining syllabus religion with the Catholic Guidelines on faith formation represents an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools.

“My instructions (paras 59-75) suggest that the NCCA religion course for junior certificate was moulded with input from religious bodies who in turn designed guidelines for the supplementation of the NCCA junior certificate course with Catholic faith formation and development. It is impossible in those circumstances to see any justification whatsoever for withholding the right of a student to opt out of such a course.
Teaching Catholic instruction during the State religion syllabus, without offering a supervised opt out, represents an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools. A student must as a matter of law be permitted by the school to opt out of Catholic instructions at school (paras 76-77).”

This is how the NCCA continue to support the evangelising of minorities in the education system. Their obligation to promote human rights and eliminate discrimination does not stretch to promoting respect for the rights of atheists and secularists.
The Religious Education Reference Group
The Chair of the Religious Education Reference Group was Dr. Gareth Byrne. Dr. Gareth Byrne is also a priest and Director of the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at DCU. When the Mater Dei amalgamated with DCU (a secular university) they kept their Catholic ethos.

An article from 2 years ago on CNS

Community National Schools learning outcomes were changed from understanding religion to respecting it


The Catholic Bishops wrote to Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) in February 2017 stating that the Goodness Me Goodness You course (GMGY) in Community National Schools did not constitute a viable programme for faith nurturing and sacramental education.
This was after the Senior part of the GMGY course was developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and launched in Community National schools in 2016.
The records (got under FOI) show that the NCCA and the School Network meeting were happy with the Senior part of the GMGY course that was launched in 2016.

Despite this, the Senior part of the GMGY course was amended, and launched with the Junior end of the course in 2018. It was a major change in direction for the course.
The relevant changes to the GMGY course were learning outcomes that require children to respect religious beliefs, celebrations, artefacts, rites and ceremonies, special places, books and stories, special journeys, codes of conduct, places, and symbols.
Before that, the learning outcomes only required children to understand these things, not to respect them.
This change (from requiring children to understand religion to requiring them to respect religion) reflects the educational philosophy of the Catholic Church. It is not objective and up to human rights standards.
Also, the 2018 Curriculum does not use the phrase ‘Belief Nurturing,’ but it retains the processes that were described as ‘Belief Nurturing’ in the 2016 curriculum. The only thing that has changed is that they no longer use that phrase to describe the same processes.
It seems that the Catholic Bishops in Ireland still have a lot of control over how religion is taught in Irish schools. Not only denominational schools but it seems their influence can shape how curriculum courses on religion are developed for state schools. Read more…



Atheist Ireland  Submissions


Here is a link to some of the work Atheist Ireland has done over the last few years. There are International and domestic submissions, reports and letters to various bodies. Our Submissions reflect our policies. Some of the Submissions have been produced with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland who we work with on secular issues.

Ten years since the World Atheist Conference Dublin

Next Thursday will be ten years since Atheist Ireland hosted the World Atheist Convention in Dublin.

Ten years ago, at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, Maryam Namazie outlined the problems faced by ex-Muslims around the world

In September 2011, Atheist Ireland met the Government’s Forum on Patronage and Pluralism to argue the case for a secular human-rights-based education system

In 2012, Atheist Ireland hosted a tour of public meetings around Ireland with Sanal Edamaraku, who was facing blasphemy charges in India for exposing that a weeping holy statue was caused by capillary action from a nearby faulty toilet

In 2013 Atheist Ireland hosted an international conference in Dublin on Empowering Women Through Secularism. Authoritarian religious practices are among the major sources of discrimination against women.

In 2013 Atheist Ireland addressed the OSCE in Warsaw. We raised the human rights issues of freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and equality before the law.

In 2013 Atheist Ireland addressed an Oireachtas Committee about abortion law in Ireland. We called for the removal of the ban on abortion from our Constitution, and the right of pregnant women to bodily autonomy.

Atheists are ordinary people who celebrate the changing of the seasons like everyone else. Religions don’t have a monopoly on these celebrations, so have a happy whatever you want to call it.

In 2014 Galway followed Dublin and Cork as cities where Atheist Ireland held public Information tables. Before the lockdowns, these enabled many people to find out more about atheism, secularism, and human rights.

Atheist Ireland celebrated Pride in 2015, shortly after the marriage equality referendum. Thankfully the people of Ireland have mostly moved on from the religious prejudice that criminalised homosexuality until the 1990s.

In 2015 Atheist Ireland became the first atheist advocacy group in the history of the State to meet with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Education, and senior civil servants. We raised the need for a secular constitution, parliament, laws, and government.

Atheist Ireland regularly uses the Freedom of Information Act to uncover who shapes the religious influence on our education system, and the discrimination against atheist and minority faith families that results from this.

Atheist Ireland are now on Instagram!!

Check out and follow Atheist Ireland’s instagram page

Remember to check the Events section of this newsletter for on online social event to mark the 10th anniversary of the World Atheist Conference Dublin

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  $32,250 to 1121 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 1840 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 4,056 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




Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare

Please contact your TDs over the National Maternity Hospital.


 Dear Deputy 

 I am writing to you as a constituent. We urgently need your support.

The Religious Sisters of Charity takeover bid for the new maternity hospital must be stopped now before it is too late.  The contracts drawn up between the nuns’ company, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, Holles Street Hospital and the State are almost ready to go to government.

We do not want to see the operations of the new maternity hospital in private ownership, nor should it be ruled by church teaching. 

Holles Street Hospital is to be stripped of its independence. The nuns have ensured that the new maternity hospital will be run on their terms, and that it will only provide reproductive health services that comply with their congregational code.

The new hospital––that we are funding––must provide a full range of reproductive health services. We still remember the shocking circumstances under which Savita Halapannavar lost her life. We cannot have a situation where more lives will be lost during a wanted pregnancy, as hers was.

The Religious Sisters of Charity own the freehold of the hospital site. They plan to grant a lease to government to build the new facility. This lease will allow the State to build the hospital on condition that exclusive operating rights are given, by way of licence, to a company to be owned by the nuns’ new entity, St Vincent’s Holdings. 

This is an arrangement that leaves the State powerless. The State cannot compel a private Catholic hospital to provide services, such as IVF, contraception, abortions or intentional sterilisations, that are contrary to its ethos.

Yet we are expected to pay for this.

The State is to have no involvement in St Vincent’s Holdings. Our only role is to pay: the building costs alone are currently estimated at €500 million. After the hospital is built, we, the taxpayers, will be funding all maintenance and running costs in perpetuity.

This is not good enough in 2021. If we pay, we own. The National Maternity Hospital needs to be taken into public ownership.

Kind regards, 


Follow the campaign here.


Guarantee factual and objective Relationships and Sexuality Education in Irish schools


By Concerned Irish parents


Young people, teachers and parents are faced with an education system that puts the ethos of schools, largely religious, ahead of the needs of young people.
While the Department requires that topics such as contraception, LGBTQ and STIs are covered in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), there is no requirement for this to be done in a factual and objective manner.
The Objective Education Bill would:
  • Remove religious ethos from RSE
  • Ensure the curriculum covers all sexualities and genders as well as contraception and options for crisis pregnancy; and is taught in a factual and objective way.
It has been stalled in the Dáil since 2018. It needs to progress urgently.
Right now, The Irish Bishops Conference has created a new RSE programme, called Flourish, that intertwines Catholic beliefs into every aspect of the programme. This is to be rolled out in primary schools under the patronage of the Catholic church. Read more and Sign here…



‘Harassed. Attacked. Arrested.’ Humanists in Parliament hear about global worrying rise in non-religious persecution


By Humanists UK


Yesterday, members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) heard moving testimonies from three victims of non-religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, as well as from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief on the extent of the problem more generally and the UK Government on what it is doing to tackle it. Each speaker highlighted a worrying rise in state sponsored persecution and mob violence against the non-religious. Read more…




Online event for Members


Atheist Ireland are holding an online social evening to mark the annniversary of the first world atheist conference in Dublin. This event is on Thursday the 3rd of June at 8pm. Please check your email and spam folder for the registration link.


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




Appeal for new maternity hospital to be built on State-owned property


By Mary Fogarty


Two local groups appealed yesterday for the new maternity hospital to be built on State-owned land. On the third anniversary of the repeal the eighth amendment, Bray and District Council of Trade Unions presented a letter to the Bray office of health minister Stephen Donnelly. Read more…


Buffer zone laws needed now against anti-abortion vigils, says Limerick councillor


By Aoife O’Brien


Anti-abortion vigils outside clinics are “distressing” and legislation should be introduced for buffer zones against such protests, a Labour councillor has said. Conor Sheehan said that groups have been gathering outside the Limerick maternity hospital and “intimidating” women on an almost daily basis for several months Read more…

‘Wholly inappropriate’ for church to have say in new hospital, says Bacik


By Gary Ibbotson

Labour Senator and Dublin Bay South by-election candidate Ivana Bacik has urged Government to reconsider its position on the new National Maternity Hospital, saying that the Catholic church should have no influence on it management. Read online…


Minister for Health accused of being ‘in hiding’ over maternity hospital move


By Jennifer Bray

Women’s health campaigners have accused Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly of being “in hiding” as his department finalises legal plans for the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH). Opposition and Government TDs, as well as campaigners, are concerned that the hospital might not be fully State-owned and are seeking to meet Mr Donnelly to discuss the matter. Read more…

Election of Poots: ‘If you are gay or a woman, be worried’ – NI community worker


By Kitty Holland


Women from loyalist community fear new DUP leader’s views will inform governance Northern Irish women from the Protestant community have described the election of Edwin Poots as the de facto leader of unionism, as “very worrying” and “depressing”. Catherine Pollock (40), community worker in Derry living in the mainly loyalist Fountain area, told The Irish Times she didn’t “know whether to laugh or cry” at the result. Read more…




The Catholic Church must erase our names from their baptism registers, says a coalition of European atheist groups


By Humanists International


A coalition of atheist organizations in France, Italy, and Hungary calls upon the Catholic Church to respect their right to apostasy by deleting the names of apostates from the baptism registers, in accordance with the current European privacy policy (GDPR). The right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) is a fundamental right of every human being, recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties. Read more…

Religion, romance and rejection


By Siobhan Marin


Nicky Gluch stands demurely, cradling a prayer book in her hands. She’s on the second level of Sydney’s Sephardi Jewish synagogue — a gallery reserved for women. Jewish men wearing kippahs stand on the floor below. Their bodies sway rhythmically to the recitations of the rabbi. Read more…

The Catholic Church’s Reproductive Fight Is About Controlling Women’s Freedom


By Jamie Manson


Last summer, after years of excruciating menstrual pain and anemia caused by excessive bleeding, I saw a gynecological specialist. He ordered an M.R.I., suspecting the cause was endometriosis. I instinctively grab my rosary when I’m anxious. For days after the test, I moved bead to bead, praying that the radiologist would find signs of disease so that I could find appropriate treatment. But the test showed a perfectly healthy uterus. Read more…


Half of high school students in Polish city opt out of Catholic catechism classes


By Agnieszka Wądołowska


Almost half of high school students in Kraków have opted out of Catholic catechism classes, a figure that has risen significantly in recent years, data obtained from schools show. The findings follow similar evidence from other Polish cities indicating that rapidly growing numbers of pupils are dropping “religion” classes, which are hosted in and funded by Poland’s public education system but with teachers and curriculums chosen by the Catholic church. Read more…

FFRF wins lawsuit against praying Texas judge


By The Freedom From Religion Foundation


The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won its court challenge to stop a Texas judge from conducting courtroom prayer.U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt today ruled in favor of plaintiffs FFRF and local attorney “John Roe.” They had sued Montgomery County Judge Wayne Mack over his divisive and unconstitutional practice of opening each court session with chaplain-led prayer. Mack, as a justice of the peace, has jurisdiction over minor misdemeanor offenses and lesser civil matters. Montgomery County is north of Houston, and its county seat is Conroe. Read more…

Children tied to beds, nuns who flogged themselves, filthy homes: Was Mother Teresa a cult leader?


By Michelle Goldberg

During the Trump years, there was a small boom in documentaries about cults. At least two television series and a podcast were made about Nxivm, an organisation based in the United States that was half multilevel-marketing scheme, half sex-abuse cabal. Wild Wild Country, a six-part series about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s compound in Oregon, was released on Netflix. Read more…


The obscenity of belief in an eternal hell


By David Bentley Hart


My friends’ son is now old enough to grant me permission to tell this story, but it happened more than a dozen years ago, when he was only seven or eight. The year before, he had been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome. He was an extremely intelligent child, shy, typically gentle and quiet, but occasionally emotionally volatile — as tends to be the case with many children classified as “on the spectrum”. Read more…

Freedom of religion or freedom for religion?


By Haldun Gülalp


As the debate on Islam and Islamism rages on in France, so do occasional acts of violence directed at the country’s Muslim minority such as two incidents on 4 and 24 April. There have also been letters from retired and active military officers, threatening – or warning about – an impending civil war. Then there is the anxiety caused by the growing popularity of Marine Le Pen ahead of the 2022 presidential election, which President Macron hopes to counter with policies to curb what he calls “Islamist separatism”. Read more…

School forced to amend ‘misogynistic’ Catholic RSE resource to pass Ofsted inspection


By Humanists UK


A school using a Catholic resource saying ‘men are created to be initiators’ and women ‘receiver-responders’ in sexual relationships has told Ofsted it had to ‘change the language’. It said this was because of ‘concerns about how the roles and responsibilities of men and women within relationships were described.’ Humanists UK was responsible for exposing the resource – called A Fertile Heart – earlier this year. Read more…

School to no longer show Prophet Mohammed


By Humanists UK


Batley Grammar School will no longer use images of the Prophet Muhammed when teaching Religious Studies (RS). That was the conclusion announced today of the School’s investigation into controversy over such an image being used in a recent lesson. The School has said it will take this approach because ‘it is committed to ensuring that offence is not caused’. Humanists UK has expressed alarm at a blasphemy law now effectively being in place, and the chilling effect this is likely to have on other schools. Read more…

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.


Humanists UK Podcast –  What I believe Polly Toynbee
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – Sex Doesn’t Cause Every Problem, Frank

Media Watch

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




Please consider joining Atheist Ireland and support our continued work








Secular Sunday