Conditions on State funding of Irish schools - Secular Sunday #547 || 19 June, 2022


Conditions on State funding of Irish schools

Irish parents have more rights in relation to the education of their children under the Irish Constitution than they have under human rights law. The High Court in the Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1996 explained this as follows:

“[Under theEuropean Convention] States when assuming functions in relation to education ‘shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The Irish Constitution has developed the significance of these parental rights and in addition has imposed obligations on the State in relation to them.”

This refers to the Constitutional conditions regarding State funding of schools in Ireland: the State must have due regard for the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children under Article 42.4, and students have a right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4.

The Supreme Court in the recent Burke v Minister for Education case has said the rights of parents with regard to the religious and moral formation of their children is a foundational pillar of the Constitution and must be protected. That foundational pillar is a condition of state funding alongside the right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4.

In practice, the State ignores these Constitutional conditions and leaves it up to each school to implement them according to their own ethos. Atheist Ireland has in the past year raised this issue with the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, and the Oireachtas Education Committee.

As always, you can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.

- Secular Sunday Editorial Team


Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach

Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:
  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News


State funding of Catholic-run schools comes with constitutional conditions that are ignored

With the attitude of the Catholic bishops over divesting schools, you could be forgiven for believing that the Irish Constitution explicitly sanctioned the funding of Catholic-run schools and without any conditions.
The reasons that there are so many Catholic schools is because of religious privilege and the failure of the state to comply with the Irish constitution. The Constitution does not say that the state must fund Catholic schools and put in place laws that discriminate against minorities in those schools.
Article 42.4 sanctions state funding of privately run schools. However, it obliges the state to endeavour, and only that, to fund these schools.
“42.4 The State shall provide for free primary education and shall endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative, and, when the public good requires it, provide other educational facilities or institutions with due regard, however, for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.”
There are also constitutional conditions to that funding: the state must have due regard for the rights of parents in relation to religious and moral formation and students have a right to not attend religious instruction. In practice, the state ignores these Constitutional conditions and leaves it up to each school to implement them according to their own ethos.
The Supreme Court in the recent Burke case has reaffirmed the rights of parents in relation to Article 42.4. Article 42.4 puts a constraint on the state in relation to funding schools. They said that the rights of parents with regard to the religious and moral formation of their children is a foundational pillar of the Constitution and must be protected. That foundational pillar is a condition of state funding alongside the right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction under Article 44.2.4.
The Supreme Court stated in the recent Burke case that:
“It is clear that a right inures to the family under Article 42.1 of the Constitution to be the “primary and natural educator of the child” and the State is required “to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide … for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.” …
Article 42.4, in requiring the State to provide for “free primary education”, also places an endeavour, but only that, before the State “to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative” and “when the public good requires it” towards “other educational facilities or institutions”.
An overall saver in the constitutional text is that the State, in providing for free primary education and in endeavouring to assist post-primary education in various forms, have “due regard … for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.”
This provision reflects a concern for upholding parental authority; a foundational pillar of the Constitution that accords with Article 41 recognising the family as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of” Irish society. Hence, society is built around the family.”
All parents have constitutional rights in relation to the religious and moral education and formation of their children. The state only views Article 42.4 as an obligation to fund Catholic education and has never given any priority to the conditions to that funding which are a foundational pillar of the constitution.
As well as this, there is the explicit condition under article 44.2.4 that children have the right to attend publicly funded schools without attending religious instruction in those schools. This condition of funding is also routinely ignored.
“44.2.4 Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.”
The reason that there are so many Catholic-run schools, and the reason that minorities suffer discrimination in them, is because of religious privilege and not the Constitution. Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the constitutional rights of minorities. Read online...


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Buy this book "Is My Family Odd About Gods?"

**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more...

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Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.

Blogs & Opinions




Increase in complaints to Catholic churchs safeguarding board 


By Ailbhe Conneely

There were 178 allegations of abuse against clergy and religious sisters and brothers between April 2021 and March 2022.
The latest annual report by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church shows this is an increase on the previous year when it received 134 complaints.
The nature of the allegations related to sexual abuse (140), physical abuse (18), boundary (8), with 12 complaints not specifying the type.
The vast majority of complaints relate to the 1960s, 70s and 80s with one complaint in relation to the last decade and two from the 2000s according to the Board's CEO.
Teresa Devlin noted that allegations are still being made, and the National Board believes that every opportunity should be provided to those who have suffered abuse in the Church to come forward and receive support for the trauma they suffer.
The report says that due to data protection legislation, the information is anonymised which means that the board "cannot be certain what level of unique complaints have been made as cross-checking is not possible". Read online...


Bishops sought prioritisation for Catholic school applicants


By Sydney Johnson

Progress is slow for the State's committment to create 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030. Catholic bishops seek to alter the recently initiated Admissions Act.
Documents received by RTÉ News have revealed that The Catholic Bishops' Conference sought a "binding commitment" from the State to ensure that Catholic children would be given priority access to Catholic schools. In exchange, the bishops would divest a small number of Catholic primary schools to multi-denominational status.
The documents relate to discussions held over the past 18 months between the Department of Education and the Catholic bishops, aimed at progressing the divestment of Catholic schools in nine areas around the country. All of the areas have a large number of Catholic primary schools and little or no multi-denominational provision.
The Programme for Government has committed to the creation of at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030. There are currently only 159 primary schools classified as multi or inter-denominational.
“I think it's very, very unlikely that the government will reach its target of 400 schools by 2030,” states communications officer David Graham, “For that to happen, it would require approximately 25 to 30 schools to be divested every year over the next seven years. And that seems extremely unlikely to happen. For example, I believe that there's only one school scheduled for divestment this year.”
In the past 25 years, the number of interdenominational schools has only increased to represent 5% of the total number of primary schools.
“As it stands, the government is certainly not on track to reach its targets. We would point out that even if that target is reached, approximately 88% of schools in Ireland would remain under religious control because there's well over 3,000 schools.”
It was revealed that, in a meeting in June 2021, the bishops told the Minister for Education that their agreement to divest a number of their schools was "dependent on the ability of schools remaining under Catholic patronage to operate fully as Catholic schools, including the ability to prioritise enrolment of Catholics where there are more applications than places".
The Bishop of Meath, Tom Deenihan, stated that the Admissions Act, passed four years ago, made this “difficult”. This recent legislation outlawed the practice of Catholic schools favouring baptised children over unbaptised applicants. Read more...





Government opposes moves to protect secular schools’ ethos


By The National Secular Society

The government has refused to support amendments to a bill which would help nonreligious academies protect their secular ethos.
Amendments to the Schools Bill, which was debated in the House of Lords on Monday, aimed to replace compulsory collective worship at nonreligious academies in England with inclusive assemblies, and religious education with pluralistic religion and worldviews education.
It would also require greater scrutiny of the potential impact to the school's ethos if a nonreligious academy applied to join a religious multi academy trust (MAT).
But Baroness Joanna Penn, responding on behalf of the government, said the government "do not agree" with the amendments, which were subsequently dropped.
The moves were also opposed by the bishop of Chichester Martin Warner, who "strongly" urged Lords not to support them.
Collective worship
Baroness Molly Meacher and Baroness Janet Whitaker moved two amendments on collective worship – one to remove the duty from nonreligious academies, and one requiring faith-based academies to provide pupils with a meaningful alternative to collective worship if they are withdrawn.
Meacher said it was "pretty remarkable" that the UK is the only sovereign state to impose worship in all state schools, despite the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly urging the UK to repeal these laws. She said most parents were not aware of the law but out of those who were, 60% opposed it being enforced. She added that most parents consider religious worship to be inappropriate content for school assemblies.
She highlighted that many parents have "no option but to send their child to a religious school", and those withdrawn from worship at these schools "often just have to sit outside the door—almost like a naughty child—or are left in an empty classroom with nothing to do".
But Penn rejected the amendments as "not necessary". Warner said an end to compulsory worship in schools would be "excessive".
Religious education
Lord Jim Knight moved amendments to replace religious education (RE) with religious and worldviews education which is "objective, critical and pluralistic" in nonreligious academies and as an option in religious academies.
They also required religion and worldviews education in nonreligious academies to be "explicitly inclusive of non-religious beliefs".
The amendments would bring England closer in line with Wales, which last year replaced RE with religion, values and ethics education. Read more...


Saudi authorities seize rainbow toys in crackdown on homosexuality


By Agence France-Presse in Riyadh

Saudi officials have been seizing rainbow-coloured toys and clothing from shops in the capital as part of a crackdown on homosexuality, state media has reported.
The kingdom opened to tourism in 2019 but, like other Gulf countries, it is frequently criticised for its human rights record, including its outlawing of homosexuality, a potential capital offence.
Items targeted in the Riyadh raids include bows, skirts, hats and pencil cases, most of them manufactured for children, according to a report broadcast on Tuesday evening by the state-run Al Ekhbariya news channel.
“We are giving a tour of the items that contradict the Islamic faith and public morals and promote homosexual colours targeting the younger generation,” an official from the commerce ministry, which is involved in the campaign, says in the report.
Gesturing towards a rainbow flag, a journalist adds: “The homosexuality flag is present in one of the Riyadh markets.” The colours send a “poisoned message” to children.
The report did not detail how many shops were targeted or items seized, and Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The rainbow raids come as Saudi Arabia has banned films that depict, or even refer to, sexual minorities. In April, the kingdom said it had asked Disney to cut “LGBTQ references” from the Marvel film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but Disney refused.Saudi regulators objected to a 12-second scene in which one character refers to her “two mums”. An official said at the time the government was trying to work with Disney to find a solution but ultimately the film did not screen in Saudi cinemas.
Tuesday’s report showed stills of Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange and of “apparently foreign children waving rainbow flags”.
Disney’s latest animation, Lightyear, which features a same-sex kiss, has also been banned in Saudi Arabia and more than a dozen other countries, according to a source close to Disney.
Riyadh has not commented on that film but it has not appeared among the listings in large cinemas. Read more...


Poland’s abortion underground: with backstreet clinics no more, pills become new battleground


By Anna Gmiterek-Zabłocka, Radio TOK FM

The days of illegal – and often unsafe – abortions in backstreet clinics are long gone. Instead, a host of NGOs and activists help women obtain self-administered abortion pills, noting that the recent near-total abortion ban has increased awareness and interest in such service. That has led to a backlash from conservative groups, who are calling for the law to be toughened to prevent and more severely punish the distribution of such pills.
It is not difficult to find adverts online for gynaecologists who offer “discreet”, “safe” services “without problems”. Probably for legal reasons, the word “abortion” does not appear. We called one of the numbers.
The person who answered asks what stage the pregnancy is at. She proposes a medical abortion, meaning purchasing abortion pills. This, we are told, is a safe and effective method that can be used up to the 12th week of pregnancy. There is nothing to worry about, she reassures us, saying that women who have used this method have been satisfied. The price? “Cheapest from me. 800 zloty,” we hear.
None of the people we call offers us abortion in a clinic. “In Poland it’s been more than 10 years since we last talked about the abortion underground we used to know,” Krystyna Kacpura from FEDERA, the Federation for Women and Family Planning, tells Notes from Poland.
Women’s rights organisations stress that in Poland today procedures performed in illegal clinics, without adherence to hygiene rules and leaving some women with complications and health problems, are no more.
“Nowadays there is medical abortion, meaning pills. This is available to women in early pregnancy and recommended by WHO [the World Health Organisation] as a method that doesn’t cause side effects for women’s health,” Kacpura explains.
WHO guidelines – first issued in 2012 and reissued in March this year – emphasise that medical abortion, if performed in accordance with recommendations, is a safe procedure. WHO makes clear that the medication used for medical abortion (misoprostol, mifepristone) should be available at the primary healthcare level.
Women’s rights groups are also keen to emphasise that ordering and taking such pills is not an offence in Poland.
“The key thing is the fact that women’s actions intending to terminate their pregnancy – whatever they might be – will never result in criminal liability,” says Jarosław Jagura, a lawyer from the Helsinski Foundation for Human Rights. “So if a patient has a termination in this or another way, she will not face any criminal penalties. From a legal point of view, it is completely safe for her.”
Women are able to order such pills themselves, and also have the right – by telephone or email – to contact women’s organisations, Jagura adds. Problems may only arise when a third party – for example a friend or husband – helps to buy the tablets. “By Polish law, complicity is punishable,” he explains.
That means that selling or otherwise facilitating the procurement of abortion pills can be an offence – and this is a law that conservative groups want the authorities to enforce more strongly.
“Despite the existing legal basis for the prosecution of the online sales of abortifacients, in practice such activity goes unpunished,” wrote Katarzyna Gęsiak, director of the Centre for Medical Law and Bioethics at Ordo Iuris, an influential ultraconservative legal group. Such sales, Gęsiak argues, are a crime as defined in article 152 paragraph 2 of the criminal code, which refers to the offence of giving help to terminate a pregnancy.
Gęsiak also points out that the fact that abortion pills are often sent to women from abroad should not be a hurdle in prosecuting and holding accountable the people supplying them. Read more...


New Education Minister to take religion out of school Chaplaincy program


By OIP Staff

New Education Minister Jason Clare has confirmed that the Albanese Government will remove the requirement for staff funded through the National Schools Chaplaincy program to be associated with a religious body.Jason Clare confirmed the move to The Canberra Times Chief Political Reporter, Karen Barlow.
“I want to open up the program and give schools a choice,” Clare said. “I want schools to be able to have a choice whether they employ a chaplain or a professionally qualified student welfare officer.
“I’ll work with the state and territory education ministers on these changes over the next few months so that it’s ready to go for when school starts next year.”
When the program was first set up under the Howard government it was focused on placing religious based chaplains in schools. Under the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments the funding program was extended to included non-religious youth counsellors. However when the Coalition was returned to power they once again restricted the funding to religious based staff only.
The program supplies around $20,000 funding to over 30,000 individual schools around Australia. While the Chaplains are banned from proselytising, and are required to undergo training in online bullying and must be certified youth workers, there is no requirement for them to qualified as counsellors.
Meredith Doig from the Rationalist Society of Australia was one of many campaigners calling for the program to be changed.  Dr Doig had recently written to the Minister calling for change.
Dr Doig told Minister Clare that the inherent religious-based discrimination must be removed to allow all qualified and experienced welfare and pastoral care workers to apply for roles funded under the program, irrespective of their faith or non-faith beliefs.
The current model requires that people employed as chaplains may be of “any faith” and be recognised through formal ordination, commissioning, recognised religious qualifications or endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution.
Dr Doig highlights that as a result, qualified and experienced welfare, wellbeing, pastoral care or youth workers are ineligible to apply if they are not religious.
“This kind of religious discrimination is wrong and inconsistent with the multicultural and multi-faith make up of the Australian community,” Dr Doig said.
“Children in Australia’s public school system deserve and need access to the best available wellbeing support. Narrowing the market to the religiously-affiliated not only offends the (supposedly) secular nature of Australia’s public school system but diminishes the potential quality of the care to be provided.”
Read online...


When Will African Churches Apologize for Witch Persecutions?


By Leo Igwe

The apology issued by the Church of Scotland for its role in capturing and torturing alleged witches in early modern Europe is an example and an initiative that churches in Africa must emulate. In a historic gesture of mea culpa, the Church of Scotland has, at its General Assembly, in May, acknowledged their role in the persecution and execution of thousands of people, mainly women, accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries. The church regretted the terrible harm that it caused the accused. It was sorry for the miscarriage of justice, which it orchestrated centuries ago. 
The witch hunts in Scotland were a clear case of moral failure. So it was encouraging to see this Christian establishment rise to the occasion and acknowledge their misdeeds. So the witch apology by the Church of Scotland is a welcome development and a powerful message of remorse. The issue is not only in tendering this apology which many in Scotland deem unnecessary because the Scottish witch hunts ended centuries ago. The real tragedy is that the persecution of alleged witches is an ongoing campaign in many parts of the world, especially in Africa. Centuries after these horrific abuses ended in Europe, persecution of suspected witches has not stopped in the region. Unfortunately, churches in Christian Africa are the main drivers and enablers of witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions. African pastors are among the key perpetrators of this miscarriage of justice. Violent exorcism of witchcraft is an everyday activity in many churches. These churches, including the Liberty Gospel Church, Mountain of Fire and Ministry, and Living Faith Church, engage in witch finding, identification, and exorcism as part of everyday evangelism.
The main question is:  When will African churches apologize for their wrongs and misdeeds? When will African clerics regret the harm which they have inflicted on thousands and tens of thousands of alleged witches across the region? When will African churches repent of their role in accusing and persecuting innocent persons in the name of witchcraft?
But some have argued that before African churches could repent and apologize, as the Church of Scotland has done, they need to first acknowledge that witch persecution is wrong. African pastors need to accept that witchcraft accusation is incompatible with Christian faith and practice in this 21st century. And at the moment, this is not case. African churches are actively engaged in witch-hunting and persecution. They have not realized this error and mistake. 
And this situation makes the witch apology by the Church of Scotland resourceful and helpful. Apart from helping the church and people of Scotland achieve some closure to what was a dark and horrific episode in their history, the witch apology must be deployed to provide moral leadership to the global campaign against witch hunting in Christian Africa. Read more...


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