Secular Sunday #511 – Parents’ rights and attending religious education

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Parents’ rights and attending religious education


Atheist Ireland wrote this week to the Department of Education asking them to remove a Circular Letter from 2018 in relation to Religious Education in ETB second level schools. That Circular Letter states that there is no need for students to withdraw from curriculum Religious Education.

But constitutional issues around discrimination and endowment of religion under Article 44.2.2 and Article 44.2.3 were raised by the Department of Education long before a curriculum religious course was introduced to schools in 2000.

In a letter from 1994, which Atheist Ireland obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of Education said that the State would need weighty, objective arguments to justify the course on educational grounds.

At the time the Department of Education did not give any consideration to the constitutional rights of atheist and secular parents regarding the moral education of our children, which is not based on a religious understanding of the world.

Given those constitutional rights, it is not up to the Department of Education to decide for parents whether any Religious Education course is suitable for their children. We are awaiting a response from the Department to the letter that we have sent them.

Please help Atheist Ireland to highlight issues like this, and support  our ongoing work promoting secular education and secular laws in Ireland, by joining Atheist Ireland as a member. We are a voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join here

– 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


Parents, not schools, must decide whether their children attend religious education


Atheist Ireland has written to the Department of Education asking them to remove Circular Letter 0062/2018 in relation to Religious Education in ETB second level schools.
That Circular Letter states that there is no need for students to withdraw from curriculum Religious Education.
Given the Constitutional rights of parents, it is not up to the Department of Education to decide for parents whether any Religious Education course is suitable for their children.
Here is the letter we sent:
We are writing to ask you to withdraw Circular Letter 0062/218 as it is not in accordance with the Constitution and the findings of the Supreme Court.
The Department of Education cannot decide for parents what is or is not suitable for their children in relation to Religious Education or decide whether there is a need for parents to withdraw their children.
Circular Letter 0062/2018 states that:

“Religious Education, where it is offered by a school, must be delivered in the timetabled class periods without any religious instruction or worship of any religion forming any part of class activity. This means that any practice or material that would introduce religious instruction or worship cannot be used in the future. Religious Education will be subject to inspection including its delivery according to this circular. This clear separation of religious instruction from the NCCA Religious Education syllabus has the effect of ensuring that withdrawal does not arise for students studying the NCCA Religious Education syllabus where the school provides the subject as part of its normal range of subjects.”

Justice Barrington in the Supreme Court case Campaign to Separate Church and State v Minister for Education 1998 stated that:

“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 to provide for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Article 42 S.2 prescribes that the parent 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 recognised or established by the State”. In other words the Constitution contemplates children receiving religious education in schools recognised or established by the State but in accordance with the wishes of the parents.
It is in this context that one must read Article 44 “.2s.s.4 which prescribes 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.”(pages 25,26)

The Supreme Court found that the rights of parents in relation to the religious education of their children under Article 42.1 must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4 – the right to not attend religious instruction. The Department of Education has no right to decide for parents what is or is not suitable religious education for their children or whether there is the need for parents to withdraw their children from it.
In the recent Burke v Minister for Education case in March this year the Court of Appeal recognised the connection between Article 42.1 and Article 41 which obliges the State to protect the family in its authority. It’s simply not the function of the State to develop attitudes and values in children from atheist or secular families to enable them to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world if that is against their conscience.
We appreciate that this case has been appealed to the Supreme Court but this particular point will not change regardless of the outcome. The Court of Appeal in the Burke Case stated that:

“Under Article 41.1.2 the State guarantees to protect the family, in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State. As we have seen, the relevance of the family provisions was recognised by the Supreme Court in the case of In re Article 26 and School Attendance Bill, 1942. In DPP v. Best, Denham J. in her judgment, one of five delivered, stated that “(t)he distinct place of the family in Irish society is a factor to be weighed in all relevant decisions.” Two other judges of the Supreme Court either expressly agreed with her judgment or held that the relevant provisions of Article 42 must be read in the context of the special recognition granted to the family in Article 41.1.1.”

The Department of Education has simply no Constitutional authority to decide for parents what is or is not suitable religious education for their children. The right to not attend religious instruction must be read in the context of Article 42.1. The relevant provisions of Article 42 must be read in the context of the special recognition granted to the family in Article 41.1.1.
The main aim of the Religious Education course updated in 2019 is:
Read more…


*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=oaXiTH2rpBg]|*


Know your rights

Letter (got under FOI) issued by the Department of Education to the NCCA in relation to the introduction of curriculum Religious Education. The letter raised Constitutional issues around the introduction of the subject. Those issues were never resolved, just ignored.

We have written to the Department regarding curriculum religious education and the Constitutional rights of parents.

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**
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. 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  $34,350 to 1190 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 1878 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 4,084 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.
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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




Public inquiry into Northern Ireland mother and baby homes recommended by expert panel

By Press Association


DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER Michelle O’Neill has said she will make the case for a full public inquiry into institutions for unmarried mothers in Northern Ireland, stating that women were treated in a “barbaric way”. Read more…

Facebook Ireland to investigate ads on ‘abortion pill reversal’.

By Mark Hilliard


Facebook Ireland has said it will investigate claims of ads posted to promote controversial abortion pill “reversal” procedures. The social media company’s ad library recently showed records of 92 such ads in the US which, according to its own analytics, were viewed by users up to 18.4 million times since January, 2020.
The claims were first published last month in a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). Read more…

St Brigid’s Day holiday proposed to mark pandemic and honour women

By Julieanne Corr


A campaign to make February 1 a new Irish bank holiday to honour the victims and heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic was launched by a feminist group yesterday. Herstory, founded in 2016, called on the government to make St Brigid’s Day the country’s new public holiday as it “welcomes spring and return of the light”. Read more…



UN committee: Polish schools should promote equality and inclusion

By the National Secular Society


A UN committee has expressed concern about the Catholic Church’s impact on children’s rights in Poland following a National Secular Society intervention. In a report published last week, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) highlighted the role of religion in discrimination, abuse and homophobia in Poland. Read more…

What History Teaches Us About Women Forced to Carry Unwanted Pregnancies to Term

By Kelly O’Connor McNees


As the full implications of Texas’s severe abortion law come into view, experts on reproductive rights are justifiably concerned about a potential increase in unsafe abortions. And while the specter of coat hangers may seem anachronistic in an era where medication abortions can be safely self-managed at home, we know that some women who lack access to health care will take desperate measures to avoid the physical, psychological, emotional, social and economic trauma of being compelled to gestate and give birth against their wishes. Read more…

When it comes to religion, women don’t have rights…they have issues

By Jane Caro


“The Mater Centre for Maternal Fetal Medicine provides a full range of prenatal diagnostic and therapeutic options and is very active in research, collaborating with a wide range of perinatal specialists and scientists from around the world…the centre has an excellent reputation for providing quality and compassionate care to women and babies with complex complications in pregnancy, in accordance with the philosophy and tradition of the Sisters of Mercy.”. Read more…

Only secular law can bring justice to French victims of clerical abuse

By Keith Porteous Wood


AN inquiry commissioned by the Catholic Church into clerical abuse in France has just concluded that victims of both clerics and laity (teachers, for example) totalled around a third of a million since 1950. In no country in the world has such a high figure been included in an official report. Nearly all victims were minors or vulnerable adults. Read more…

An almighty row: ‘They told us we had to separate’

By Greg Bearup


That they should ever have met and fallen in love is miraculous. Retired public servant Peter Grace, 61, grew up in a big Catholic family in the heart of the NSW grain belt at Gunnedah, where he was an active member of his local church. He was the one who picked up the elderly parishioners and drove them to church on Sundays, and to the doctor during the week. Read more…

FFRF ends Ohio high school coach-sponsored prayer

By Freedom from religion foundation


An Ohio public high school football coach has stopped praying with players after the Freedom From Religion Foundation intervened on behalf of the Constitution.
According to a concerned community member, the head coach of the Liberty-Benton High School football team was requiring players to lead prayers at team meals, leading students in the Lord’s Prayer before games and leading students in post-game prayer. Read more…

New psychology research identifies a robust predictor of atheism in adulthood

By Eric W. Dolan


People who grew up in a home with relatively little credible displays of faith are more likely to be atheists, according to new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The study indicates that cultural transmission — or the lack thereof — is a stronger predictor of religious disbelief than other factors, such as heightened analytic thinking. Read more…

NSS refers Islamic charities to regulator following pro-Taliban lectures

By The National Secular Society


The National Secular Society has reported two Islamic charities to the regulator after extremist sermons were found on one of the charities’ websites. The NSS reported Miftahul Jannah Academy to the Charity Commission for England and Wales after sermons praising the Taliban, encouraging Muslims to fund jihadists, and referring to the “dirty qualities” of Jews, were found on the charity’s website. Read more…

Humanists UK at UN urges repeal of blasphemy and apostasy laws in Somalia

By Humanists UK


In its latest intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has called on the Government of Somalia to remove blasphemy from its penal code and to repeal the death penalty for apostasy. 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.

Michael Nugent on Newstalk – The proposed new bank holiday should be inclusive, not religious



Freethought Radio – Religion vs. Women’s Health
National Secular Society Podcast – Reforming marriage law
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – France’s Catholic Church is a Hotbed of Abuse

Media Watch

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




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