Atheist Ireland writes to Minister for Finance about Schools
Atheist Ireland has written to Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for FInance, regarding the misuse of public funds in Irish schools regarding the right to not attend religious instruction. We have already made a complaint about this to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee.
Section 12(1) of the Education Act 1998 involves the Minister for Finance in this issue, as he must concur with the Minister for Education in determining and publishing each year criteria by which any class or classes of recognised schools are to be funded.
The right to not attend Religious Instruction is a condition of State funding under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. The right of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children is also a condition of state funding under Article 42.4. The Supreme Court has said that these conditions are a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
The ‘religious and moral formation’ of children is not the same thing as ‘faith formation’. It is far more nuanced than that. Given Article 42.4 the state cannot teach moral values through religious education if that is against the conscience of parents.
It is the obligation of the Minister to ensure that her Department administers Constitutional rights. The Constitutional rights of all parents in publicly funded schools do not take a back seat to the ethos of Patron bodies.
As always, you can help Atheist Ireland to continue our work on secular issues 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
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Atheist Ireland News
Atheist Ireland writes to Minister for Finance about misuse of public funds in Irish schools
Atheist Ireland has written the following letter to Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for FInance, regarding the misuse of public funds in Irish schools.
Dear Minister Donohoe,
We wish to make a complaint about the misuse of public funds in relation to the criteria by which any class or classes of recognised schools or centres for education are to be funded in a given school year.
Section 12(1) of the Education Act 1998 involves you as Minister for Finance.
12(1) The Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, shall determine and publish in each school year criteria by which any class or classes of recognised schools or centres for education are to be funded…
The Constitutional conditions for the funding of recognised schools are not being met. The Supreme Court has said that these conditions are a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
We ask that you ensure that the Constitutional conditions are given practical application on the ground and that the misuse of public funds ends. We would also like to meet you to discuss this.
We have made a formal complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General as well as the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. We attach our complaint to the Comptroller & Auditor General, and a follow-up letter to the complaint.
In our complaint to the C&AG, we refer in particular to Articles 44.2.4 (the right to not attend religious instruction) and Article 42.4 (the obligation of the state to have due regard for the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children).
The recent findings of the Supreme Court in Burke v Minister for Education support this complaint as does the Supreme Court case, Campaign to Separate Church and State case from 1998.
Not attending Religious Instruction is a condition of State funding under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution. The right of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children is also a condition of state funding under Article 42.4.
Article 42.4 states that:
“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.”
Article 44.2.4 states that:
“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.”
In the recent Burke case, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children in recognised schools. The Court said that 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.
The Supreme Court stated in the Burke case that:
“4. 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.” Hence, under Article 42.2, the mother and
father of Elijah Burke and Naomi Power were “free to provide this education in their homes
or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State.”
But, while under Article 42.3 the State may require, “as guardian of the common good”, that “children receive
a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social” (physical is not mentioned, and
the minimum standard required is currently set at school leaver-standard for a 16 year old),
the State cannot “oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to
send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school
designated by the State.
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.”
The Supreme Court stated in the Campaign to Separate Church and State case in 1998 that:
“These references appear to me to establish two facts. First the Constitution does not contemplate that the payment of monies to a denominational school for educational purposes is an “endowment” of religion within the meaning of Article 44 S.2 s.s.2 of the Constitution. Secondly, the Constitution contemplated that if a school was in receipt of public funds any child, no matter what his religion, would be entitled to attend it. But such a child was to have the right not to attend any course of religious instruction at the school.” (page 24)
“But the matter does not end there. Article 42 of the Constitution acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of the parents of provide for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Article 42 S.2 prescribes that the parents shall be free to provide “this education” (i.e religious moral intellectual physical and social education) in their homes or in private schools or “in schools recognised or established by the State”. In other words the Constitution contemplates children receiving religious education in schools recognised or established by the State but in accordance with the wishes of the parents. It is in this context that one must read Article 44 S.2s.s.4 which prescribes that:-….” (page 25).
The Supreme Court has said that the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral education (Article 42.1 and Article 42.2) of their children must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4 – the right to not attend religious instruction. They also said that the rights of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children accords with Article 41 and that this provision reflects a concern for upholding parental authority; a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
The Department of Education has failed to give practical application and administer the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction and the constitutional right of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children. Read more...
Review of Termination of Pregnancy Act
Atheist Ireland has made the following submission to the review of the operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.
Which parts of the Act have not operated well?
Conscientious objection: Nearly 50% of maternity hospitals do not provide full abortion services, and conscientious objection may be a factor in this. The Act does not vindicate that there are medical practitioners who want, on the grounds of conscience, to provide full reproductive rights to women.
This right is not vindicated because of the ethos of publicly funded hospitals and Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. Conscientious objection works both ways and should not be confined to not providing termination of pregnancy. This Section should recognise and protect the right to provide full reproductive rights to women on the basis of conscience.
Lack of data: There is no national database that captures things like refusals of abortion care, how service users in these cases were referred to alternative care, breakdown of abortions by location or type of abortion provided. This information is needed because publicly funded hospitals with a Catholic ethos do not refer women to alternative care if that care is agains the ethos of the hospital.
- Anti-abortion activities near clinics have a distressing, stressful and traumatising effect on pregnant women. People should not be allowed to harass women when they are accessing healthcare.
- Risk to Health: There was never an intention to put the life and health of women at risk. Statistics suggest that the risk to life or health of the pregnant woman is being interpreted too narrowly and this is undermining the legislation.
- The 12-week limit is too low. Many women are only aware that they are pregnant at five or six weeks or later. It is 10 weeks from conception (as it is counted from the first day of the last period).
- Fatal Foetal Anomalies and the 28-day limit: Doctors should not be limited to specifying that the foetus will die within 28 days of birth.
- Mandatory 3-day waiting period: This is simply not needed and just puts additional stress on pregnant women and undermines their autonomy.
- Criminal liability for practitioners: This undermines doctors’ clinical judgement and professional expertise.
- Poor geographical coverage: In some counties, there are no GPs who provide abortions.
- Providers of abortions: Nurses and midwives can safely provide early medical abortion.
- PPS number requirement: Many Irish residents don’t have PPS numbers and the process of getting them takes time. This is a factor and reason why the 10weeks limit should be extended.
- Translation: The lack of HSE interpreters for service users with limited English while in the doctor’s office is a challenge for many pregnant women.
Which parts of the Act have operated well?
During the pandemic the introduction of telephone and video consultations has made access to abortion easier as it has reduced the need to travel and it also gives women more privacy. It has been particularly well received by women with disabilities. Remote consultation must therefore continue.
Doctors and healthcare professionals who are providing abortion services are very committed. In a study by the WHO, many service users reported very positive experiences with healthcare providers who often recognised the urgency that came with providing abortions in early pregnancy and provided compassionate and professional care.
MyOptions is the national free helpline where pregnant women looking for an abortion can call and receive the name and phone number to specific providers near them. Although some people are still unaware of this service, service users have reported positive experiences of MyOptions. Read online...
Schools must respect parents’ right to the ‘Religious and Moral Formation’ of their children
‘Faith formation’ in our schools is the basis for a lot of discussion by people and organisations on both sides of the debate. Some argue for ‘faith formation’ to stay in schools and others argue that ‘faith formation’ should be removed from the school day.
The term ‘faith formation’ is not part of our Constitution. A look at the Constitutional Articles on education does not involve ‘faith formation’ either as a condition of funding schools or as a parental right.
The Constitution does refer to ‘religious and moral formation’. This Constitutional reference (Article 42.4) to ‘religious and moral formation’ is far more nuanced than ‘faith formation’ which is the term that is consistently used.
Religious and Moral formation
Article 42.4 of the Constitution states that:
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.
‘Moral formation’ can be a part of ‘religious formation’ but it also stands on its own as a condition of the State funding of schools (Article 42.4). The state is obliged to take due regard of the rights of parents in relation to the ‘moral formation’ of their children. This is a condition of the state funding of schools.
The Supreme Court in the recent Burke case referred to Article 42.4 and the rights of parents in relation to the ‘religious and moral formation’ of their children as a foundational pillar of the Constitution.
A foundational pillar of the Constitution and a condition of state funding is that the State is obliged to have due regard to the rights of all parents in relation to the ‘religious and moral formation’ of their children.
This is the Constitutional condition of state funding. It is not the same thing as ‘faith formation’. It is far more nuanced than that. Given Article 42.4 the state cannot teach moral values through religious education if that is against the conscience of parents.
Irish language version of Article 42.4
ní foláir don stát socrú a dhéanamh chun bunoideachas a bheith ar fáil in aisce, agus iarracht a dhéanamh chun cabhrú go réasúnta agus chun cur le tionscnamh oideachais idir phríobháideach agus chumannta agus, nuair is riachtanas chun leasa an phobail é, áiseanna nó fundúireachtaí eile oideachais a chur ar fáil, ag féachaint go cuí, áfach, do chearta tuistí, go mór mór maidir le múnlú na haigne i gcúrsaí creidimh is moráltachta.
The Irish version of the Constitution takes legal precedence over the english version. Article 42.4 of the Irish version translates directly into ‘as regards the formation of the mind in religious and moral affairs‘.
That is a far more nuanced obligation on the State than any made up obligation in relation to ‘faith formation’. It puts a constraint on the State with regard to the rights of parents in relation to the formation of the minds of their children in religious and moral affairs.
The State must have due regard to the rights of parents in relation to the ‘formation of the mind in religious and moral affairs’ in all publicly funded schools. It is an obligation that successive Ministers for Education have ignored.
Administering Constitutional Rights
The recent Burke case at the Supreme Court upheld the rights of parents. It stated that:
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.”
The Department of Education is constitutionally obliged to administer right of parents in relation to the formation of the minds of their children with regard to religious and moral affairs. The finding of the Supreme Court in the recent Burke case clearly puts this obligation to administer constitutional rights on the Minister for Education’s desk. It is not the legal affair of the Patron body or school to administer Constitutional rights according to their own ethos, nor can the Minister absolve herself of this constitutional responsibility.
This is what the Supreme Court stated in the Burke case in relation to administrating Constitutional rights:
“10… Administration assumes that there is already in existence a principle and that all the administrator has to do is to establish the facts and circumstances and then to apply the principle. It is of the essence of good administration that the principle must be fairly clear and precise so that, in any given situation, the result should be the same, whether it is administrator A or administrator B who has taken the decision. For, in its purest form, administration requires only a knowledge of the pre-existing principle and an appreciation of the facts to which it is being applied; it is an intellectual process involving little discretion. By contrast, policy-making is largely discretionary; the policy-maker must decide, as between two alternatives, the one which he or she considers best in the interest of the community…[taking into] account all of the relevant factors and which factors are relevant is, to a considerable extent, left to him or her.”
It is the obligation of the Minister to ensure that her Department administers Constitutional rights. The Constitutional rights of all parents in publicly funded schools do not take a back seat to the ethos of Patron bodies.
There is no balancing of rights here, because the rights of parents with regard to the religious and moral formation of their children is a condition of the funding of the school. Under Article 42.4 the State need only endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative.
Atheist Ireland is campaigning for the Constitutional rights of parents. We will continue to hold the state resposible for undermining a foundational pillar of the Constitution. Read online...
Calling concerned teachers
If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at email@example.com
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 gods‘ free (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 $36,275 to 1264 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 'notme.ie' is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1917 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 4,112 Help us reach it's target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven't already done so. Thank you.
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Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland
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Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:
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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
LGBTQ and atheist teachers live in fear of being themselves in Catholic schools
By Ellen O'Regan
LGBTQ and atheist teachers live in fear of being themselves in Catholic schools, delegates at the INTO Congress heard on Wednesday.
Almost 90% of Irish schools remain under Catholic patronage. Delegates said this still creates issues for teachers whose beliefs and sexuality do not align with Catholic values.
Teacher Conor Bredin spoke of how he lived in fear that the principal of the Catholic school he used to work in would “find out who he really was” — a gay man.
He told Congress he was “proven right” in his fear, when casual teaching work dried up after opening up about his sexuality.
Mr Bredin implored delegates at the conference not only to vote in favour of a motion to promote diversity and inclusion in schools, but to help reverse the “learned behaviour” of homophobia and transphobia in schools, by telling their pupils it is wrong.
“I am now an out and proud gay teacher and for staff, parents and most importantly, children in my school, I strive every day to be the LGBT+ teacher and role model I wish I had as I grew up,” he said.
Atheist in a Catholic school
Jason Kelly, a teacher from Tallaght and an atheist in a Catholic school, said before he secured a permanent position, he would be “silently bricking it” when asked if he believed in God, as he felt an answer that didn’t uphold Catholic values could cost him his job.
“Do you have a girlfriend? When is the christening? Did you forget to take Holy Communion after your class went up? Teacher, are you married? I didn't see you at Mass on Sunday, teacher? These are largely innocent questions that are still verbal landmines for LGBT+ and atheist teachers,” he said.
"And LGBT+ or atheist teachers have no choice but to lie or change the subject.
"Teachers shouldn't have to lie about who they are or what they believe, just to progress in our profession… Teaching is still a sea of Catholic white women, and as lovely a sea as that might be, a bit of diversity wouldn’t go astray.”
INTO president Joe McKeown commented that homophobia “can never be allowed to hide behind a religious or cultural cloak”.
“In terms of this issue, I don’t care who currently owns the schools, the minister for education needs to make it clear, if you’re homophobic, you’re not allowed to run a school,” he said. Read more...
Polish conservatives call for tougher laws to criminalise those mocking religion
By Bartosz Sieniawski
Members of the conservative Solidarna Polska party, part of the government, are demanding the wording of a controversial law designed to protect the religious beliefs of Poles be changed to provide prison sentences against people “mocking” the Church and religious faith.
The draft was announced by Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchoł during a press conference on Thursday (13 April). According to him, the proposed changes are aimed at “protecting freedom of conscience and freedom of religion”. The amendment to the law presented by his party envisages changes in two sections of the Penal Code.
Under the current law, someone insulting someone else’s religious beliefs will face a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment. The law is currently drafted to punish those who “publicly insult an object of religious honour or a place intended for public performance of religious rites.”
However, the amendment proposed by Solidarna Polska wants to change this provision to: “Whoever publicly insults or mocks the Church or another religious association with a regulated legal situation, its dogmas and rites, shall be subject to the penalty of two years’ imprisonment.” The authors of the draft amendment are also demanding three years imprisonment for those who disrupt religious services.
The proposal has prompted an outcry, with its critics arguing that the law should not criminalise behaviour that is also difficult to define.
According to the left-wing editorial board Krytyka Polityczna, “the regulations on the protection of religious beliefs are being abused in Poland in a way that poses a serious threat to freedom of speech. In order to be prosecuted under this article, it is not necessary to ‘publicly insult an object of religious honour’ – it is enough to fall foul of one of the many well-organised groups of the religious right.” Read online...
Canadians consider certain religions damaging to society: survey
By Ashleigh Stewart
Many Canadians now believe Catholicism, evangelical Christianity and Islam are more damaging to society than beneficial, a new survey shows, as people across the country continue to turn their backs on religion.
A new Angus Reid survey, released Monday, has shone a light on perceptions of certain religions in post-pandemic Canada, at a time when religiosity in the country is already at an all-time low.
“Broader society still is not fully comfortable and fully clear about what to do with religion, and therefore they show some signs of discomfort,” Abdie Kazemipur, a University of Calgary sociologist and the chair in ethnic studies, explains.
“It’s not intolerance at the moment, it is discomfort.”
The survey reveals that all religious groups surveyed viewed evangelical Chistianity as more damaging to society than beneficial, while Islam was also perceived in a largely negative light. Respondents from both religions were also more likely to feel that Canada doesn’t make room for their beliefs in society.
Religion: One-fifth of Canadians see themselves as non-believers, poll shows Rania Lawendy, CEO of Action for Humanity and former Muslim Association of Canada spokesperson, says that’s because Islamophobia remains rife in Canada and Muslims are still made to feel that their religion is “not conducive to the universal values of Canada.”
“You only feel ‘othered’ when others make you feel like ‘the others’,” Lawendy says.
“How can I not feel othered when Bill 21 exists?”
The survey comes after data released by Statistics Canada in late 2021 showed only 68 per cent of Canadians 15 or older now report having a religious affiliation. It’s the first time that number has dipped below 70 per cent since StatCan began tracking the data in 1985. Read more...
Russian Orthodox Church lends legitimacy to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
By Polina Ivanova