Religion teachers are undermining the rights of atheist and minority faith families

The Irish Times has reported that religion teachers have complained about Catholic students being bullied because they are different. They are correct to raise this issue. No student should be treated differently because of their religious beliefs or those of their parents.

But the empathy of religion teachers for people of different beliefs seems to be selective. They have also complained when the Minister for Education wanted to allow students to get another subject if they decided, on the basis on conscience, not to attend religious education.

The Religion Teachers Association of Ireland expressed dismay at such a development, and said that it would undermine twenty years of progressive work by religion teachers, principals and boards of management. They and others succeeded in undermining that attempt to vindicate minority rights.

The Religion Teachers Association of Ireland have no issue with discriminating against belief minorities by forcing their children to take religion classes. They are part of and support a system that breaches the Constitutional and human rights of minorities.

The RTAI promotes resources for teachers published by the Council for Catechetics of the Irish Episcopal Conference. But the only reference to atheism on the RTAI website is a blog post in 2018 in which a Post-Primary Diocesan Advisor refers to an atheist who became a priest.

At second level the main aim of syllabus religion at second level is to develop values to enable all students to see the relevance of religion to their lives and relationships, society and the wider world. At look at the recent article by Peter McGuire of the Journal outlines exactly what non religious families have to put up with.

The UN has made numerous recommendations over the years about minority belief children in Irish schools and the failure of the state to protect their rights. Parents who seek secular education for their children have exactly the same Constitutional rights and religious parents have.

If the main aim of any course was to enable all students to see the relevance of atheism to their lives and relationships, society and the wider world we would never hear the end of it.

Not only would religion teachers be complaining that students who practice their religion were being bullied, but they would be also complaining about indoctrination, discrimination and breaching the right to freedom of conscience of Catholic families.

Have you ever heard religion teachers complaining about discrimination on the ground of religion in access to schools?

Have you ever heard religion teachers complaining about students from atheist backgrounds being forced into religion class against their wishes and the wishes of their families?

Have you ever heard religion teachers complaining that it undermines the Constitutional and human rights of non religious families to develop values in their children to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives?

Despite all the above failures of religion teachers in relation to the Constitutional and human rights of non religious and atheist families, their support for the indoctrination of minority students and support for religious discrimination, religion teachers can correctly recognise that practising Catholic students should not be singled out for bullying because they are different.

It would be great if religion teachers could extend their empathy to realise that atheist and minority families, who are on the other end of the evangelising mission of Irish schools, also feel disrespected and alienated by the disregard and lack of understanding for their Constitutional and human rights.

Main Aim of second level Religious Education

“Religious Education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world. It aims to develop the students’ ability to examine questions of meaning, purpose and relationships, to help students understand, respect and appreciate people’s expression of beliefs, and to facilitate dialogue and reflection on the diversity of beliefs and values that inform responsible decision-making and ways of living.”

Religious education teachers are developing values in students from atheist and secular backgrounds to enable then to see the relevance of religion to their lives. They have no issue with that at all.

In the High Court in 2011, Justice Hogan stated that:

“35. There is thus no doubt at all but that parents have the constitutional right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views.”

“27. Along with the guarantee of free speech in Article 40.6.i, Article 44.2.1 guarantees freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion. Taken together, these constitutional provisions ensure that, subject to limited exceptions, all citizens have complete freedom of philosophical and religious thought, along with the freedom to speak their mind and to say what they please in all such matters….” (AB v Childrens Hospital Temple Street & CD & EF – January 2011)

So on the one hand parents and their children have a Constitutional right to respect for their philosophical convictions, and on the other hand religion teachers indoctrinate their children into a religious understanding of the world.

Secularism as a philosophical conviction

The European Court has found that secularism is a philosophical conviction, worthy of respect in democratic society, protected by Article 9 of the Convention (freedom of conscience, religion and belief) and Article II of Protocol 1,( the right to education).

“58.  Secondly, the Court emphasises that the supporters of secularism are able to lay claim to views attaining the “level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” required for them to be considered “convictions” within the meaning of Articles 9 of the Convention and 2 of Protocol No. 1 (see Campbell and Cosans v. the United Kingdom, 25 February 1982, § 36, Series A no. 48). More precisely, their views must be regarded as “philosophical convictions”, within the meaning of the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, given that they are worthy of “respect ‘in a democratic society’”, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education (ibid.).”



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