Secular Sunday #537 – Stop Saying ‘Opt Out’ of Religious Instruction

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Stop Saying ‘Opt Out’ of Religious Instruction


Many people informally refer to the right to ‘opt out’ of religious instruction in Irish schools. But that term is unhelpful. The right in Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution is much stronger. The legal right is to ‘not attend’ religious instruction.

‘Not attending’ means physically leaving the classroom, not sitting at the back hearing everything that is being taught. And because the Constitution links that right to the funding of schools, there are financial implications: schools must either supervise children outside of the classroom or give them an alternative subject.

This right supports and is supported by Article 42 of the Constitution, which protects the inalienable right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children. It is reflected in the right in the Education Act to not attend any subject contrary to parents’ conscience.

But the clearest right is to not attend religious instruction, as that is explicitly named in the Constitution. So when you are trying to vindicate the right of your child to not attend religious instruction, be sure to use the legal phrase ‘not attend’ instead of the informal phrase ‘opt out.

Also, Atheist Ireland has made a submission to the review of the operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. We highlighted such issues as conscientious objection, risks to health, and harassing women outside clinics.

You can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work on this and other secular issues 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

Stop saying ‘opt out’ of religious instruction – the right is to ‘not attend’


There is a right under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution for students to ‘not attend’ religious instruction in publicly funded schools if that is against the conscience of their parents. This is sometimes informally referred to as the right to ‘opt out’.
However, the explicit right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction is a far stronger right than the vague informal phrase ‘opt out’ which has no legal basis. ‘Not attending’ means physically leaving the classroom, not sitting at the back hearing everything that is being taught.
Referring to it as the right to ‘opt out’ is not a reflection of the Constitution or the Education Act 1998 as neither refer to the right to ‘opt out’. There is a Constitutional right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction. The words ‘not attend’ were not written into the Constitution for nothing.
The framers of the Constitution made a conscious decision to ensure that students had a right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. They also made ‘not attending’ religious instruction a condition of state funding.
This supports and is supported by Article 42 of the Constitution, which protects the inalienable right of parents in relation to the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.
As a result of this, the Education Act vindicates the right of parents for their children to ‘not attend’ any subject that is contrary to their conscience. For example some parents want their children to ‘not attend’ sex education or physical and social education.
Parents have this right under the Education Act for their child to ‘not attend’ any subject contrary to their conscience, and the Education Act includes this right because under our constitution it is parents who are the primary educators of their children (Article 42).
Again, this is an explicit right to ‘not attend’. It is not a vague informal right to ‘opt out’.
However, the Constitution treats ‘not attending’ religious instruction more strongly than other subjects, because it specifically names it and links to to State funding of schools.
This is the wording of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution

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.

The Irish version of the Constitution takes precedence over the English version. The words ‘Teagasc Creidimh’ under Article 44.2.4 translate directly into ‘religious teaching’. So ‘not attending’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 is simply not attending ‘religious teaching’.
The courts have already found that the right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 must be read in the context of Article 42, the right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children.
Atheist Ireland is campaigning for the Constitutional rights of students to ‘not attend’ religious instruction. As this right is a condition of state funding this means that students must be supervised outside the classroom or offered another subject.
It would help our campaign to vindicate this right if more people stopped using the vague phrase ‘opt out’ and started using the legally explicit phrase ‘not attend’. Read online…

Funds originating in Russia were given to religious groups in Europe including the Iona Institute for political campaigns. Read our article from 2021

International funding of political campaigns against sexual and reproductive rights


This article covers:
Part 1 — Funding of Political Campaigns of Religious Bodies
Part 2 — EPF Report on International Funding of Religious Bodies
Part 3 — EPF Report on Agenda Europe Discussion Document
Part 4 — Protecting Democracy from Big Money Between Elections
Part 1 — Funding of Political Campaigns of Religious Bodies
Millions of euros in international funding, including from America and Russia, are spent within European countries to campaign politically against sexual and reproductive rights. Some of this money is used for political purposes in Ireland. The Irish SIPO laws should be strengthened to prevent this from happening here, and not weakened to allow an unregulated free-for-all of political donations between elections.
In Ireland, churches and religious charities can take unlimited donations, from Ireland or internationally, and use that money for political purposes. Secular NGOs can also take donations to use for political purposes, but we have to get a lot of small donations rather than a small number of large donations. This is good for democracy, because it helps to make politics a battle of ideas not a battle of bank accounts.
Atheist Ireland is lobbying to strengthen the SIPO laws so that churches and religious charities have to comply with these requirements. Unfortunately other groups, including ICCL and Amnesty, are lobbying to weaken the SIPO laws, to allow anybody to take any political donations in between elections. That would be bad for secularism, and bad for democracy, as most political influence is sought and granted between elections, not during election campaigns.
This article highlights two reports from the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. One is about the source and use of this international funding. The other is about a detailed discussion document circulated within the Agenda Europe network whose members advocate for laws against sodomy, divorce, gay propaganda, abortion, contraceptives, IVF, stem cell research, euthanasia, and anti-discrimination laws.
The Oireachtas All-Party Group on Sexual and Reproductive Rights is affiliated to the European Parliamentary Forum that produced these reports. The IFPA acts as its secretariat. The group is co-chaired by Senator Annie Hoey (Labour), Holly Cairns TD (Social Democrats), and Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee (Fianna Fáil). Senator Alice Mary Higgins sits on the Executive Committee of the European Parliamentary Forum.
Part 2 — EPF Report on International Funding of Religious Bodies
The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights recently published a report called Tip of the Iceberg, about the funding of conservative religious advocacy groups that oppose sexual and reproductive rights in Europe. The report concludes that in the ten years from 2009-2018, such groups received over $700 million, of which $270 million came from Russia and the United States.
The report says that American-based groups Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Acton Institute donate funds to European groups, with ADF spending €4.3 million in Europe during 2018 alone. One of the recipients is the Agenda Europe network of over a hundred members and groups in thirty countries that describe themselves as pro-life and pro-family.
The report says that Agenda Europe’s central organisers are Catholic activists and groups with direct links to the Vatican hierarchy, including Gudrun Kugler and Terrence McKeegan. In Ireland, Senator Ronan Mullen, Irish family and Life, and the Iona Institute have links to the Agenda Europe network. The Agenda Europe network holds private annual summits. In 2015 it held its summit in Ireland.
The report also says that the Milan-based Novae Terrae foundation gave €2.3 million of funds originating in Russia-Azerbaijan to various European groups between 2012-2015. It says these groups included Citizen Go in Madrid, Dignitas Humanae in Rome, Mum Dad & Kids in Brussels, and the Iona Institute in Ireland. It does not say how much each group received.
The report also refers to a transnational conservative Catholic body called Tradition, Family and Property which strongly opposes abortion and LGBT rights. Its main European political focus is in Poland. Its Irish affiliate, the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, is a registered charity with the aim of advancing religion. It had income of €390,000 in 2019.
Part 3 — EPF Report on Agenda Europe Discussion Document
The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights also published a report in 2018 about a detailed policy discussion document circulated within the Agenda Europe network, titled Restoring the Natural Order: An Agenda for Europe.
The Internet Archive shows that large sections of this document were already published word-for-word in articles on the now-private Agenda Europe blog, on or before Feb 2015. That blog endorses the content of the discussion document. 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

Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $36,000 to 1253 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 1915 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.

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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:

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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




‘Groupthink’ and religion – Letter to the Irish Times


By Rob Sadlier


Sir, – In “Organised religion provides balance to uncritical acceptance of facile ‘groupthink’” (Opinion & Analysis, April 4th) Archbishop Eamon Martin claims, rather contradictorily, that organised religion’s “authority serves as a bulwark against privatised interpretations”, Read online…

How Ireland Took On the Church and Freed Its Soul

By James Wood

“Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history,” Novalis said. It was subtle of Penelope Fitzgerald to use this as the epigraph for her historical novel about the poet, “The Blue Flower,” implying, as it does, the novel’s best powers of restoration. History is full of destruction and certain death, but fictional people may live forever, in an eternal redemption. Read more…

Northern Ireland Humanists calls for blasphemy law repeal and free speech protections in new hate crime law

By Humanists UK

Northern Ireland Humanists has called on the Department of Justice to use upcoming legislation on hate crime to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws and strengthen protections for freedom of expression. In response to a consultation on reforming hate crime laws, Northern Ireland Humanists stated... Read more…


Nigerian humanist sentenced to 24 years in prison for ‘blasphemy

By The National Secular Society

The National Secular Society has condemned a Nigerian court for sentencing a humanist activist to 24 years in prison for ‘blasphemy’. Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested in 2020 in connection with a series of Facebook posts that some deemed “blasphemous”. Read online…


CofE plans to increase influence in post-16 education smack of hubris

By Alastair Lichten

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has attracted little media attention. Compared with other wide ranging government proposals that could increase religious control of education, the bill has been seen more as a technical tidying up exercise. Those opposed to any religious discrimination, privilege or control of state education have traditionally had few worries about the further education (FE) sector. Read more…

Acts of worship shouldn’t have a prayer in schools, says former principal

By Mark Macaskill

A former Scottish head teacher has questioned the merits of religious worship in school assemblies and feels a US-style “no prayer” policy should be adopted. Cameron Wyllie, 64, who was principal of the £14,000-a-year George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, said he backed religious education but felt acts of worship had no place in morning assemblies, which are a feature of school life in many non-denominational independent and state establishments across Scotland. Read more…

Making money, losing faith: The Mormons in Australia

By Ben Schneiders

Sue Given’s break with Mormonism started when her 13-year-old son overdosed on pills. “That was when he first came out to us – on the gurney, in the hospital.” Given’s son told her that he was afraid she would not love him anymore as he was gay. It took a few more years before Given quit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons) for good. Read more…

Schools chaplaincy provider bans cohabitation and ‘sexually intrusive’ behaviour in staff’s private life

By Paul Karp

Australia’s second biggest schools chaplaincy provider imposes a code that discriminates against staff based on relationship status and sexual conduct, a whistleblower has alleged. Caragh Larsen, a former Schools Ministry Group chaplain at two Adelaide public primary schools, said the code banning “cohabitation” and “sexually intrusive” behaviour left unmarried and LGBTQ+ staff vulnerable. Read more…

Oklahoma lawmakers pass near-total ban on abortion

By BBC News

Lawmakers in Oklahoma have passed a bill that would impose a near-total ban on abortions in the state. The bill would criminalise performing an abortion in almost all cases, except where it could “save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency”. Read more…

Texas abortion: The ‘ranch’ for mothers with no place to go

By Linda Pressly

Texas has passed one the strictest abortion laws in the US, banning the procedure after around six weeks’ gestation. That has left many women looking for options. It was shortly after the birth of her second child, when Dallas-based Aubrey Schlackman had an epiphany. Read more…

‘Day of shame for Nigerian authorities’: Mubarak Bala sentenced to 24 years in prison

By Humanists International

Humanists International strongly condemns the outrageous decision of the Kano State High Court to convict Mubarak Bala of 18 counts of causing a public disturbance under Sections 210 and 114 of the Kano State Penal Code, respectively. Bala was sentenced to 24 years in prison.Read online…

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.

Deputy Catherine Connelly castigates Stephen Donnelly in the Dail yesterday for handing over the new Maternity Hospital to a religious institution. Watch here.


BBC Video – Rogue pastors, fake miracles and murder

Freethought Radio – Separate Church & State
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – Was the Pledge of Allegiance plagiarized?

Media Watch

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




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