How the State uses misleading language to hide the purpose of religious ethos in schools

The Minister for Education, Norma Foley and the Department of Education are trying to control the language around Relationship and Sexuality Education in order to hide the influence that a catholic ethos has on the teaching of the subject.

The Minister and the Department use the words  ‘treated’ and ‘hear’ when they are questioned regarding the impact of a religious ethos on the teaching of RSE in schools. They say that ‘ethos’ may well have an impact on how the syllabus is ‘treated’ and on what student ‘hear’ in RSE.

The impression given by the use of these words doesn’t actually convey how syllabus Relationship and Sexuality Education is taught.

The purpose of a religious ethos is to influence children into a Catholic understanding of the world. If RSE is taught through a Catholic ethos, then the purpose is to evangelise (or as the Catholic Church has said, to pre-evangelise) all students into a catholic understanding of the world in relation to social and moral education.

The religous ethos of schools is legally protected under the Education Act, Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act.

Constitutional right to moral and social education

All students have a Constitutional right to a basic moral and social education under Article 42.3.2. They also have a right to objective RSE under Article 11 of the European Social Charter. Relationship and sexuality education are part of SPHE, Social, Personal and Health education. The State has a Constitutional duty to provide it.

Section 9 (d) of the Education Act 1998 obliges Boards of Management to consult with parents in relation to the moral and social education of their children, but that section of the Act goes on to say that the Board must have regard to ethos of the school. Section 15 – 2 (b) of the Education Act obliges the Board of Management to uphold the ethos of the school, and Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act means teachers can be fired if they refuse to uphold the ethos of the school.

No matter what parents and students require in relation to social and moral education  on the basis of conscience, it can be refused by private patron bodies in order to uphold the religous ethos of schools.

Parents may have rights under the Constitution, but successive governments have handed control of those rights to private patron bodies, mostly religious, to implement according to their mission and educational philosophy. Despite this, the Constitutional duty lies with the Minister to provide social and moral education, while respecting the philosophical convictions of parents in relation to the education of their children.

In the Burke case at the Court of Appeal in March this year it was stated that:

“191. This Court considers that the case law demonstrates that the relationship between parents, the State and the child as envisaged by Article 40, 41 and 42, is a trifecta not just of the participants but of the rules under which constitutional engagement on education must take place; namely rights, duties and powers. It is only through understanding the interwoven nature of those relationships, that clarity can be brought to the complex constitutional provisions on education.”

The Court of Appeal has linked the Constitutional right to moral and social education with the balance of provisions set out in Article 42 of the Constitution. Article 42 obliges the State to respect the philosophical convictions of parents.

Our chldren should not be denied their right to moral and social education because of the philosophical convictions of their parents. Many Catholic parents and and those from religous minorities would have the same issue. It is Catholic moral and social education or no moral and social education at all.

Parents are left trying to negotiate with the school to opt their children out of aspects of their education that they have a Constitutional right to. The State ‘provides for’ the education of our children in schools with a Catholic ethos. Even some ETBs operate with a catholic ethos.

The Constitution does not envisage minorities suspending their constitutional rights because they have no choice but to send their children to their nearest publicly funded school, when they are legally obliged to do so.

The Court of Appeal said in the recent Burke Case that:

“In doing so the Supreme Court, in the various judgements delivered, interlinked the right to education set out in Article 42.4 with the balance of the provisions set out in the Article, which refer to family, parental rights and duties and children’s rights.”

“(II) However, the imposition of the duty under Article 42 S.4 of the constitution creates a corresponding right in those in whose behalf it is imposed to receive what must be provided.  In my view, it cannot be doubted that citizens have the right to receive what it is the State’s duty to provide under Article 42.s4.”

The purpose of a Religious Ethos is to influence all students

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment are at present updating syllabus Relationship and Sexuality education. The issue is that schools can legally deliver any updated Relationship and Sexuality education course according to their religious ethos. The vast majority of schools in Ireland operate with a Catholic ethos.

The very purpose of a religious ethos in schools is to influence children. The Minister and the Department of Education have referred to this influence in two ways.

For example at the Oireachtas Education Committee the Department of Education said that schools cannot change the content of the syllabus but ethos may affect the method or way that they do that, for example , the resources that they choose to use for RSE.

When pressed by TDs the Department of Education went on to say that ‘ethos’ may well have an impact on what student ‘hear’ in RSE. As one TD pointed out, what students ‘hear’ is what students are taught. You can find that exchange here

The Minister has acknowledged recently in the Dail that ethos will affect how the content of syllabus RSE is treated. You can find that exchange here

The Minister was responding to Deputy O’Laoghaire from Sinn Fein. The words used by Minister Foley and the Department of Education don’t convey the fact that the purpose of a religious ethos is to influence students. The Minister pointed out that schools are obliged to consult with parents with regard to RSE but never mentioned that they must have regard to the ethos of the school and are legally obliged to uphold it.

Another word for this ‘influence’ is to ‘evangelise’. The purpose of a Catholic ethos is to evangelise, or ‘pre-evangelise’ as the Catholic church have said:

“The general programme of the school will be considered as a form of pre-evangelisation. This promotes a human development that focuses on the emotional and aesthetic, thus enabling the young person to experience God at a deep and spiritual level.” (Catholic Guidelines on other faiths in Catholic schools)

(These Guidelines has since been updated with the word ‘pre evangelise’ left out. That doesn’t mean that their policy and mission to evangelise and pre evangelise has gone away, they are just being more careful with their wording.)

The Minister, Norma Foley, and the Department of Education are avoiding using the word ‘influence’, ‘evangelise’ or ‘pre-evangelise’ notwithstanding the fact that the purpose behind students ‘hearing’ the content of the syllabus ‘treated’ by a Catholic ethos, is to evangelise or pre-evangelise them (by enabling the young person to experience God at a deep and spiritual level).

The vocabulary around the delivery of Relationship and Sexuality education is being controlled by the Minister in order to pretend that the actual teaching of RSE will have no impact on students and that all that matters will be the content of the updated Relationship and sexuality syllabus.

The purpose of a Catholic ethos in the vast majority of publicly funded schools to influence/evangelise all students into Catholicism and there really is no getting away from that. The Minister is ignoring the Constitutional rights of parents in order to assist with the evangelisation of all students into a catholic understanding of moral and social education.



Atheist Ireland