Secular Sunday #547 – Conditions on State funding of Irish schools

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Conditions on State funding of Irish schools


Irish parents have more rights in relation to the education of their children under the Irish Constitution than they have under human rights law. The High Court in the Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1996 explained this as follows:

“[Under theEuropean Convention] States when assuming functions in relation to education ‘shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The Irish Constitution has developed the significance of these parental rights and in addition has imposed obligations on the State in relation to them.”

This refers to the Constitutional conditions regarding State funding of schools in Ireland: the State must have due regard for the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children under Article 42.4, and students have a right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4.

The Supreme Court in the recent Burke v Minister for Education case has said the rights of parents with regard to the religious and moral formation of their children is a foundational pillar of the Constitution and must be protected. That foundational pillar is a condition of state funding alongside the right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4.

In practice, the State ignores these Constitutional conditions and leaves it up to each school to implement them according to their own ethos. Atheist Ireland has in the past year raised this issue with the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, and the Oireachtas Education Committee.

As always, you can help Atheist Ireland to continue our 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

State funding of Catholic-run schools comes with constitutional conditions that are ignored

With the attitude of the Catholic bishops over divesting schools, you could be forgiven for believing that the Irish Constitution explicitly sanctioned the funding of Catholic-run schools and without any conditions.
The reasons that there are so many Catholic schools is because of religious privilege and the failure of the state to comply with the Irish constitution. The Constitution does not say that the state must fund Catholic schools and put in place laws that discriminate against minorities in those schools.
Article 42.4 sanctions state funding of privately run schools. However, it obliges the state to endeavour, and only that, to fund these schools.

“42.4 The State shall provide for free primary education and shall endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative, and, when the public good requires it, provide other educational facilities or institutions with due regard, however, for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.”

There are also constitutional conditions to that funding: the state must have due regard for the rights of parents in relation to religious and moral formation and students have a right to not attend religious instruction. In practice, the state ignores these Constitutional conditions and leaves it up to each school to implement them according to their own ethos.
The Supreme Court in the recent Burke case has reaffirmed the rights of parents in relation to Article 42.4. Article 42.4 puts a constraint on the state in relation to funding schools. They said that the rights of parents with regard to the religious and moral formation of their children is a foundational pillar of the Constitution and must be protected. That foundational pillar is a condition of state funding alongside the right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4.
The Supreme Court stated in the recent Burke case that:

“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.” …
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 educational 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.”

All parents have constitutional rights in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children. The state only views Article 42.4 as an obligation to fund Catholic education and has never given any priority to the conditions to that funding which are a foundational pillar of the constitution.
As well as this, there is the explicit condition under article 44.2.4 that children have the right to attend publicly funded schools without attending religious instruction in those schools. This condition of funding is also routinely ignored.

“44.2.4 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 reason that there are so many Catholic-run schools, and the reason that minorities suffer discrimination in them, is because of religious privilege and not the Constitution. Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the constitutional rights of minorities. Read online…


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  $36,675 to 1281 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 1926 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 4,112 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




Increase in complaints to Catholic churchs safeguarding board


By Ailbhe Conneely


There were 178 allegations of abuse against clergy and religious sisters and brothers between April 2021 and March 2022. The latest annual report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church shows this is an increase on the previous year when it received 134 complaints. Read online…


Bishops sought prioritisation for Catholic school applicants


By Sydney Johnson


Progress is slow for the State’s committment to create 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030. Catholic bishops seek to alter the recently initiated Admissions Act. Documents received by RTÉ News have revealed that The Catholic Bishops’ Conference sought a “binding commitment” from the State to ensure that Catholic children would be given priority access to Catholic schools. In exchange, the bishops would divest a small number of Catholic primary schools to multi-denominational status. Read more…



Government opposes moves to protect secular schools’ ethos


By The National Secular Society


The government has refused to support amendments to a bill which would help nonreligious academies protect their secular ethos. Amendments to the Schools Bill, which was debated in the House of Lords on Monday, aimed to replace compulsory collective worship at nonreligious academies in England with inclusive assemblies, and religious education with pluralistic religion and worldviews education. Read more…

Saudi authorities seize rainbow toys in crackdown on homosexuality


By Agence France-Presse in Riyadh


Saudi officials have been seizing rainbow-coloured toys and clothing from shops in the capital as part of a crackdown on homosexuality, state media has reported. The kingdom opened to tourism in 2019 but, like other Gulf countries, it is frequently criticised for its human rights record, including its outlawing of homosexuality, a potential capital offence. Read more…

Poland’s abortion underground: with backstreet clinics no more, pills become new battleground


By Anna Gmiterek-Zabłocka, Radio TOK FM


The days of illegal – and often unsafe – abortions in backstreet clinics are long gone. Instead, a host of NGOs and activists help women obtain self-administered abortion pills, noting that the recent near-total abortion ban has increased awareness and interest in such service. That has led to a backlash from conservative groups, who are calling for the law to be toughened to prevent and more severely punish the distribution of such pills. Read more…

New Education Minister to take religion out of school Chaplaincy program


By OIP Staff


New Education Minister Jason Clare has confirmed that the Albanese Government will remove the requirement for staff funded through the National Schools Chaplaincy program to be associated with a religious body. Jason Clare confirmed the move to The Canberra Times Chief Political Reporter, Karen Barlow. Read online…

When Will African Churches Apologize for Witch Persecutions?


By Leo Igwe


The apology issued by the Church of Scotland for its role in capturing and torturing alleged witches in early modern Europe is an example and an initiative that churches in Africa must emulate. In a historic gesture of mea culpa, the Church of Scotland has, at its General Assembly, in May, acknowledged their role in the persecution and execution of thousands of people, mainly women, accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries. 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.



Freethought Radio – Celebrating Dissent
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – The Narrow-mindedness of Organized Secularism

Media Watch

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




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