TDs have a duty to protect the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in schools

If you want to do something about the influence that the Catholic Church has in Ireland, you can. You can ask your local TD to fulfil their duty to protect the right of students to not attend religious instruction in publicly funded schools.

This right is written into the Constitution and it is a condition of the funding of schools. It was the Constitutional duty of the Oireachtas to put in place legislation to protect this right and give it practical application. They have failed to do so.

The Constitution clearly states that students have a right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction. It doesn’t say ‘opt out’ or ‘not participate’, it clearly says ‘not attend’.

Article 44.2.4 also refers to ‘Legislation providing State aid for schools’.

“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.”

Only the Oireachtas can put in place legislation. From 1937 until the Education Act 1998, there was no legislation in place in relation to the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in publicly funded schools. Remember, this is a Constitutional condition for the State funding of schools.

From 1937 until 1998, the Department of Education funded schools and failed to ensure that children were supervised outside the religious instruction class. During those years, the Catholic Church had a huge influence over the Department of education.

It has been reported that at one stage Archbishop John McQuaid just walked into the Department of Education when he wanted to. That is how close the relationship was between the Catholic Church and the Department of Education. This close relationship ensured that the right of our children to not attend religious instruction was undermined.

The 1998 Education Act recognised the right to not attend religious instruction (Section 30-2(e) of the Act). Under the Act the responsibility for this Constitutional right lies with the Minister for Education.

“The Minister… shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student.”

Notwithstanding the fact that the Oireachtas has legislated for the right to not attend religious instruction, successive Ministers for Education have failed to administer that right and have left it up to each individual school to implement that right.

As every minority parent knows, our children are either forced to do religious instruction, or are left sitting in the back of the religious instruction class and are not supervised outside it. At second level no other subject is offered to our children if they exercise their right to not attend religious instruction.

The Constitutional right of our children to not attend religious instruction is in the text and structure of the Constitution. It is the duty of the State to protect this right. It accords with Article 42.4 obliging to state when funding schools to have due regard for the rights of parents.

We have a Constitutional right to ensure our children do not attend religious instruction. It is the duty of the Oireachtas to protect this right. You can ask you TD to fulfil their duty t0 protect this constitutional right.

Atheist Ireland

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