The Oireachtas has a constitutional duty to enable children to physically leave religion classes

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution protects the right of students to attend a school receiving public funds without attending religious instruction. It unambiguously states:

“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 Oireachtas has a  constitutional duty to vindicate this right when providing state aid to schools. However, every year,  they pass legislation that does affect prejudicially the right of our children to attend publicly funded schools without attending religious instruction.

The Minister and Department then tries to evade that right by saying it is up to each school to implement it. In reality, the vast majority of schools force students who want to exercise this right to sit at the back of the religion class, and refuse to provide supervision outside the class.

This does not meet the requirements of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. The wording is ‘without attending’, not without participating. The constitutional right is to physically leave the classroom while religious instruction is timetabled. And schools have a duty to supervise students while they attend school.

Schools often say they don’t have the resources to supervise children outside the classroom. But this is a constitutional obligation. Once they receive any state aid, they are constitutionally obliged to allocate their resources in a way that vindicates this constitutional right.

The fact that the framers of our constitution placed this right in a funding article of the constitution means they were linking the right to schools receiving state aid. If they wanted schools to make children sit at the back of the religion class, they would not have put this in a funding article, as sitting at the back of a class does not incur state aid.

So, in reality, state aid to schools does affect prejudicially the right of our children to attend schools receiving state aid without attending religious instruction. And the Oireachtas knows this is happening, but refuses to address it. The Oireachtas must take responsibility for this failure to meet constitutional obligations. The right of children to not attend religious instruction was never meant to be left in the hands of those in receipt of that aid.

Atheist Ireland