OPINION: Government must end religious discrimination in Irish schools


Schools should be welcoming places that allow all children and staff to feel included, not places where religious discrimination is allowed without being controlled.

Through David Graham and Alison Moore, Equality in Education

The debate over the role of religion in our education system has swirled for years.

A growing number of families want to send their children to school without fear that they will be evangelized, forced to attend religious services or sprinkled with holy water by the local priest.

Before examining the rights and issues involved, let’s hear from the experiences of some of the students involved themselves. The quotes below have been compiled from different children to give a representative picture of what it is like to be an unenrolled child in an Irish school.

* All names below have been changed *

Why am I made to feel different?

“When other classmates supported those doing communion / confession, they were rewarded with bags of gifts – I wasn’t and it seemed unfair. “ Aaron, 5th class

“I would like more time to be devoted to scientific subjects [instead of religion]. “ Chloé, 5 years oldth class

“I didn’t like being thrown with holy water because I’m not religious.” David, 2sd To classify

“When we had to repeat all the religious songs every day for the Archbishop’s visit, they got stuck in my head and it upset me because I don’t believe the words.” Emer, 5th class

“I didn’t like not being able to get a pass for homework and jellies in the principal‘s office in 3e Run because I wasn’t singing in the communion choir. It made me feel like I had done something wrong. Jacques, 5 years olde To classify

“I feel weird, everyone is saying their prayers and I’m just reading. It’s like a waste of time. The hymns make me uncomfortable, the words they contain and the way they are sung. I don’t understand why I have to sing this. Saoirse, 5th class

“I felt left out when the teacher held a contest on ‘what you find in a church’ – it was for Christian students. “ Daniel, 5 years oldth class

“I just took out my books [during religion class], on my own.” Chantelle, 3th class

“I feel bored with the anthems because we have to do it. I stop at the words “God” and “Bless” because it is really strange to say these words. I can’t imagine how my Buddhist friends would feel if they were in this situation. Tom, 3 years oldth class

“I feel uncomfortable when everyone says prayers. Sometimes I feel like everyone is looking at me because I don’t say them. Laura, 5 years oldth class

“When the class does religion I have to sit there and it’s boring, I would rather do something.” Richard, 5 years oldth class

“When the priest came and threw water at me, I felt really uncomfortable. I stepped back and tried to explain that I’m not religious, but he still splashed water on me and wet my top. Molly, 3 years oldth class

“When they teach us religious hymns, I feel like they are trying to make me religious and I don’t want to be religious.” Gary, 3 years oldth class

Human rights

The Irish education system violates human rights.

Our failures here have been highlighted by many international human rights bodies, including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. All families have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution provides “the right of every child to attend a school receiving public funds without following religious education in that school”.

These rights are not in dispute. However, the vast majority of state-funded primary schools in Ireland remain under private religious control, with almost 90% run by the Catholic Church. How can we enforce these rights when our education system is dominated by religious patrons? Many solutions have been proposed.

1. School divestment

The first approach is the “patronage plurality” or “school choice” model.

It depends on school divestment, an initiative launched by former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn in 2011. The problems with this process have been well documented – 10 years later and only a tiny handful of schools have seen a change of boss. Divestment lacks political and ministerial support and has been beset by alarmism and disinformation.

The government’s stated policy is to reach a target of 400 multi-faith primary schools by 2030. The limited progress to date means we will likely only reach about half of that number. Even if the official target is met, however, around 88% of our primary schools will remain under religious patronage.

So even in the best case scenario, almost nine in ten Irish primary schools will remain under religious control for the foreseeable future. The government has not presented any proposals to make these schools more inclusive for their students and staff.

2. Right of withdrawal

The second approach is to abolish the integrated curriculum, which imbues secular subjects with religious dogmas, and to offer students an alternative subject in a separate classroom during religion lessons. This would justify parents’ opt-out rights and give them an effective choice as to whether or not their children will receive religious education.

It would also allow for the objective and factual delivery of relationships and sex education instead of the current material that teaches that: “Puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him. The downsides to this model are that schools would have to hire more teachers and they would also be required to separate their students on religious grounds for 30 minutes each day.

3. End school sponsorship

The third, more radical approach is to completely renounce religious patronage and move towards a fully secular, state-run education system.

Proponents of this approach argue that the patronage system adds no value and in fact acts as a barrier to reform. However, the secularization of our education system could prove to be legally problematic. It could also be very costly because almost all of our schools have been built on private land. A secular education system would likely require a constitutional referendum and could take many years to achieve.

4. Change the program

Education Equality favors a fourth approach. We believe that religious instruction and worship should simply be taken out of the curriculum and offered to parents and teachers on an optional basis outside of core hours in all schools. This could be done quickly at little cost to the taxpayer. If you support it, please sign and share our petition.

Time for change

One thing is clear: we can do better as a society than move children to the back of the classroom and treat them differently because of their family background. Our schools must be welcoming places that allow all children and staff to feel included.

It is not a big request.

Alison Moore and David Graham are communications officers at Education Equality, a parent-led human rights group established in 2015 to promote equality in education, regardless of religion.

Education Equality believes that religious education and worship should be removed from the school curriculum and offered on an optional basis outside of school hours in order to provide equal respect to all schoolchildren and protect them from religious discrimination and discrimination. unwanted indoctrination.

You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter or contact them at [email protected].

Images via Mastersons and Graham Keogh