Atheist Ireland, Evangelical Alliance, Ahmadi Muslims welcome opt-out from religion in ETB schools

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, welcome the report of a proper opt-out from religious instruction in State-run ETB schools, with alternative subjects being offered at the start of the year instead of students being forced to sit at the back of the religion class.

The three groups met with the Department of Education to lobby for this outcome last December. This shows the strength of groups who have very different world views working together on human rights issues such as freedom of religion or belief in the education system. Atheist Ireland first asked the Minister for Education to issue this Circular Letter in 2016.

Responses from the three groups

Michael Nugent, Chairperson of Atheist Ireland, says: “Over time, this move could change the entire culture of religious influence in Irish schools. It will mean that parents and students in ETB schools will finally have an option to study instead of being indoctrinated. As more families choose this option, there will be pressure for the State to insist that denominational schools do the same. This will become the new norm for respecting human rights in Irish schools.”

Jane Donnelly, Human Rights Officer of Atheist Ireland, says: “ETB schools were meant to be the State-run alternative to denominational schools, but our Freedom of Information campaign has shown that ETBs have as strong a Catholic ethos as denominational schools. This new change will mean that ETBs will have to provide atheist, minority faith, and secular families with an objective education that does not indoctrinate students into Catholicism. We will intensify pressure for all State-funded schools to have to do this.”

Pastor Nick Park, Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland, says: “It is baffling why religious indoctrination into one particular denomination should have any place at all in the curriculum of State-run schools. However, allowing children of minority faiths, or indeed of no faith at all, to opt out and study alternative subjects is an important step in the right direction. It will reassure our youngest citizens that they are valued and affirmed in this State, and that their human rights and dignity are acknowledged, irrespective of their adherence or non-adherence to any religious faith.”

Imam Ibrahim Noonan, Imam for Ireland of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, says: “The importance of this step forward in the correct direction cannot be underestimated, as no one faith should have monopoly in the state curriculum and those children belong to minority faiths or those who belong to no faith should never be forced to participate in any  religious indoctrination  that  they don’t want to. this is the basic human right of all children regardless of their religious background  or none religious background or whatever particular community they belong to, they should be treated with full dignity and respect.”

Background to the Circular Letter

Atheist Ireland first asked the Minister for Education to issue this Circular Letter in 2016, after a comprehensive Freedom of Information Report about respecting human rights in the NCCA State Religious Education course, and has followed this up with a further Freedom of Information campaign about religious instruction and ethos in State-run ETB schools.

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, work together to promote secular schools based on human rights, that teach objectively about religion and beliefs but do not promote either religion or atheism. Last December we met with the Department of Education to discuss the current proposal.

The following article includes a timetable of the review of religion in ETB schools, with links to relevant documents:

Here are some excerpts from today’s Irish Times report:

“Pupils in State-run secondary schools are to be given the option of opting out of religious instruction and studying alternative subjects on an annual basis. It will affect tens of thousands of students in 275 of the State’s 700-plus secondary schools run by Education and Training Boards (ETBs)…”

“Many community colleges, for example, provide two hours of religious instruction each week. These schools will need to organise alternative classes for these students…”

“Instead of waiting for a parent to request a withdrawal and then having to make alternative arrangements for the pupil for class periods concerned, pupils who do not choose religious instruction should be timetabled by the school for alternative subjects…”

“Groups such as Atheist Ireland say non-Catholic children who seek to opt out of religion in community schools are regularly discriminated against under current rules. It has pointed to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act which found that ETBs in areas such as Tipperary, for example, have rules which state that children who opt out of religion should not have access to other classes, as it would give them an “unfair advantage” over other pupils. Records also show the head of Tipperary ETB told schools principals in 2015 that the “spirit of our schools is Catholic and this needs to be addressed in all policies”…”


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