Secular Sunday #531 – The Primary School Curriculum and the Catholic Church

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The Primary School Curriculum and the Catholic Church


The NCCA is holding a Public Consultation on the new Draft Primary Curriculum Framework. Atheist Ireland has prepared a submission in which we say that the 1999 Primary school Curriculum has undermined the Constitutional and human rights of atheists, humanists and the non-religious in Ireland.

Any new Primary School Curriculum should seek to recognise and promote the Constitutional and human rights of atheists, humanists and the nonreligious, and not to evangelise our children or view our rights through a religious understanding of the world.

We highlight how the recent judgement at the Supreme Court in the Burke v Minister for Education case has upheld the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children, and how the NCCA has ignored the Supreme Court ruling in the Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1998.

Also this week Michael Nugent took part in a debate at the UCD Literary and Historical Society on the topic ‘This house regrets the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland’. Michael outlined how this authoritarian church intertwined itself with an emerging State to create a quasi-theocracy in Ireland.

Thankfully we are living through a time where we are prising away the fingers of the Catholic Church’s grip on our society. But the Church still refuses to compensate the victims of its crimes, it still runs 90% of our State-funded primary schools, and it is still trying to own and run our new national maternity hospital.

As always, you can help us to continue this work by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland 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

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=J8ABlDN8lJA]|*

New Draft Primary Curriculum must respect rights of atheists as decided by the courts

The NCCA is holding a Public Consultation on the new Draft Primary Curriculum Framework. Atheist Ireland has prepared the following Submission.
1. Introduction
2. The Burke Case and the Campaign case at the Supreme Court
3. The right to respect for our philosophical convictions
4. The Draft Primary Framework Disrespects Parents’ convictions
5. Other issues
6. Appendix: Extract from the Primary School Curriculum
7. Legal Opinion
1. Introduction
The 1999 Primary school Curriculum has undermined the Constitutional and human rights of atheists, humanists and the non-religious in Ireland. It is used as a reference point for Patron bodies, schools and teachers to evangelise minorities into a religious understanding of the world.
Any new Framework Primary School Curriculum should seek to recognise and promote the Constitutional and human rights of atheists, humanists and the nonreligious. Our rights should not be viewed through a religious understanding of the world. The Framework should recognise that we have the same positive constitutional right to freedom of conscience on our own terms and understanding of the world.
The Constitution protects the rights of all parents in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children, and not just religious parents. Parents with philosophical convictions have the same Constitutional right to respect in relation to the religious and moral education (Article 42.1) and formation (Article 42.4) of their children that religious parents have.
This means that in drafting a new Framework for the Primary Curriculum the NCCA is administering a Constitutional Right and is going beyond its jurisdiction if it promotes morals through religious education or ERB and ethics if that is against the conscience of parents.
We want the NCCA in the New Framework Primary School Curriculum to recognise and respect the Constitutional rights of atheists, humanists and secularists, in accordance with the Constitution and the related judgements in the Irish courts, and also uphold the NCCA’s Public Sector Duty under Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Commission Act 2014.
The specific judgements in the courts that we refer to are the recent Burke v Minister for Education case at the Supreme Court, and the Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1998. These cases went through the High Court to the Supreme Court, and the Burke case was also heard at the Court of Appeal.
The NCCA cannot continue to undermine the philosophical convictions of the non religious by ignoring the courts in relation to our constitutional and human rights. Under the Draft Framework the right to freedom of conscience and the right to be free from discrimination are viewed through a framework that has been set by those that have influence and control of our education system. Our history shows that religious bodies have had undue influence over the rights of minorities in the education system.
There are substantial philosophical differences between atheism, secularism and religion. The Constitution and human rights law protects our inalienable parental rights as well as our right to be treated with equality and to be free from discrimination. We do not accept an understanding of freedom of religion that is based on any particular religion such as Catholicism; we reject that on the grounds of conscience. The Irish Courts have recognised the right of parents to philosophical convictions the grounds of conscience.
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 Children’s Hospital Temple Street & CD & EF – January 2011)

2. The Burke Case and the Campaign case at the Supreme Court
The recent judgement at the Supreme Court in the Burke v Minister for Education case has upheld the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children.
The NCCA have no jurisdiction to decide for parents what is or is not against their conscience in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children. The Framework Primary School curriculum cannot legally promote morals through religious education to students from non-religious backgrounds if that is against the conscience of their parents. Nor is it legal to promote a religious understanding of the world to these students if that is against the conscience of their parents, because that disrespects the philosophical convictions of parents.
The Supreme Court stated that:

“4. It is clear that a right inures to the family under Article 42.1 of the Constitution to be the “primary and natural educator of the child” and the State is required to “respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide …. for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children”.
Hence, under Article 42.2, the mother and father of Elijah Burke and Naomi Power were “free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State”. But, while under Article 42.3 the State may require, “as guardian of the common good”’ that “children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social” (physical is not mentioned, and the minimum standard required is currently set at school leaver-standard for a 16 year old), the State cannot “oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State or to any particular type of school designated by the State.”
Article 42.4, in requiring the State to provide for “free primary education”’ also places an endeavour, but only that, before the State “to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate education initiative” and “when the public good requires it” towards “other educational facilities or institutions”.
An overall saver in the constitutional text is that the State, in providing for free primary education and in endeavouring to assist post-primary education in various forms, have “due regard.. for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.” This provision reflects a concern for upholding parental authority, a foundational pillar of the Constitution that accords with Article 41 recognising the family as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of” Irish society. Hence, society is built around the family.”

The Supreme Court in their judgement in the Burke case made a distinction between policy and the administration of that policy. It concluded:

“45… There is a vast gulf between formulating a policy and implementing it….Any such a scheme must abide by the Constitution. That is the overarching jurisdiction under which every organ of the State must act….
“48… There was no decision of Government which has been demonstrated to show any clear disregard of the Constitution. What has been established is an excess of jurisdiction in the departmental scheme though an inadvertent disregard of the rights of the home-schooled under the Constitution.”

Here are other relevant extracts from the Supreme Court judgment in the Burke case.
Read more…

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  $35,725 to 1242 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 1907 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 4,110 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


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




National Maternity Hospital: Stop The Sell-Out


By Niall Stokes


Negotiations have been proceeding about the plan to establish a new National Maternity Hospital on the same campus as St. Vincent’s Hospital in Elm Park, on the south side of Dublin. However, as crunch time approaches,  the reality is that the same old issues remain unaddressed. If the deal goes ahead, the hospital will be run under the ethos set out by the Religious Sisters of Charity – compromising the medical care being offered to Irish women disastrously. Read more…


Move by Sisters of Charity to rezone Merrion Road land would boost its value to €50m


By Arthur Beesley, Patsy McGarry


The Religious Sisters of Charity have urged planners to allow housing on their land at Merrion Road in south Dublin, in a move that could value the site at €50 million if it is sold for residential development. The order’s application to Dublin City Council comes less than two years after the closure of a nursing home and convalescent home at the Dublin 4 campus led to big job losses. Read more…


The National Maternity Hospital and a ‘legal bulwark’


By Dr Peter Boylan


Sir, – Your editorial “National Maternity Hospital – potential for progress” (February 14th) is optimistic that nine words will provide a “legal bulwark” that will eliminate concerns about the NMH relocation project. It is impossible to reconcile the apparent agreement to “carry out all medical procedures allowed under Irish law” with previous statements. When the Religious Sisters of Charity announced in May 2017 their intention (not yet realised) to depart St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG), the Order’s leader Sr Mary Christian confirmed that their successors, St Vincent’s Holdings, would be “true to the values of our foundress”. Read online…


Burials Bill: New law will allow for Tuam mother and baby home and other sites to be excavated


By Órla Ryan


THE LONG-AWAITED Burials Bill that will allow for the excavation of sites of former mother and baby institutions has been published by the Government. Cabinet signed off on the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill this morning, prior to Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman hosting a webinar with survivors and relatives. Read more…


Group encouraging public to tick ‘no Religion’ box in upcoming census.


By Patsy McGarry


People who do not have a religion, or who no longer practise, have been urged to mark ‘no religion’ on the upcoming census form . This latest census, the first since 2016, was scheduled to take place on April 24th last year but was postponed due to the pandemic. It will now be held on April 3rd. Read online…


Ground is shifting on integrated education in the North


By Newton Emerson


When President Michael D Higgins declined to attend the ecumenical centenary service in Armagh last October, there was only one legitimate, if oblique, opinion commonly heard in his defence: why were churches lecturing anyone on reconciliation while still insisting on segregated schools?It looks like more than a coincidence that President Higgins called for an end to this “shameful” segregation in a robust address in Enniskillen last week. Read more…



Egypt proposes law banning journalists from discussing religion


By the National Secular Society


Egypt may ban ‘non-specialists’ from discussing religion in the media after a journalist expressed doubts about the Quran. The Egyptian parliament proposed the draft law after journalist and presenter Ibrahim Issa called the Quran’s account of the prophet Muhammad ascending to heaven “a completely delusional story” on a TV show on Friday.  Read more…


Nonreligious Arabs Protest Online to Declare #WeAreHere


By Mina Nader


[Cairo] A loosely organized group of Arabic speakers “la Deeni” (“of no religion”) kicked off its first online protest Tuesday under the hashtags #WeAreHere and #22Feb22. The idea for the protest began on the Clubhouse audio chat room app and grew to include many social media platforms. The activists declared Tuesday the International Day of Nonreligious Arabic Speakers. Read more…


A million children abused by Italian priests, and it barely makes the news


By Matthew Syed


The most dangerous moment in any scandal is when anger shades into indifference, when revelations that once had the power to shock become so normalised that they scarcely register. I wonder if we have reached such a tipping point in one of the most disturbing stories of our age: the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests.  Read more…


Religious education isn’t the right vehicle for civics


By Stephen Evans


In recent years there’s been a steady stream of reports recommending reform of religious education – a contentious subject widely regarded as out of date, underfunded, unpopular and lacking a clear purpose. The government has shown little enthusiasm for addressing RE’s myriad problems. It has instead supported the subject remaining on the curriculum even though its original narrow doctrinal purpose has changed irrevocably. 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.

The Pat Kenny Show The Education of our Nation, For and against denominational schools (starting at 3’04”)


Freethought Radio – What is Humanism?
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – Forfeiting a Game Because of Faith

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