State-funded Catholic schools fundamentally object to teaching religious pluralism

In Ireland one of the key issues in the Primary school Curriculum is pluralism. The Curriculum says it has a responsibility to promote tolerance and respect for diversity, in both the school and the community. Despite this, State-funded schools with a Catholic ethos fundamentally object to teaching religious pluralism within schools.

The first thing to note here is that the pluralism referred to in the Primary school curriculum includes religious pluralism. There are over 126 different religions in Ireland, and the State claims that it equally recognises their beliefs, values and aspirations. The State does not go so far as to equally recognise non-religious world views. The Primary School Curriculum reflects this (see page 58).

It is bad enough that State-funded schools are allowed to give priority to religious beliefs over nonreligious beliefs. However, State-funded schools with a Catholic ethos are not even happy with that level of privilege. They have made this clear in their response to the proposed new State course about Religions, beliefs and Ethics.

The Catholic Bishops object to promoting even pluralism among religious beliefs within schools, as they believe that it goes against the philosophical basis of Catholic religious education. The Church accepts that freedom of religion is the bedrock of western democracies, but insists that promoting pluralism within schools is against their ethos.

What the Primary School Curriculum says

“The curriculum has a particular responsibility in promoting tolerance and respect for diversity in both the school and the community. Children come from a diversity of cultural, religious, social, environmental and ethnic backgrounds, and these engender their own beliefs, values, and aspirations. The curriculum acknowledges the centrality of the Christian heritage and tradition in the Irish experience and the Christian identity shared by the majority of Irish people. It equally recognises the diversity of beliefs, values and aspirations of all religious and cultural groups in society.”

What the Catholic Bishops say

In a recent Submission to the National Council of Curriculum & Assessment, the Catholic Bishops said:

“2. Pluralism and freedom of religion
The principle of freedom of religion is part of the bedrock upon which western democracies are constructed.”

“These approaches require teachers to adopt and promote a pluralist approach to religion. This is an approach to religion that goes against the philosophical basis of Catholic religious education. Such a contradiction would place teachers in a very difficult position where conflicting philosophical approaches to religious education would have the potential to create significant confusion.”

For many parents, this means that the State ‘provides for’ the education of their children in publicly funded schools that see pluralism as something that undermines their ethos.

Over half of the primary schools in the country are what the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism referred to as ‘Stand Alone Schools’. This means that all of the children in particular areas attend the only local school. This, of course, is a publicly funded National School with a Catholic ethos.

It is impossible to see how this respects the inalienable right of parents under Article 42 of the Constitution. The State then gives exemptions in equality legislation, that permit publicly funded schools to discriminate on the grounds of religion while still claiming that they promote pluralism.


In Ireland, the commitment to pluralism (a bedrock of western democracy) is promoted by segregating small children according to the religious affiliation of their parents. The larger religious groups in society attract state funding, and the smaller groups are left sending their children to schools that see pluralism as something that undermines their ethos.

If you are an atheist, please join Atheist Ireland and help us to challenge these breaches of fundamental human rights.

If you are religious, please support the joint campaign by Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland for a secular State education system that respects everybody’s rights equally and gives no privilege to any religious belief or institution.


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