Another school year starts
Another school year is starting, and schools will as usual find various ways to try to prevent students from not attending religious instruction. Some schools will say you have to sit at the back of the class, because they have no resources. Others will claim it is religious education not instruction, and you have to attend it. Don’t listen to them.
Whatever your school calls its religion class, you have a constitutional right to not attend it on the ground of conscience. Atheist Ireland has produced sample letters that you can give to the principal of your school, letting them know that you know your rights. We have always succeeded in getting schools to back down on this issue.
We are still lobbying the Government to get the Minister for Education to intervene to ensure that your rights are protected. Successive Ministers refuse to do this. They say that it is up to the school how they implement this right. But respecting the right to not attend religion class is a constitutional condition of state funding of schools, and the Minister is responsible for that.
Please join Atheist Ireland as a member and help us to ensure that you can not attend religion class, and that you are supervised outside the class or ideally get another subject. On a wider basis, help us to promote a secular education system that respects every student, parent, and teacher equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.
We are a voluntary body with no paid staff. We rely on our members to continue this work. You can join us here. We look forward to hearing from you.
– Secular Sunday Editorial Team
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atheist Ireland News
Second level Religion Teachers integrate anti abortion videos into curriculum Religious Education supposed to be for all religions and none. The Department of Education fund in service training days for Religion Teachers through the PDST. At these training days between the PDST & the Catholic church anti abortion videos are distributed to be shown to students from all religious backgrounds and none without the consent of their parents. This is an attack on the rights of parents under the Constitution and it is funded by the State. See our letter to the Oireachtas Education Committee below
The implications for parents’ rights of the anti-abortion video shown in Tipperary school
Atheist Ireland has written the following letter to the Oireachtas joint committee on Education, about not attending Religious Instruction in schools, and the recent anti-abortion video shown in a school.
We would like the Committee to take the following into account when it reaches the stage of addressing our legal opinion on the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in publicly funded schools.
Two recent articles in the Sunday Independent and the Irish Examiner describe an anti-abortion video, produced by the Life Network in Texas, which was shown to Leaving Certificate students during curriculum Religious Education in the Ursuline secondary school in Tipperary.
This video contains many controversial claims, including that women who have abortions are at high risk of developing breast cancer, and that abortion clinics harvest foetal organs to sell them to medical researchers to fight Parkinson’s disease.
Parents and students were not informed before the video was shown about the contents of this video. It was shown during the Religious Education class which the State inaccurately claims is suitable for students from all religions and none.
This behaviour cannot be justified on the basis of religious freedom, as integrating Catholic faith formation or Catholic social policy on abortion into curriculum Religious Education is not necessary or proportionate to uphold the free practice of the Catholic religion.
Catholic families already have a Constitutional right to Catholic religious instruction and Catholic faith formation in publicly funded schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church. This right is reflected in Section 30-2(d) of the Education Act 1998.
The Minister is obliged to leave instruction time in the school day for subjects relating to or arising out of the characteristic spirit of the school. That should not also stray into curriculum Religion, which is supposed to be for students from all religions and none.
How the Teaching Council addressed complaints about the video
A parent of a student complained to the school and the issue went to the Teaching Council, who ruled that the complaint did not warrant a full disciplinary inquiry for the religion teacher involved. The teacher in question told the Teaching Council that the video was distributed during an in-service training day for curriculum Religious education.
The Teaching Council found that a Religious Education teacher showing a video to students that was distributed by private bodies, without the consent of parents, did not warrant a full disciplinary inquiry for the religion teacher.
This is despite the fact that parents and students were not informed about the contents of the video before it was shown, some parents objected on conscience grounds to the contents of that video, and the fact that it was shown during curriculum Religious education that is supposed to be suitable for students from all religions and none.
There is a complete lack of transparency regarding this issue. Under the Constitution parents have rights in relation to the education of their children. In accessing curriculum Religious Education, students are being exposed to videos that are harmful and against the conscience of their parents.
In-service days organised by the PDST and involving the Catholic Church
According to the correspondence of the Teaching Council to the parent, the DVD was acquired by the teacher at a registered training day, meaning it was sanctioned by the Department of Education. The Department of Education said it and its teachers’ education supports service has no knowledge of the video referred to in the article.
The Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) runs registered training days for curriculum Religion teachers alongside the Catholic Church. It seems at the very least plausible that it was at one of these training days that the religion teacher was given the video to show her students.
In the past Atheist Ireland has tried unsuccessfully to obtain information about these training days between the PDST and the Catholic Church but the Information Commissioner found that the PDST are a private body and did not come under the FOI Act.
Consequently, a body that is State-funded but has no legal status, is now working with the Roman Catholic Church to deliver in-service training to religion teachers in State-funded schools, without any day-to-day role for the Department of Education in supervising this work.
Furthermore, there is no public accountability in relation to how this work is conducted. No other religion or belief group is involved, despite the fact that curriculum Religion is supposed to be suitable for students from all religions and none.
Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students
The Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students are integrated into curriculum Religious Education in publicly funded schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church.
The Department of Education are aware that this is happening. In Circular Letter 0062/2018 the Department told ETB schools that they could not use the Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students during curriculum Religious Education anymore. This Circular was only for ETB schools and not for schools under Catholic patronage.
Students from minority backgrounds who attend schools under Catholic patronage are not informed that Catholic faith formation is integrated into curriculum Religious Education. This important information is not included in the Admission Policy of the Ursuline secondary school in Tipperary.
As far as we are aware, the vast majority of Catholic second level schools present curriculum Religious Education as a core subject, open to students from all religions and none. This means that they just enrol students into the course and it is up to parents to seek to exercise the right for their child to not attend the subject. Read more…
Students not attending Religious Instruction is a condition of State funding
Students are returning to school and many will face the prospect of being forced to take religion class. If they do manage to not participate, they are left sitting at the back of the class. The right to ‘not attend’ is written into the Constitution, it is not a matter of opting out or not participating but of ‘not attending’ religious instruction.
Vast amounts of State resources go into helping religious parents with the religious education of their children, while the constitutional condition for those resources is ignored by Church and State.
Telling families that Religious Education is not Religious Instruction and therefore the right to not attend does not arise has no legal basis. Curriculum Religious Education is an optional subject at junior and leaving certificate. It is schools and teachers that make it mandatory and many force students to take it despite the fact that they are breaching the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion of families. It is not up to the Department of Education, Patron bodies, schools or teachers to decide for parents what is or is not against their conscience. It is the right of parents to decide what religous and moral education is suitable for their children under Article 42.1 of the Constitution.
Students not attending Religious Instruction is a condition of state funding
State aid to denominational schools is conditional on students ‘not attending’ religious instruction. Students have a constitutional right to be supervised outside religious instruction and there is a good legal argument for being allocated another subject.
The fact that the state does not vindicate this right is a reflection of their disrespect for minorities and their deference to the Catholic Church. The right to not attend religious instruction is not part of the ethos of schools, it is a condition of their funding. Patron bodies have accepted state funding on this constitutional basis.
Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution states that:
Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.
What the Supreme Court has said
The Supreme Court has already upheld this understanding of the Constitution. In the Campaign to Separate Church and State case they stated that:
These references appear to me to establish two facts. First the Constitution does not contemplate that the payment of monies to a denominational school for educational purposes is an “endowment” of religion within the meaning of Article 44 S.2 s.s.2 of the Constitution. Secondly, the Constitution contemplated that if a school was in receipt of public funds any child, no matter what his religion, would be entitled to attend it. But such a child was to have the right not to attend any course of religious instruction at the school. (page 24)
It is the responsibility of the State to vindicate this constitutional right because it is a condition of State funding. State funding has been given on the condition that minority students have a right to attend denominational schools and not attend religious instruction. Read online…
Yet again, the State ignores the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction
A new school year is starting. It will be another year where the State ignores the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in publicly funded schools.
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley continues to ignore her duty to protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion of minorities by ensuring that schools give practical application to the right to not attend religious instruction (Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution).
Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution follows Article 44.2.1, which enshrines the right to freedom of conscience and religion. The funding of schools is conditional on the right to not attend religious instruction. The very purpose of the right to not attend religious instruction is to protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion of parents and their children.
You can read a more detailed article on the right to not attend religious instruction with sample letters for primary and second level schools here.
The Supreme Court has also recognised the right of parents in relation to the religous and moral education of their children. Despite what the Supreme Court has said, the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, refuses to protect the freedom of conscience and religion of minorities in publicly funded schools.
The Supreme court said that Article 42.1 (the inalienable right of parents) must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4 (the right to not attend religious instruction). It is not up to the Department of Education, the NCCA, Patron bodies, schools or teachers to decide for parents what is or is not against their conscience by claiming that certain religion courses are suitable for students from all religious backgrounds and none.
The Supreme Court has stated that:
“These references appear to me to establish two facts. First the Constitution does not contemplate that the payment of monies to a denominational school for educational purposes is an “endowment” of religion within the meaning of Article 44 S.2 s.s.2 of the Constitution. Secondly, the Constitution contemplated that if a school was in receipt of public funds any child, no matter what his religion, would be entitled to attend it. But such a child was to have the right not to attend any course of religious instruction at the school.” (page 24)
“But the matter does not end there. Article 42 of the Constitution acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of the parents of provide for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Article 42 S.2 prescribes that the parents shall be free to provide “this education” (i.e religious moral intellectual physical and social education) in their homes or in private schools or “in schools recognized or established by the State”. In other words the Constitution contemplates children receiving religious education in schools recognized or established by the State but in accordance with the wishes of the parents.(page 25)
It is in this context that one must read Article 44 S.2s.s.4 which prescribes that:-….” (Campaign to Separate Church and state case – Supreme Court 1998)
Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in primary and second level schools. Read online…
The Right Not to Attend Religion Class
The following is a draft letter for parents who wish to ensure their child does not attend the Goodness Me Goodness you course in ETB Community National Schools
Get the letter here.
Sample Letter for parents and students who wish to exercise the right to not attend religion classes in denominational schools
Get the letter here.
Sample letter for parents and students who wish to exercise their right to not attend religion classes in ETB second level schools
Calling concerned teachers
If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at email@example.com
List of Atheist Ireland Submissions
Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”
**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about gods‘ free (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. 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 $33,450 to 1163 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 ‘notme.ie‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1872 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 4,081 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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
Sexual consent programme for second level students launched
By Jade Wilson
A sexual consent education programme for students in second level was launched on Tuesday, which includes workshops for teenagers and seminars for parents. The programme was developed by Active Consent researchers at NUI Galway over the last two years and is aimed at 15- to 17-year-olds. Read more…
Magdalene Laundries documentary producers surprised by level of interest from Europe
By Julieanne Corr
The producer of a new two-part documentary on the Magdalene Laundries has said she was surprised by the level of interest in the film from Europe. Ireland’s Dirty Laundry, co-produced by Nuala Cunningham and Gerry Gregg, will air as two one-hour films on RTE. Read more…
Harvard University’s new chief chaplain is … an atheist.
By Maya Yang
Harvard University, originally founded with a mission to educate clergymen in order to minister to New England’s early Puritan colonists, has a new chief chaplain. His name is Greg Epstein – and he is an atheist. Read more…
God Doesn’t Exist
By Anthony N. White
I love to argue. I especially love when I can stir the pot in a room where two other people have a far deeper care for the topic than I ever will and am able to slice open some argument, its guts splayed carelessly across the table, set it on fire, and watch it burn. Read more…
Imperative of Civic Engagement on Witchcraft-based Violence in Malawi
By Leo Igwe
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) commends the Minister for Civic Education and National Unity, Mr. Timothy Pagonachi Mtambo for the efforts to combat violations and mob violence linked to witchcraft beliefs in Malawi. At a recent event in the Neno district, Mtambo urged Malawians to end witchcraft-related attacks and exorcism because jungle justice was a crime against the law. Read online…
Staunch atheists show higher morals than the proudly pious, from the pandemic to climate change
By Phil Zuckerman
Two recent events have shed an illuminating light on who is and who isn’t moral in today’s world. First, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leader in the U.S. Catholic Church and a staunch anti-masker/vaxxer, was put on a ventilator as a result of his suffering from COVID-19. Second, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations released its latest data-rich report, warning that “unless there are rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach.”. Read more…
Three in 10 families have little choice but a faith school, NSS finds
By the National Secular Society
Three in 10 families in England are left with little choice but a faith school while thousands are forced into faith schools against their wishes every year, the National Secular Society has found. NSS research has shown that 30% of families live in areas where two or three of their three nearest primary schools are faith based. In some local authorities the figure is above 80%. Read more…
The child abuse inquiry has been too deferential to the Jehovah’s Witnesses
By Lloyd Evans
Next week the IICSA inquiry will publish a report into the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This can only be damning. But the inquiry hasn’t gathered the evidence needed to root out abuse within the organisation, writes Lloyd Evans. As I write, we are only days away from learning the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in its investigation of a number of religious organisations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. Read more…
Humanists International calls on UN to urgently investigate human rights violations in Afghanistan
By Humanists International
Today at the UN, Humanists International has urged the international community to establish an adequately resourced fact-finding mission to investigate and report on abuses and violations of human rights committed by all parties. The call was made during a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on “Serious human rights concerns and situation in Afghanistan,” by Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey. Read online…
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News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement.