Teach Don’t Preach – Please join the discussion on religion in Irish schools

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If you would like to discuss any of these ideas further, you can do so on the Atheist Ireland discussion forum.

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As well as the general discussion page here you can also enter comments under other topics – such as the lead page on Human Rights.

Atheist Ireland believes that a secular education system is essential to the building of an ethical and secular society. One of the most powerful ways in which religion maintains its hold on society is by teaching children fantastic tales as truth when they are at an intellectually formative age.

Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group that promotes reason and atheism over superstition and supernaturalism, and that campaigns for an ethical and secular Ireland where the state does not support or fund or give special treatment to any religion.



  1. Avatar
    Sinead November 09, 2011

    I absolutely do not agree the death-grip the church has on the Irish Education System but I’m not sure I agree with secular education either.
    France have an excellent model, but one must wonder if links can be drawn between their ignorance of religious faiths and the social divides due to the break down of integration.
    I do not a follow a religion but was educated in Catholic schools. 25 years later, I have very limited knowledge the core beliefs of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism… any religion in fact.
    Would our children be better served by being equipped with an understanding of all the major world religions instead of being bombarded with Catholicism or being deprived of the of religious education all together?
    Is pushing for a secular model counter productive? Would we be replacing one totalitarian system with another?

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      Paul April 03, 2012

      > Would we be replacing one totalitarian system with another?

      I don’t think this fear is grounded.

      With secular education every parent is free to educate their own children in whatever religion they choose or, none at all. This education can happen at home or at weekends (Sunday school etc).

      However, once standard, compulsory education contains religious indoctrination parents cannot ‘remove’ this indoctrination from the child after school. (Sunday de-programming school?).

      So, Secular Schooling removes the totalitarian system and replaces it with choice.

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        Gavin July 09, 2012

        May I ask why people who advocate secular education never seem to give any backing to the idea of funding all schools equally regardless of whether they have a faith based ethos or not. Would the funding of all schools equally not be more egalitarian than saying that only schools with a secular ethos should receive public funding. Why should those who are sincerely Muslim, Christian,Jewish etc. not be able to attend an institution that serves them rather than having to attend religious education only at weekends, as is often proposed. It seems that those who favour secular education are attempting to control the choices that religious people can make as regards education, by making secular education the only choice. If those who want secular education receive public funding is it not only right an fair that those who want a faith based education get the same amount?

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    Heather Smith April 22, 2012

    I have taught in a Protestant school for over thirty years and I have always taught about world religions. I strongly recommend that you read the “Follow Me” programme for the senior classes. I think you would enjoy it.

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      Suzanne July 31, 2015

      The “Follow Me” Programme
      “I hope that teachers will both enjoy this programme and also find it useful and effective in the task of bringing our children to a greater knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
      I don’t think this is at all appropriate for any non religious child to be honest.

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    Clare Mum September 18, 2012

    My husband and I spoke to the principal of my sons Secondary School today .We explained that we are atheists and that our son is an atheist and therefore he would like to opt out of religious education .The principal, whom we had only met by chance (we had no appointment)said that it would not be possible to opt out ,I mentioned our constitutional right and he had to run off to more immediate commitments.It was so good to find your page and to discover the help at hand,thanks.

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      Jane Donnelly September 18, 2012

      We will give you any help that we can. You might be interested to read the Report from the Irish Human Rights Commission called Religion & Education: A Human Rights Perspective. On page 26 – para 62 it states the following:- “It is noted, however, that the Junior Certificate Religious Education Syllabus is an optional subject for the Junior Certificate examination. At individual school level it may be possible to make the subject compulsory but this does not override the right of students to be exempted from such instruction in accordance with the Education Act.” We are getting a lot of complaints from parents claiming that schools are refusing to let them opt out of religion. As you can see schools have absolutely no right to refuse.

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    Clare Mum September 23, 2012

    Thanks Jane,this clarifies a lot for me.I have spoken to my son and he has now decided to continue with classes in religion and to opt out of homework and any study.As a sixteen year old boy he is very sure of what he believes and does not believe but hates any focus on him and feels that because everyone else in his school has to do religion he has to too.For me that is the sorriest part of all this is that he wasn’t asked, as a person with rights he should have been asked if he would like to do religious studies or not.I would love to send a letter to the Headmaster as I feel we are really getting somewhere on lots of issues pertaining to catholicism and the more parents who opt out the more normal it will become and before we know it everyone will understand their rights and more importantly the rights of others.My two boys 16 and 18 have just finished reading Dawkins ‘the god delusion’,they are streets ahead of my husband and I and therein lies our future ,…………… with tongue firmly in cheek…’Praise the Lord’,great to be having this discussion,THANKS.

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    june October 02, 2012

    In relation to Paul and Sinead’s points I might just briefly mention that it seems there is some confusion between religious instruction and religious education.
    Sunday Schools, for example, would provide the instruction side of things while schools, if they were to provide a full and thorough education, should provide religious education.
    Let’s not forget that education is for the benefit of the child, it should prepair the child for the world and, like it or lump it, a large population follows one religion or another (or none, of course).
    No one religion should be given partrticular attention and children should have, at the very least, a familiarity with the major religions.
    In my view, a full education should include world religions so that pluralism, integration and interculturalism is promoted.
    Everyone has the right to hold and express their own individual beliefs but they should too be aware that their religion, or lack of, is not the only belief nor is it a superior one.

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    Jane Donnelly October 04, 2012

    For most secular parents there is no issue with their children learning ABOUT religions and beliefs. If we look at this from a human rights perspective then this teaching must be delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. There are agreed human rights principles on how this type of Religious Education/ Ethics course must be delivered. These are called the Toledo Guiding Principles.
    The problem in Ireland is that the Catholic Church has rejected these principles. The Religious Education course at second level is not delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner because the Catholic Church does not accept basic human rights principles.
    So despite the state claiming that the RE Course at second level is for all religions and none it is not based on human rights principles. As you can well imagine the Catholic Church and indeed all other religions were consulted when they drew up this course. I have been informed that the Humanist Assoc of Ireland objected to the course but their objections were disregarded.
    Atheist Ireland has complained to the Minister for Education and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment regarding this course but of course we were ignored. The NCCA have stated in a letter to us that they have no control over how the RE Course is delivered. This means that if your child attends a school with a religious ethos then the RE course will be delivered according to that ethos. In most cases that is the Catholic Church. Denominational schools, VEC Community Schools and VEC designated Community Colleges all operate with a religious ethos. I would not even trust the non-designated Community colleges. In essence then it is Religious Education according to the Catholic Church. This education does not constitute respect under human rights law.
    I am providing a link below to a Circular Letter from the Vatican on Religious Education in schools. This will give you an idea of the problems with any RE course in Ireland.
    The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism has recommended that a new course for Primary Level called Education about Religion and Beliefs be introduced and based on the Toledo Guiding Principles. The Catholic Church will object to that and we will see how far it gets then.

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    William Hamilton August 17, 2020

    Hello there – ‘Teach don’t preach’ sounds like preaching. ‘Preaching’, in the technical sense, is teaching. However, if people want religious education to be non compulsory they must also allow those people with a Christian world view to opt out of classes that have an atheistic foundation or teaching that undermines a Christian worldview. Every one has a world and life view – can teaching be neutral? I would argue no – every teacher teaches with a mental grid with a given worldview that will come out in their teaching, religious or non religious. On what foundation should schools teach. It seems that the only alternative is to have Christian schools, Islamic schools, atheistic schools. I would also argue that teaching from an atheistic foundation would have to include certain ‘faith commitments’ as ‘faith commitments’ cannot be escaped (no one can be absolutely empirical.

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    Eoin Meagher October 20, 2021

    Religion is so deeply engrained in the human experience that there is no such thing as a humanist education if it ignores it. Comparative religious studies, myths, history of ideas and attitudes should all be studied at all levels of a child’s education, if any real understanding of the world and other people is to be achieved.

    The main problem that needs to be tackled in Ireland is twofold:
    1. What is called religious education is not education but indoctrination, and indoctrination into one of the most evil institutions that has ever existed in the history of humanity.
    2. As a result of this indoctrination, schools, families and students develop ‘righteous’ prejudice and discriminate against those not wishing to be indoctrinated.

    Ireland is an indoctrinated and discriminatory society; that’s the reality we have to deal with. The law has ostensibly given us the right to fight against this, but not the weapons. The church still controls the majority of schools, especially in rural Ireland, and the catholic church’s primary weapon of control is, and always has been, open and confrontational discrimination, ostracisation and exclusion. The law does not protect us against these weapons. We are expected to sacrifice our children: social exclusion and all the concomitant emotional and social issues; academic inequities and all the concomitant self-esteem and professional, career issues. In order to exercise our rights, we have to undermine our child’s.

    The solution is not to get rid of religious education in Irish schools; it is to start, finally, to have some religious and moral education in Irish schools and to destroy this false monster currently impersonating religious and moral education.

    I am an atheist and I sincerely hope my son will grow up the same. For an atheist to wish to destroy religion in the world is as ludicrous and dangerous as a religious fanatic trying to destroy what they term heretics or heathens. My son may grow up to embrace religion and, god forbid (ha ha), even the catholic faith, and I will have to accept that choice.

    I didn’t intend writing this diatribe; I actually just wanted to ask if anyone had any resources for my son (junior infants) to use while he sits at the back of the class during religion ‘lessons.’


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    John Colgan April 27, 2022

    A Constitutional provision that is worthy of attention is the provision which obliges the State to step into the breach where parents fail to provide education for their children. However, while the parents are obliged to provide for the religious and moral education of their children (the Constitution seems to assume that all parents have a religion!), if they fail to do so, the State is required to provide for moral education; there is no obligation on the State to provide for religious education of children whose education is neglected by their parents; ‘religion’ is omitted from the section. Of course as along-toothed sceptic, it doesn’t matter what the Constitution states, because breaches of its provisions are not automatically criminal breaches and issues for the Gardai, as they should be. How about testing this?


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