How was an anti-abortion video shown in curriculum Religious Education class?

Atheist Ireland has written again to the Oireachtas Education Committee regarding an anti-abortion video shown to students during curriculum Religious Education in an Irish school. Here is the letter we have written.

We refer to our letter to the Committee on 21st August 2021 regarding, among other issues, an anti-abortion video shown to students during curriculum Religious Education. Your Committee requested the Department of Education to respond to us and copy you. The Department responded to us on 26th November 2021 and the Minister responded to us on 17 January 2022.

We have recently received new information that sheds further light on to why an anti-abortion video was given at a workshop event between the PDST and the Catholic Church. Documents received from the Department of Education under FOI show that the history of the relationship between the PDST and the Catholic Church is not confined to what the Minister refers to in her response as providing “inputs” at various educational conferences and events that are “directly connected to the curriculum and classroom methodologies/assessment.”

The FOI request that we now refer to sought documents in relation to events organised by the PDST and the Catholic Church. According to these documents the PDST facilitated at workshop events organised by the Catholic Church for teachers of curriculum Religious Education that is supposed to be for all religions and those with no religion.

According to the documents, the PDST was facilitating at workshops for religious education teachers in Le Cheile schools. The PDST do not facilitate at workshops with other organisations that represent other religions and beliefs. In addition, Le Cheile Trust was also circulating in-service events organised by the PDST for curriculum Religious Education.

These workshop events were organised by John Scally, who is the faith development and ethos coordinator for Le Cheile Trust. In 2016 permission was sought within the PDST for Gary Carley of the PDST to facilitate at these workshops for teachers of curriculum religious education. Religious Education is not like any other subject under the curriculum, given the rights of parents in the Constitution in relation to Religious Education, Religious Formation and Religious Instruction.

According to the documents, curriculum Religious Education teachers who attended these workshops were allocated CPD by Le Cheile Trust. The documents state that:

“..mindful of WSEs and the Department’s emphasis on Reflective Practice and CPT we hope to present a Le Cheile certificate of attendance which teachers who attend will be able to put into their folders to show to any visiting inspector, WSE or subject inspection, as proof of ongoing professional development.”

We attach a copy of the Le Cheile CPD Certificate for attending their workshops.

This is the type of event where teachers are handed anti-abortion videos to show to their students in curriculum Religious Education classes that are supposed to be for all religions and those with no religion. Teachers get CPD certificates for this. It is not difficult to see why teachers believe it is in order to show such videos to students when the PDST are involved.

According to the documents received under FOI ,the PDST give handouts to teachers at these events, so it is not clear whether it was Le Cheile that handed out this anti-abortion video or the PDST. It is no wonder that teachers would consider that this was an in-service day and that it was in order to show such a video during curriculum Religious Education that is supposed to be for all religions and those with no religion. Approximate a hundred curriculum Religious Education teachers attended one of these events.

The Minister’s response to us stated the following:

“The Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) as a Department of Education funded support service has responsibility for delivering continuous professional development (CPD) supports to teachers and school leaders in areas of curriculum and policy at Primary and Senior Cycle levels.

Key to this role is the development and delivery of CPD with regard to the NCCA’s statutory curriculum comprising a number of subjects/subject areas at Primary and Senior Cycle level. Religious Education is one such subject which the PDST includes as part of the NCCA’s suite of curriculum subject specifications/syllabi. In-service supports for Religious Education as a curricular discipline appears on the PDST’s annual workplan in line with its responsibility to include all NCCA subjects in its CPD programme.

The PDST can on occasion be invited to provide inputs at various educational conferences and events. This can happen for all subjects including Religion. Any input provided by the PDST is directly connected to the curriculum and classroom methodologies/assessment.”

However, the documents received under FOI show that the relationship between the PDST and the Catholic Church is more than the PDST giving input into workshops. Why is a Catholic faith development and ethos coordinator holding workshops for curriculum Religious Education teachers if not to influence them to ensure that curriculum Religious Education is based on Catholic teaching?

The reason that this has happened is that there are no statutory guidelines in place that reflect the constitutional right of parents and their children under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.

The Department of Education is ignoring that the Supreme Court found that the state under Article 42.1 has a duty to respect the rights of all parents and not to interfere in their right in relation to the religious education of their children (O’Donnell – Burke V Minister for Education 2022 para74). The state has also a duty under Article 42.4 to have due regard for the rights of parents, especially in the matter for religious and moral formation.

Showing students an anti-abortion video during curriculum Religious Education without the knowledge or permission of parents is a failure on behalf of the Department of Education to recognise and respect the rights of all parents, a foundational pillar of the constitution.

Atheist Ireland

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