Children are heading back to school, and parents are again left in the position that they must negotiate their Constitutional rights with the school. This is what minorities have to put up with in our Republic.
Schools give no practical application to our Constitutional rights, and the Department of Education, NCCA, Patron bodies, schools and teachers decide for parents what is or is not suitable religious and moral education for their children. Our children are just enrolled into various types of religious and ethical courses that are against our conscience.
Parents have a Constitutional right under Article 44.2.4 to ensure that their children do not attend any type of religious teaching. That includes any Patron’s programme and also the syllabus Religious Education at second level.
Here is a link to an overview of what is happening on the ground in schools and our campaign to ensure that the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction is given practical application on the ground.
You will also find in the above link sample letters to send to all types of schools including denominational, ETBs at second level and Community National Schools at primary level.
Our recent article on syllabus Religious Education will give you an overview of why syllabus Religious Education is indoctrination and undermines the rights of non religious parents. Schools have absolutely no right to force your child to take this course.
If you need any assistance or any further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Does the synodal process show that the State is endowing the Catholic Church in schools?
In a recent article in the Irish Times, Breda O’Brien reminds us that the Catholic Church is not a democracy so we should not expect radical change. The article is about the Catholic Church’s synodal process. It seems that many Catholics want change in the moral teachings of the church. But, as Ms O’Brien says:
“If the church’s claims about the unchangeable nature of its core moral teachings are false, why should anyone believe its claims about the real presence of Christ in the eucharist? The church cannot be both a democracy and a guardian of sacred truth. These views cannot be reconciled. The degree of division in the church is not unprecedented but it is significant. Schism is openly being discussed in the international church.”
The Church may not be a democracy but Ireland is, and the Irish State funds Catholic schools in order to help parents with the religious education of their children. The Constitution does not oblige the State to do this; it says the state should ‘endeavour’ to give aid to private educational initiatives. The state has decided to deliver its constitutional duty to educate children through mainly private religious bodies.
The vast majority of Irish schools are under the control of the Catholic Church, and teachers are legally obliged to uphold a Catholic ethos. Under the Education Act Board of Management must uphold the ethos of the Patron, that is nearly always the local Catholic Bishop or a Catholic trust. In some ETB schools Catholic Chaplains are funded by the state to help Catholic parents with the religious formation of their children.
Minorities have no choice but to attend these schools. The Supreme Court has said that if they choose to send their children to denominational schools, they must accept that their children will be influenced to some degree by the religious ethos of the school.
But what if many Catholic parents don’t agree with or even want Catholic moral teaching for their children? They, like minorities, will have no choice but to accept a form of teaching that goes against their conscience, despite the fact that the Constitution says that parents have inalienable rights in relation to the education of their children.
The issue is that the constitutional basis for the funding of schools with a catholic ethos is given on the basis that the church is helping Catholic parents with the religious education of their children. There is no other constitutional basis for the funding and if that basis is not in place then the state is endowing a religion.
The courts have recently said that:
“191. This Court considers that the case law demonstrates that the relationship between parents, the State and the child as envisaged by Articles 40, 41 and 42, is a trifecta not just of the participants but of the rules under which constitutional engagement on education must take place; namely rights, duties and powers.” (Court of Appeal – Burke v Minister for Education 2021)
The trifecta is between the state, parents and children. The Catholic Church or indeed any church is not mentioned by the courts because under the Constitution the state must not endow any religion (Article 44.2.2) and it is parents who are the rights holders with regard to the education of their children.
So are we now in a position that the State is endowing the Catholic Church? It seems that many Catholic parents don’t want Catholic moral teaching for their children, and they can’t do anything about it because the state has handed legal control to the Catholic Church who controls the vast majority of schools in Ireland.
This is what happens when a Republic hands over control of its education system to private bodies whose mission is to evangelise. Read online…
Robert Troy scandal reminds us why we must strengthen, not weaken, SIPO laws
The Robert Troy scandal is a reminder why we must strengthen, not weaken, the SIPO (Standards in Public Office) laws. They are intended to protect democracy from the undue influence of money on politics, whether that be through politicians having financial conflicts of interest or through wealthy donors influencing political decisions by funding activities that have a political purpose.
Former Minister Troy says he did not understand the SIPO laws. But they are quite clear, and they are important for democracy. Atheist Ireland is registered with SIPO as a third party. We function perfectly while complying with them. When we have had any doubt about any activity, we have contacted SIPO and asked them, then complied with what they told us.
Atheist Ireland has lobbied for the SIPO law to be strengthened to capture political activities by religious bodies. We are the only NGO that is actively campaigning on this issue.
Religious bodies including the Catholic Church can spend any amount of money on political purposes, while simply claiming that it only seeks donations for religious and not political purposes.
This is not just a theoretical concern. The Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland are both on the register of lobbyists. They regularly seek to influence political decisions, and are part of the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies.
Despite this, religions can escape SIPO obligations simply because they are religions. They can receive any amount of donations from abroad as long as the purpose of the donation is for religious purposes.
Atheist Ireland has lobbied to amend this situation. You can read about that here:
The Iona Institute are registered with SIPO. They are also a registered charity. They can currently accept donations from international sources and use them for political purposes. None of this is illegal.
The SIPO law should be strengthened to ensure that such donations are subject to the SIPO limits, whether they are made during elections or, or between elections when most political influence takes place.
Atheist Ireland has consistently raised these issues with the Government, TDs and Senators, Oireachtas Committees, and SIPO. We will continue to do so when the new Electoral Commission, established under the Electoral Reform Act, examines this issue in order to make recommendations to the Government. Read online…
Schools cannot oblige students to attend Syllabus Religious Education at second level
Syllabus Religious Education at second level is not an objective course about religions and beliefs, and parents have a Constitutional right to ensure that their children do not attend this class. You can find information, and a sample letter for Catholic and ETB schools and colleges, on our website Teach, Don’t Preach.
Schools typically inform parents that this course is ‘religious education’ not ‘religious instruction’, and that it is suitable for all religions and none. But there is absolutely no legal basis to this claim.
The courts have found that it is parents who are the primary educators of their children, and parents’ authority in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children is a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
Syllabus Religious Education reflects the disrespect that the State has for non-religious parents and their children. It also reflects the control and influence the Catholic Church has in our education system.
It is not an Education about Religions, Beliefs and Ethics delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, but one that pursues an aim of indoctrination.
Issues with the Syllabus religious Education course
We outline the issues with the content of the Junior Certificate Religion course below.
In the Background Paper and Brief for the Review of Junior Cycle Religious Education it states that:
“On the other hand, the syllabus moved beyond a phenomenological approach to religious
education (which presents religions as an objective phenomenon to be examined or observed by students from a safe distance, without engagement or commitment).”
It states about the phenomenological approach to religious education:-
“The phenomenological approach to religious education emerged in the late 20th century in non-confessional contexts in the UK. It emphasises a so-called objective, descriptive and non-evaluative study of observable expressions of a religion.”
It is not an objective course about religions and beliefs and this is clearly recognised by the NCCA. It goes beyond the non confessional approach. It puts students in a position that they must reveal their convictions, and undermines the non religious interpretation of life.
In addition to the content of the course, schools with a religious ethos such as Catholic schools and many ETB schools and colleges deliver the course according to Catholic church faith formation guidelines. The Background paper states that:
“Within faith-based schools, Guidelines were developed to enable teachers to teach for religion and so continue to engage in faith formation, alongside teaching the State syllabus. See for example, Irish Bishops Conference, Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students: Junior Certificate Religious Education Syllabus (Dublin, Veritas, 1999)”
Catholic faith formation is integrated into the course, and the Department of Education is well aware that this is happening and will do nothing about it. The course was designed to facilitiate the indoctrination of minorities into a catholic understanding of the world.
This is not an objective course about religion. Non religious parents can legitimately consider that this course is not objective, critical and pluralistic and creates a conflict of allegiance for their children between the school and their own values.
Parents’ Constitutional and Human Rights
Under the Irish Constitution (Article 42) parents are the primary educators of their children. The Supreme Court has said that Article 42 must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction.
In the recent Burke case at the Supreme Court it states that:-
“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.”
Justice Barrington in the Supreme Court in 1998 stated that Article 42 must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4. Read more…
Here is some of the correspondence between Atheist Ireland and various bodies.
Documents about misuse of state funds regarding religious instruction
Since last December, Atheist Ireland has been lobbying to vindicate the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in schools, and to uphold parental authority in the education of their children, which the Supreme Court has described as a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
As well as lobbying individual politicians and the Oireachtas Education Committee, we have met with the Department of Education and the NCCA. As these constitutional requirements are conditions of the funding of schools, we have also engaged with the Oireachtas Committee on Public Accounts, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Minister for Finance.
Over the coming days and weeks we will be publishing all of our correspondence on this issue here, so that you can follow how the arguments have evolved. Please let us know if you would like to to help us with this lobbying campaign after the Oireachtas summer break.
Correspondence leading up to our complaint
- On 21 August 2021, we wrote to the Oireachtas Education Committee regarding students not attending religious instruction in schools and a recent anti-abortion video shown in a school.
- On 6 September 2021, we wrote to the Minister for Education and made a complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds in this context.
- On 14 September 2021, the Oireachtas Education Committee forwarded our letter to the Secretary General of the Department, and asked him to respond directly to us and to copy his response to them.
- On 26 November 2021, Martin McLoughlin, Principal Officer at the Department, responded to our letter, and copied his response to the Oireachtas Education Committee.
- On 17 December 2021, we responded in detail to Mr McLoughlin’s letter, explaining how the Department was addressing these issues outside of its Constitutional duties and using key definitions that are different to those determined by the Supreme Court. We copied this response to the Oireachtas Education Committee.
26 December 2021 – Atheist Ireland writes to C&AG and PAC
We sent a major report to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. We argued that the Department of Education and the NCCA are misusing public funds by ignoring constitutional conditions about the right to not attend religious education in schools.
You can read this report in PDF format here.
Or you can read this report in html at these links in three parts:
The Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General acknowledged receipt of this report. The C&AG said they had sent it to the unit responsible for the audit of the Department of Education and NCCA for consideration.
17 January 2022 – Minister for Education writes to Atheist Ireland
The Minister for Education wrote to Atheist Ireland. It is the same letter that a Department official sent to us on 26 November 2021, but with the Minister’s signature.
23 January 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to Minister for Education
Atheist Ireland responded to the Minister for Education. We copied the letter to the Oireachtas Education and Public Accounts Committees and the Comptroller and Auditor General.
8 and 15 February 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to C&AG and PAC
Following the Supreme Court judgment in the Burke case, Atheist Ireland wrote again to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee.
1 March 2022 – Atheist Ireland arranges meeting with Department of Education
At an eduction event in Croke Park, we talked with the Minister for Education and senior officials from the Department. We arranged to have a meeting with the Department to discuss our report.
8 March 2022 – NCCA writes to PAC
After our report to the Public Accounts Committee, the Committee wrote to the NCCA for a response. This is the response that the NCCA sent to the Public Accounts Committee. We did not see this letter until 17 May.
25 March 2022 – Department of Education writes to PAC
After our report to the Public Accounts Committee, the Committee wrote to the Department of Education for a response. This is the response that the Department sent to the Public Accounts Committee. We did not see this letter until 17 May.
6 May 2022 – Atheist Ireland meets Department of Education and NCCA
At the end of this meeting, the Department accepted that we had raised legal issues which they would have to consider and we will then recommence our discussions.
17 May 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to Department of Education and NCCA
We wrote a follow-up letter to the Department, answering their question at the end of our meeting about what we wanted to see happen.
17 May 2022 – PAC write to Atheist Ireland
The Public Accounts Committee wrote to us, including the letters they had received from the Department and the NCCA. We have published these letters above on the dates they were written, but this is the first time we saw them. The PAC said that it does not intend to consider matter further as the Department was arranging to meet with us.
24 May 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC
Atheist Ireland responded to the Public Accounts Committee. We said that we have since had this meeting, and attached the legal issues that the Department said they would have to consider. Based on this, we asked the Public Accounts Committee to continue its consideration of the issue.
11 June 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC
Atheist Ireland wrote to the Public Accounts Committee about a response from the Minister for Education to a Dail question about the obligations of schools to children for whom it has been indicated that they do not wish to participate in religious arrangements
4 July 2022 – PAC writes to Atheist Ireland
The Public Accounts Committee wrote to us, noting that there is ongoing engagement between us and the Department. They also said it is not their role to adjudicate on interpretations of the constitution, or to examine the merits of government policies. They suggested we make our enquiry to the Joint Committee on Education.
27 July 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC
Atheist Ireland responded to the Public Accounts Committee. We said that we are not asking them to adjudicate on any interpretations of the Constitution because the Oireachtas already funds and upholds the determinations of the Constitution made by the Supreme Court. We are asking them to examine the failure of the Department of Education to administer Constitutional rights and legislation, with regard to state funding of schools, in accordance with the distinction made between policy and administration by the Supreme Court in the Burke case.
Still to come
We will be publishing more of our correspondence on this issue here over the coming days and weeks.
Here is some information on religion in schools and how to exercise the right for your child to not attend religious instruction.
There are sample letters here for primary schools and second level schools with a religious ethos.
This also includes ETB schools at primary (Community National Schools) and second level ETB Community and Comprehensive schools and Community Colleges.
You have a right to ensure your child does not attend religious instruction/teaching. This includes the NCCA Religious Education course at second level. It is not an objective course about religion and beliefs and disrespects the rights of minorities.
The Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction classes
While we are campaigning for a secular Irish education system based on human rights law, you may wish to ensure that your child does not attend religion class in your current school. Here are some key facts that you will find helpful, and sample letters that you can use to tell your school that you do not wish your child to attend religious instruction.
Sample letter for Primary Schools
Sample letter for Secondary Schools
Legal Opinion on Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution – The right to not attend religious instruction
In August 2020 Atheist Ireland got a Legal Opinion on the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction.
This Legal Opnion covers primary and second level. You can download this Legal Opinion and send it to the school while exercising your right for your child to not attend religious instruction, formation and worship.
Sample letters are below for Primary schools (Denominational and ETB) and Second Level (Denominational and ETB). The Legal Opinion discusses the NCCA Religious Education curriculum course at second level as well as patron developed religion courses at primary level.
Not attending Religion classes in all Primary schools
Not attending Religion classes in second level ETB schools and Colleges
Not attending Religion classes in second level Denomnational schools.
Under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution students do not have to attend religious instruction class. Article 44.2.4 is a sub section of Article 44.1 – the right to freedom of conscience and religion. 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. The Supreme Court has said that the rights of parents in relation to the religious education of their children must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4 – the right to not attend religious instruction.
According to the Irish courts, it is parents that get to decide what is or is not suitable religious education for their children. The framers of our Constitution singled out religious teaching over other subjects and Article 44.2.4 gives students the right to not attend. Non attendance is a condition of the state funding of schools.
Atheist Ireland has recently made a complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds by the Department of Education in relation to Article 44.2.4.
Section 30 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 reflects this Constitutional right and Section 15 -2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 obliges the school to respect parents beliefs. Read more…