The rights to religious formation in schools and to not attend religious instruction

The state pays out approx 10 million a year for mainly catholic chaplains in ETB schools (there are some COI chaplains). Chaplains are paid by the state to help Catholic parents with the religious formation of their children. We know this because there was a court case in 1998 about this specific issue (Campaign to Separate Church & State v Minister for Education 1998).

There is Catholic religious formation in ETB schools and colleges. To claim otherwise is to ignore the fact that the state pays chaplains approximately €10 million per year to assist Catholic parents with the religious formation of their children.

What the Courts say about Religious Formation

The Supreme Court found that the funding of Catholic chaplains was not an endowment of religion forbidden under Art44.2.2 of the constitution. It was the state helping parents with the religious formation of their children under Art42.1, Art42.4 and Art44.

The High Court in the same case said that in relation to Art42.1 & Art42.4 of the Constitution that parents had rights not only to provide for the religious education of their children, but also rights in the matter of their religious formation, and that it specifically enjoins the state when providing educational facilities to have regard to both these distinct rights.

There are Catholic Chaplains in ETB Community Schools and ETB designated Community Colleges, notwithstanding the fact that they are registered as either Interdenominational or Multi-denominational. These are all funded by the state.

The Supreme Court said in the Campaign case that it was no longer practical to combine religious and academic education the way that a religious order might have done in the past in ETB Community schools. Nevertheless, parents had the same right to have religious education provided in these schools schools which their children attend. The role of the Chaplain was to help provide this extra dimension to the religious education of their children. They were not obliged to settle for religious instruction.

The Court also stated that:-

“The Archbishops admit to an indirect benefit received by the Churches through the payment of the salaries of the school Chaplains in the sense that they admit that if the State did not pay for the salaries of school Chaplains the Churches would feel obliged to raise the monies themselves and would thereby be at a loss. I do not think, however, that this argument can be decisive because the exact same argument could be advanced concerning the payment of the salaries of teachers in denominational schools. No doubt had the state refused to subsidise the payment of the salaries of teachers in denominational schools the Churches would have been at a very significant loss. Notwithstanding this fact clearly the framers of the constitution did not consider such payments an endowment of religion or religions.”

Chaplains are constitutionally forbidden to instruct children in any religion against knowledge or wishes of parents

The Supreme court also found that it was constitutionally impermissible for a Chaplain to instruct a child in a religion other than its own, without the knowledge and consent of its parents. They also found that Article 42.1 must be read in the context of Art44.2.4, the right to not attend any religious instruction, and that parents had inalienable rights in relation to the religious education of their children.

In other words it is not up to the state, any Patron body, church or school to decide for parents what is or is not suitable religious education for their children and parents have a right to ensure their children do not attend any religious instruction/teaching if that is against their wishes.

If the state assists parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children, why does the state refuse to assist non-religious parents exercise their right to ensure their child does not attend religious instruction, and especially when this is a condition of state aid to schools? Our children are left sitting at the back of the religion class and no supervision is provided.

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign to ensure that the State gives practival application to the right of all students not to attend religious instruction if that is against the wishes of their parents.

Atheist Ireland