Removing Rule 68 on its own will change nothing

The Minister for Education & Skills, Jan O’Sullivan has removed Rule 68 of the Rules for National schools. Removing Rule 68 on its own is a purely symbolic gesture. Nothing will actually change on the ground in our publicly funded schools.

Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools.

Atheist Ireland agrees with the Catholic Church that removing rule 68 will not remove the religious ethos from our schools. The Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission also agrees with us and the Catholic Church.  Integrating religion into all secular subjects is part of a Catholic ethos. Atheist Ireland has repeated pointed out that removing Rule 68 will not remove the religious integrated curriculum from our schools.

Rule 68 reads:-

“Of all parts of a school curriculum, Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use. Religious Instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course, and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.”

Ethos of the Catholic Church

In 2009 the Vatican issued a Circular Letter on education which stated that:-

“The question of Catholic education includes […] religious education in the more general milieu of school, whether it be Catholic or State-run. The families of believers have the right to such education; they must have the guarantee that the State school – precisely because it is open to all – not only will not put their children’s faith in peril, but will rather complete their integral formation with appropriate religious education.”

“13. Based on what has been said, it is clear that teaching the Catholic religion has its own specific nature vis-à-vis other school subjects.”

Education Act 1998 provides indirect sanction to religious integrated curriculum

Section 15 of the Education Act 1998 indirectly sanctions the religious integrated curriculum in publicly funded schools. All schools in Ireland are obliged to uphold the ethos of the Patron. Part of the ethos (Characteristic Spirit) of the Catholic Church is that religion must be integrated in all subjects under the curriculum, as otherwise it would put the faith of catholic students in peril.

In their Report Religion & Education; A Human Rights perspective, the Irish Human Rights Commission stated that:-

“The Education Act, may also be regarded as providing indirect sanction to the integrated curriculum insofar as it makes Boards of Management accountable to the patron for upholding the characteristic spirit of the school. Section 15(2)(b) of the Education Act 1998.”

As you can see the above section in the Education Act 1998 indirectly sanctions a religious integrated curriculum. This is a breach of human rights law and the Constitution, as it disrespects the inalienable rights of parent to respect for their philosophical convictions.

Atheist and Secular parents are obliged to send their children to publicly funded schools with a Catholic ethos. The purpose of  a Catholic ethos is to evangelise children into a religious way of life.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has recommended that the Education Act 1998 be amended to ensure that the curriculum in delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

In their Report on Religion and Education in 2011 IHREC  stated (p.104):-

“Section 15 of the Education Act should be amended to provide for modifications to the integrated curriculum to ensure that the rights of minority faith or non faith children are also recognised therein. In this regard, the State must take sufficient care that information and knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner with the aim of enabling pupils to develop a critical mind with regard to religion in a calm atmosphere which is free of any misplaced proselytism.”

In their recent Submission to the government on the Admissions to Schools Bill 2014 the Commission also recommended that;-

“IHREC Recommendations in relation to Admission Policies and Promoting an Inclusive School The Commission recommends that the new section 62(6) to be inserted into the Education Act should be amended to the effect that, in setting out the characteristic spirit and general objectives of the school, outside the specific context of faith formation and religious instruction which parents wish to avail of and where exemptions apply, regard shall be had to providing information in relation to religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination.”

The Minister has ignored these human rights Recommendations. Last year, Atheist Ireland met with the Department of Justice and asked them to amend the Education Act 1998 in line with the Recommendations from the Commission. We also asked that the Education Act 1998 be amended to oblige schools to write down their ethos and to tell parents exactly where they were integrating religion into the state curriculum.

The removal of Rule 68 on its own will change nothing. Schools can continue to integrate religion into the state curriculum, and they are not obliged to inform parents exactly where it applies.


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