Dept of Education is trying to redefine Supreme Court judgement on religious instruction and education

The Department of Education and the Minister, Joe McHugh, are undermining the right of parents and their children to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. They are re-defining the Constitutional meanings of religious instruction, formation and education as defined by the Supreme Court in the case, Campaign to Separate Church and State v Minister for Eucation dated March 1998.

The recent Circular Letters issued by the Department of Education on Religion in ETBs enable religious discrimination, and undermines the rights of parents and their children under the Constitution. These Circulars are not in harmony with the Constitutional rights of parents as set out in this Supreme Court case.

You can find the court case judgments here:

Religious Instruction under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution is not religious formation, it is something less.

The Supreme Court in 1998 was very clear about this distinction. The payment of Chaplains in some ETB schools is still based on this understanding.

Chaplains in ETB schools are funded by the exchequer in order to help parents with the religious formation of their children outside the religious instruction class. The Supreme Court referred to the role of the Chaplain as:

“The role of the Chaplain is to help provide this extra dimension to the religious education of their children”

According to the Supreme Court religious formation is an extra dimension to the Religious Education of children outside the Religious Instruction class which is something less. See page 27 of Justice Barrington’s judgment.

It is on this basis that the Supreme Court stated that the state funding of Chaplains was not an endowment of religion forbidden by Article 42.2.2 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court stated on page 27-28 of Justice Barrington’s judgment that:

“It would be Constitutionally impermissible for a Chaplain to instruct a child in a religion other than its own without the knowledge and consent of its parents.”

This is where GDPR comes in. How do ETB schools and their Chaplains know the religion of their students or whether they have any religion? How is the process of gathering and storing this information dealt with by schools, teachers and Chaplains and who has access to it?

There is no legal basis for claiming that there is a difference under the Constitution between different types of religion classes, simply on the basis of calling one type of class religious instruction and calling another type of class religious education. It doesn’t matter what you call them – if the class is teaching religion, it is legally religious instruction. See page 26 of Justice Barrington’s judgment:

Neither is there any basis for claiming that Article 44.2.4 only refers to opting out of classes teaching about one religion, and that it does not mean opting out of classes teaching many religions.

Atheist and secular parents have conscientious objections to both types of religious teaching and the Constitution protects the right to opt out and opt out without affecting prejedically our right to attend any school receiving public funding. Failing to provide an alternative subject for students that opt out is religious discrimination. Its purpose is to undermine the opt out. The State helps parents with the religious teaching and formation of their children but won’t help minority parents exercise their Constitutionally protected right to opt out of this religious teaching.

Our Constitutional and human rights are being undermined in an education system that lacks diversity, inclusion and pluralism, and continues to disrespect the rights of parents that seek secular education for their children.




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