Misuse of public funds regarding religious instruction - Secular Sunday #552 || 24 July, 2022


Misuse of public funds regarding religious instruction


Since last December, Atheist Ireland has been lobbying to vindicate the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in schools, and to uphold parental authority in the education of their children, which the Supreme Court has described as a foundational pillar of the Constitution.

As well as lobbying individual politicians and the Oireachtas Education Committee, we have met with the Department of Education and the NCCA. As these constitutional requirements are conditions of the funding of schools, we have also engaged with the Oireachtas Committee on Public Accounts, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Minister for Finance.

We have supported our position with decisions made by the High Court and Supreme Court in relevant cases, including the Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1998, which was about the payment of chaplains by the state, and the recent Burke case, which was about the obligation of the Department of Education to respect constitutional rights in its administrative schemes.

Over the coming days and weeks we will be publishing all of our correspondence on this issue, so that you can follow how the arguments have evolved. Please let us know if you would like to to help us with this lobbying campaign after the Oireachtas summer break.

You can also help us to continue all of 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


Documents about misuse of state funds regarding religious instruction

Since last December, Atheist Ireland has been lobbying to vindicate the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in schools, and to uphold parental authority in the education of their children, which the Supreme Court has described as a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
As well as lobbying individual politicians and the Oireachtas Education Committee, we have met with the Department of Education and the NCCA. As these constitutional requirements are conditions of the funding of schools, we have also engaged with the Oireachtas Committee on Public Accounts, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Minister for Finance.
Over the coming days and weeks we will be publishing all of our correspondence on this issue here, so that you can follow how the arguments have evolved. Please let us know if you would like to to help us with this lobbying campaign after the Oireachtas summer break.
1. December 2021 — our original submission
We sent a major report to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. We argued that the Department of Education and the NCCA are misusing public funds by ignoring constitutional conditions about the right to not attend religious education in schools.
You can read this report at these links in three parts:
Still to come
We will be publishing more of our correspondence on this issue here over the coming days and weeks. Read online...


Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at


List of Atheist Ireland Submissions



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...

Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.

Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans



Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland 'Good Without Gods' Kiva team members have made loans of  $37,075 to 1292 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner's social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland's '' is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1932 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here


Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition - The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,113 Help us reach it's target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven't already done so. Thank you.


Tell us what you think

Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at


Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:
  • You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
  • You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
  • You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
  • You will have access to our members only Facebook group
  • Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.

You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support


Atheist Ireland Committee


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




Irish people adopted abroad as children to get full access to their records


By Lisa O'Carroll

Irish people who were sent to Britain, the US and elsewhere for adoption when they were children as a result of decades-long Catholic hostility towards unmarried mothers will be entitled to unrestricted access to their birth certificates and other official records in Ireland for the first time thanks to a new law.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland, which has been charged with managing the scheme, has launched a campaign to reach adults who were adopted, formally or informally, overseas. It believes about 100,000 people will be affected by the new Birth Information and Tracing Act. The new law relates to all those born to parents within Ireland and adopted at home or abroad since the foundation of the state 100 years ago.
Anyone who wants to trace their birth information or that of their child or sibling can register with the AAI now and apply for records from October.
“Ireland is slightly late coming to this, which has been really disappointing and distressing for lots of people,” said Patricia Carey, the chief executive of the AAI. “It’s now recognised through this law that people have fundamental rights to information that’s held about them. It’s an identity rights issue.”
The new law will open the door to facts about the early lives of many people, but also close a dark chapter in Irish history when unmarried mothers were routinely forced into often brutal mother and baby homes run by nuns or sent to England or elsewhere to, according to one archbishop, “preserve their secret”.
The BBC presenter Nicky Campbell was born in 1961 to an unmarried Irish woman and adopted four days later by an Edinburgh family. He traced his parents many years ago and wrote a book about his experience, One of the Family. Read more...


Consent, online pornography and gender stereotyping part of new proposals in sex education syllabus


By Carl O'Brien

Minister for Education Norma Foley has described a proposed revamp of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) for the Junior Cycle as “a step in the right direction” and as the catalyst to empowering students to cope with life in the 21st century.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on Monday launched a public consultation on the draft Social, Personal and Health Education curriculum which is due to be implemented in schools from 2023.
It follows a review of sex education in 2019 which concluded that most students’ experience of sex education to date could be summed up as being “too little, too late and too biological”.
It recommended taking into account issues such as consent; the effects of pornography on sexual expectations and relationships; and LGBT matters.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said the new draft curriculum is based on research, evidence and engagement with students and other stakeholders. The consultation is open to all for 12 weeks.
Ms Foley said the current syllabus was 20 years old and children now lived in a different world.
A draft review of RSE will be published today as part of the consultative process. It will cover consent, gender stereotyping, wellbeing, relationships, online pornography and the sharing of sexual images. It was important that students be given the tools to help them cope with “this complex world”, she added.
The recent “zero tolerance” strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence had highlighted the importance of education and the Minister hoped that this draft would address that need and encourage students to “call out” inappropriate behaviour when they saw it.
When asked how pornography would be addressed in the draft, Ms Foley said a key feature was the safe use of the internet and the potential impact on relationships of the sharing of sexual images online.
All issues covered by the revised RSE syllabus would be delivered in a safe environment to ensure that students were given the skills to cope with all aspects of real life.
Students needed to be aware of the importance of sharing personal information, the risks and consequences of sharing images online.
The Minister “fully acknowledged” that more work needed to be done in the area of gender identity, students needed to feel included and safe and the RSE programme had a role to play to provide a voice for students.
The review and consultation was an opportunity for all to become involved. This was an invitation to all to express views and experiences, said Ms Foley.
The draft curriculum covers topics ranging from bias, inequality or exclusion to development of emotional resilience and addiction. Read more...


Updating sex education is the easy bit. Ensuring the topic is taught effectively will be far more difficult


By Carl O'Brien

“We don’t even know what we should know,” said one student.
“We haven’t a clue,” said another.
“We never learned about relationships,” added another pupil. “We just did diet, nutrition and bullying all the time.”
They are just a handful of the comments gathered by researchers who reviewed the sex education curriculum across primary and secondary schools in 2019.
The verdict among young people was clear: the 20-year-old syllabus was out of date, too focused on biology and did not reflect the reality of their lives.
Instead, teenagers said they wanted a much greater emphasis on LGBTI+ matters, skills to negotiate consensual relationships, advice on the impact of pornography in relation to sexual expectations and information on safe sex. The publication of the draft Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum for junior cycle, due to be implemented in secondary schools from 2023, is the first step towards modernising the syllabus.
The draft includes topics such as healthy and unhealthy relationships, gender identity, consent, the influence of digital media on sex, and sharing of intimate images online. The consultation process opens today for a three-month period and is open to anyone to make a submission.
It’s not before time. Given the shocking examples of sexual violence against women in recent years, and worries over whether easy access to pornography is re-shaping attitudes towards sex and relationships, the Government has faced growing pressure to act quickly on the issue.
Changing the curriculum, however, is the easy bit. The 2019 review highlighted issues around the lack of training for teachers delivering these subjects, the low status of the subject in schools and the absence of appropriate resources. There was often a reliance on external providers to deliver “the talk” and other topics in schools, even though many students said they would prefer having these classes with a teacher they trusted.
Many also felt the ethos of their school, or the morals of individual teachers, dictated how the subject was taught — or not at all.
If the revised curriculum is to really engage young people, it will need to be taught in a more in-depth and participative manner. Students frequently spoke about teachers tip-toeing around topics or introducing a topic and then not allowing them time to fully engage with it. Instead, students said they want good teachers of sex education who are open, understanding and non-judgemental, as well as confident and comfortable teaching the subject matter.
If only it were so easy. As most teachers will tell you, sex education is the topic most are desperate to avoid. Read more...




In the Face of Fact, the Supreme Court Chose Faith


By Pamela Paul

Imagine your boss fervently proclaiming his religious beliefs at the end of a companywide meeting, inviting everyone on the team who shares those beliefs to join in. You’re surrounded by colleagues and other higher-ups. Everyone is watching to see who participates and who holds back, knowing that whatever each of you does could make or break your job and even your career, whether you share his convictions or not. But hey, totally up to you!
That’s what Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant coach in Kitsap County, Wash., did with his team — only he did it with public-school students at a high-school football game. When the superintendent made clear that by actively inviting players to join him at the 50-yard line for postgame Christian prayers, he was violating school policy and, by the way, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, Kennedy took to the media, turning a small town’s school sporting event into a three-ring circus and ugly social media sideshow, with students effectively forced to perform or suffer the consequences.
Naming the single worst decision of the Supreme Court’s disgraceful 2021-22 term is a tough call. But the one that best captures the majority’s brazen efforts to inflict its political and religious agenda on the rest of the country may well be Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which ruled that the coach had a constitutional right to pray on the field. Overturning precedent and in a cynical elision of fact, Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for a 6-to-3 majority, affirmed Kennedy’s assertion that his proselytizing on government property during a public-school function was “private,” “personal” and “quiet.”
It was nothing of the kind. In easily observable fact, Kennedy’s religious display was public, vocal and coercive, as demonstrated by testimony from football players and other community members and by video and photographs of the coach surrounded by crowds of people on bent knee. According to an amicus brief filed by one of Kennedy’s football players and seven other members of the community on behalf of the school district, participation in Kennedy’s prayers was “expected.” Students were explicitly encouraged by him to ask the other teams’ coaches and players to join in, something Kennedy himself boasted about.
But this court’s right-wing majority is following the dictum of our Trumpian age: Objective truth doesn’t matter. Subjective belief — specifically the beliefs of the court’s religious-right majority — does. The Kennedy decision wasn’t based on the facts but on belief in the face of facts. Moreover, those six justices are determined to foist their beliefs on the rest of the country. Read more...


Pharmacist fights legal battle after refusing to fulfil morning-after pill prescription in Poland


By Daniel Tilles

A pharmacist is challenging her punishment for refusing to fulfil a patient’s prescription for the morning-after pill. Her case is being supported by Ordo Iuris, a prominent conservative legal group, which argues that pharmacists should be protected by the same “conscience clause” as doctors who refuse treatments contrary to their beliefs.
The incident in question recently took place at a pharmacy in Kraków, where a woman came with a prescription from a doctor for EllaOne, an emergency contraceptive. The pharmacist refused to provide it, saying that it “could pose a threat to the unborn child”, says Ordo Iuris.
➡️@OrdoIuris w obronie farmaceutki, która odmówiła sprzedaży środków poronnych
· Naczelny Sąd Aptekarski uchylił orzeczenie OSA w Krakowie wymierzające karę nagany farmaceutce, która odmówiła sprzedaży tabletek wczesnoporonnych EllaOne.
— Instytut Ordo Iuris (@OrdoIuris) July 6, 2022
EllaOne – a brand name for the medication ulipristal – does not induce abortion, but works by preventing fertilisation if taken shortly after sexual intercourse. If fertilisation has already taken place, it has no effect.
While in most European countries the morning-after pill is available freely over the counter, Poland is one of just two EU member states (the other being Hungary) in which a prescription is required. That measure was introduced by the current national-conservative government in 2017.
As a result of that and other restrictions, Poland was this year ranked as having Europe’s worst contraception policies by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. It was the only country classified as having “exceptionally poor” policies.
In justifying the 2017 decision, the then health minister, Konstanty Radziwiłł, argued that emergency contraceptives can have side effects and should only be administered under medical supervision. He also said that he himself, being a medical doctor, would refuse to prescribe such pills, even to a rape victim, as it would violate his beliefs.
In Poland, doctors – as well as nurses and midwives – have a legally enshrined right to refuse treatments “inconsistent with their conscience”. That has been used by medics – in particular those citing Catholic beliefs – to refuse to provide treatments such as abortion and contraception.
The so-called conscience clause does not, however, apply to pharmacists. After the pharmacist in Kraków refused to provide emergency contraception pills, the patient filed a formal complaint. That resulted in a district pharmaceutical court issuing a reprimand against the pharmacist.
However, Ordo Iuris’s lawyers then helped her bring an appeal to the Supreme Pharmaceutical Court, where they argued that the lower court had considered the case despite the pharmacist being justifiably absent and therefore unable to defend herself. Read more...


Greek parents succeed in court case challenging procedure for exemption from religious education


By Humanists International

A group of parents had launched a legal challenge in order to reform the process for applying for an exemption from religious education in Greece. In a ruling last Thursday, Greece’s highest administrative court found in their favor.
Up until now, students seeking an exemption from religious education in Greece were required to make a solemn declaration invoking “reasons of religious consciousness”. A judgment from the European Court of Human Rights (Papageorgiou v Greece) had already determined that this policy was a violation of childrens’ right to freedom of belief and conscience, as it placed an undue burden on students to disclose information from which it could be inferred that they held, or did not hold, a specific religious belief.
The parents’ complaint raised the issue of how students exempted from religious education should be occupied during the hours set aside for the course, and requested that students have the option to learn about a related subject, such as ethics. The administrative court also agreed with this aspect of their complaint, and ruled that Greece should provide an alternative course to religious education for the school year 2023-2024.
Humanists International supported the advocacy of its Greek member, the Humanist Union of Greece (HUG), and partially funded the litigation by providing a grant to cover the cost of trial for two of the applicant parents.
Panayote Dimitras, Spokesperson for the Humanist Union of Greece, commented:
“The Humanist Union of Greece is pleased, on the one hand, that Greece’s Council of State has annulled, for the second time, a ministerial decision on exemption from religious education at school. HUG also welcomes the Council’s decision that the Greek government must introduce, by September 2023. an alternative course for those granted exemption.
On the other hand, HUG has to stress that this is the second domestic judgment in one year finding the government not in compliance with an ECtHR judgment. Concerned parents are obliged to spend valuable resources to fight, again and again, a government that bluntly makes a mockery of the rule of law it is supposed to uphold.
We now turn to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to upgrade to enhanced supervision of the execution of the judgment and to publish a decision of grave concern in response to the Greek government’s obstinacy in ignoring the judgments of both the ECtHR and of its own courts.”
Read online...


Secular subjects at faith school limited to English and maths


By The National Secular Society

A faith school has failed an inspection for devoting most of its curriculum to religion, with "little time" for secular subjects.
Talmud Torah Tiferes Shlomo, an independent Jewish school in London, was rated "inadequate" by Ofsted, who said pupils "spend most of the school day on their Jewish studies".
Ofsted said the quality of education at the school, which is for boys aged three to 15, is "poor" in a report published yesterday.
The inspection, which took place in May, was brought forward at the request of the Department for Education due to "concerns raised about the quality of education and pupils' welfare".
The report said pupils have lessons in English and mathematics but "do not learn any other subjects in depth". Pupils in Years 7 to 10 are not taught physical education, and do not receive high quality careers guidance. Some pupils "have stereotypical views about the jobs that women can do".
Pupils in Year 10 take GCSE exams in mathematics and English, but if they want to study other subjects at GCSE they must do this outside school, Ofsted found.
There are no regular extra-curricular activities and pupils only have "limited opportunities" to explore their interests and talents.
Ofsted said pupils do not have enough opportunities to learn about other cultures and religions, and the programme for personal, social, health and economic education does not include all the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010.
Schools are required to promote equality and pupils' understanding of the protected characteristics which are outlined in equality law. But many Jewish schools fail to do so because they have religious objections to teaching about LGBT+ people.
The inspection found relationships and sex education (RSE) at the school is "not in line with statutory guidance", as leaders "have decided not to cover aspects of relationships education in Years 7 to 10". Leaders have not informed parents that they do not have the right to withdraw their children from relationships education in the secondary phase.
Inspectors were requested not to ask pupils about aspects of RSE, "specifically anything related to sexual relationships, sexual orientation and gender identity". Ofsted said there is "no evidence" pupils have an age-appropriate understanding of healthy relationships.
Jewish counter-extremism group Nahamu has demonstrated how the lack of RSE in strictly orthodox Jewish schools means engaged couples may not be ready for sexual relations and may lack knowledge of consent, abuse and rape.
Some Jewish faith schools illegally refuse to register with the Department for Education in order to avoid inspection so they can teach children an unsuitable faith-based education without oversight. A schools bill has been introduced in parliament that would introduce new powers to the government to close loopholes that enable unregistered schools to continue running. Read more...


Abortion just one element of US White Christian Nationalist agenda


By Mary Hunt

The big, but not only, religion story in the United States is the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v Wade. Abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right. For the first time in American history a right, once granted, has been rescinded. With abortion laws reverting to the decision-makers in individual states, soon half of the country’s citizens will be unable to access nearby reproductive health services.
The singular focus on abortion misses other distressing religion-related trends. Seven of the nine current justices, whose appointments are for life, come from the Roman Catholic tradition. Three of them were nominated by Donald Trump to fulfill his campaign promise of a socially conservative judiciary.
Six justices made decisions this season that show they favour individual rights over a long-held policy of separation of church and state. This super majority might overturn other precedents like contraception, marriage equality and privacy rights. How would any of this play in Ireland?
Two other cases from the court’s recent docket give me pause.
First, the state of Maine determined that since its public schools were few and far between, it would give state money to private non-sectarian schools to assure equal access to education. In this case, Carson v Makin, the conservative justices decided that Maine’s non-sectarian requirement violated the constitutional right to free exercise of religion.
Private schools, including Catholic schools that might discriminate against LGBTIQ students and/or staff, would be eligible for state funds. That slippery slope prompted liberal Catholic Justice Sonya Sotomayor to write, “With growing concern for where this court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.” It is new in the US for private schools that discriminate to be reimbursed by the Government.
Kneeling and praying
A second chilling case is Kennedy v Bremerton School District where a Christian football coach was in the habit of kneeling and praying at the 50 yard line after games. Players were not compelled to join him. But with social pressure on them, their worry, that not participating would reflect on their commitment to the team, was real.
The same six conservative justices opted for the free speech argument, rejecting the reality that high school students may feel compelled to participate in the prayer to stay in the good graces of the coach. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote: “This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.”
Would the decision have been the same if the coach had pulled out a prayer rug or donned a yarmulke?
In the US constitution, the first amendment right to free speech is balanced by prohibitions against the establishment of a state religion. Church-state matters make for hard cases.
Another case that sent shivers up the spines of progressive Americans was West Virginia v Environmental Protection Agency. By ruling that Congress must explicitly order the EPA to limit greenhouse gases rather than give general guidelines, the court took power away from a federal agency. This effectively limits the US’s possibility of reaching global climate change goals any time soon since many congressional members do not prioritise the environment. Read more...

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