The right to not attend religious instruction
Article 44.2.4 the Constitution protects the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.
The words “without attending” mean the right to physically leave the classroom, and because it is in a funding article it means that such children must be supervised or given an alternative subject.
However, a recent Dail question from Richard Bruton TD and reply from Minister for Education Norma Foley blur this distinct meaning by using phrases such as “participating in” and “opting out” of religious instruction classes.
These ambiguous phrases have no basis in law, and in practice they allow schools to make children sit at the back of the religion class.
The Minister also states that the manner in which any school ensures that this right is upheld is a matter for the school concerned. This is contrary to the recent Supreme Court judgment in the Burke case.
That judgment states that the Department has a duty to ensure that policy is turned into an administrative scheme that abides by the Constitution, and that the result should be the same, whether it is administrator A or administrator B who has taken the decision.
Atheist Ireland continues to lobby to vindicate the Constitutional right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.
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.
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To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
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Atheist Ireland News
Minister for Education gives misleading Dail answer about the right to not attend religious instruction
When protecting the right of children to not attend religious instruction in schools receiving public money, it is important to use the language in the Constitution.
In particular, the right to “not attend” must not be conflated with “opting out” or “not participating”. These ambiguous phrases have no basis in law, and in practice they allow schools to make children sit at the back of the religion class.
And the Department of Education has a duty to ensure that policy is turned into an administrative scheme that abides by the Constitution, and that, in any given situation, the result should be the same, whether it is administrator A or administrator B who has taken the decision.
However, on 25 May the Minister for Education Norma Foley gave a written reply in the Dail to Richard Bruton TD about this issue. Both the question and the answer use phrases that are different from the right expressed in Article 44.2.4 the Constitution, which is:
“Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not… 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 question uses the following phrase:
- “do not wish to participate in” instead of “not attend”
The Minister’s reply uses the following phrases:
- “have their children opt out” instead of “not attend”
- “the right to opt of religion classes” instead of “not attend”
To add to the confusion, the Minister also uses the phrase “without attending” when quoting from Section 30 of the Education Act. She also refers interchangeably to “religious instruction classes”, “religious instruction in the school”, and “religion classes.”
She also states that the manner in which any school ensures that the right to opt out of religion classes is upheld is a matter for the school concerned. This is contrary to the recent Supreme Court judgment in the Burke case, which states that:
“Policy... must be turned into an administrative scheme... Any such a scheme must abide by the Constitution. That is the over- arching jurisdiction under which every organ of the State must act.”
“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.”
The right to not attend religious instruction is written into the Constitution. It is not a matter for each school concerned because it is the Condtitutional duty of the Minister and also a condition of state funding.
Here is the question from Richard Bruton TD
"To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her Department has undertaken a review of the manner in which schools with religious patrons have delivered on the obligations to children for whom it has been indicated that they do not wish to participate in religious arrangements; and if she is considering issuing guidelines on the matter."
Here is the response from the Minister for Education Norma Foley
"Under Article 44 of the Constitution and in accordance with Section 30 of the Education Act, 1998, parents have a right to have their children opt out of religious instruction classes if they so wish. It is expected that this right will be upheld by schools on foot of a parental request.
Under the provisions of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, where schools provide religious instruction, they must clearly set out in their admission policies the school’s arrangements for students, where the parent or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction in the school.
The manner in which any school ensures that the right to opt out of religion classes is upheld is a matter for the school concerned. Each individual school must determine the particular arrangements which are most appropriate in its individual circumstances having regard to local issues such as available space, supervision requirements and how the school concerned organises classes etc.
The right of parents to have their child opt out of religion classes applies in all schools regardless of the denomination or ethos of the school concerned."
Atheist Ireland continues to lobby to vindicate the Constitutional right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school. This includes highlighting when the Minister for Education uses language that is imprecise or contrary to Supreme Court judgments. Read online...
Atheist Ireland was mentioned in the US Department of State 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom: Ireland published on Thursday.
Calling concerned teachers
If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 $36,675 to 1281 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 1923 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 4,111 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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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
Catholic Church’s billion-euro land sale is just getting started
By Arthur Beesley
In a recent submission to Fingal County Council in Dublin, planning consultants acting for the Vincentian religious order asked for two plots of land at Castleknock College to be rezoned for housing.
The order has been educating pupils at the site since the 1830s, in the early days of Catholic emancipation, and plans to continue. But it has lands “surplus to the requirements for the efficient running of the school” and has identified plots on the northwestern and northeastern peripheries of the 28.65-hectare campus as having potential for housing “without upsetting” school activities.
The paper for the Vincentians by planning consultant Simon Clear does not quantify the area of the plots in question, which appear from maps in the submission to comprise a minor portion the campus and possibly less than an eighth of the ground. Still, one property valuer said the order could expect to receive between €8 million and €10 million per hectare if the land had planning permission for housing in the affluent west Dublin suburb. Seeking zoning “for residential development” is but the first step in a process that could yet realise a big sum of money if ever the plots are sold.
Times have certainly changed since John Lynch, the first student to enrol, arrived in 1835 from Clones, Co Monaghan, embarking on a journey that would lead to him becoming the first archbishop of Toronto: “I came on the Sunday before the opening Monday and had time to roam about the hills and inspect everything.” Nearly two centuries later, as a deep housing crisis spurs the price of houses and apartments and rents, the path now being taken by the Vincentians is one followed by many other orders.
Their submission on the Fingal draft development came as the Christian Brothers asked the local authority for residential zoning on some seven hectares of land at a retreat centre near Swords in north Co Dublin, which the valuer says could have a valuation greater than €22 million with planning permission. Read more...
Encouraging evangelism in public services will promote division, not divinity
By Megan Manson
A survey reveals members of the public generally get along well with Christians – but feel less enthusiastic about proselytism. Megan Manson says this should be a warning to politicians who want faith groups to be free to preach when delivering public services.
There have been increasingly aggressive moves to put faith groups in charge of delivering public services.
In 2020, Conservative MP and evangelical Christian Danny Kruger published a report calling for the government to "invite the country's faith leaders to make a grand offer of help" in public services, as part of the government's 'levelling up' initiatives. This, he said, should be in exchange for a "reciprocal commitment from the state".
The idea of faith groups running community services makes many people uneasy. There are reasonable concerns that some faith groups can and do use these opportunities to proselytise to vulnerable members of the public, and that some groups may discriminate against service users, employees or volunteers on the basis of sex, sexuality, religion or belief. But Kruger's report dismissed such concerns as "faith illiteracy" and "faith phobia".
Hot on the heels of Kruger's report, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on faith and society quietly removed the non-proselytising clause from its 'faith covenant'. The faith covenant is an agreement between faith groups and local authorities which lays out a set of principles that guide interactions between them and the general public.
In the past, the NSS has publicly supported the faith covenant, particularly because the covenant specified that faith groups have to deliver their services "without proselytising". But minutes from the APPG's October meeting reveal some faith groups objected to this cause, hence its subsequent removal. This now weights the covenant very much in the favour of faith-based agendas rather than public wellbeing.
Then in September, the government announced a new £1 million ' faith new deal' pilot fund exclusively for faith groups that provide community services. Giving public money to groups on the basis that they are religious seems to fly in the face of equality law, but despite repeated requests from the NSS, the government has yet to justify discriminating against non-religious community groups in the provision of this fund.
Kruger, the APPG and all other parliamentarians so keen to roll out the red carpet to faith-based community services would do well to read a new survey from a coalition of Christian groups including the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and HOPE Together. The report reveals that whatever Christians feel, the non-Christian majority is in no mood for evangelism – and that proselytising can drive a wedge between Christians and their non-Christian neighbours.
The 'Talking Jesus' report, released in April, found only 6% of the 4,000 UK adults surveyed are "practising Christians", i.e. Christians who go to church at least monthly, and pray and read the Bible at least weekly. Meanwhile, 52% are not Christians – results that are consistent with other recent surveys. Read more...
Atheists in Pakistan fearful as crackdowns on digital blasphemy continue
Islamabad [Pakistan], May 23 (ANI): Blasphemy arrests and mob violence continue to escalate in Pakistan as blasphemy laws are leading to the erasure of atheist identities.
Pakistan is among one of 32 Muslim-majority countries that imposes harsh penaltiesfor blasphemy, apostasy, or atheism, and one of 12 that punishes these "crimes" with death. The atheists, agnostics, and other dissenters of Islam in the country are fast losing their safe spaces online, which they had built to dodge the institutionalized threats engulfing them, media reports stated.
After the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) in 2016 co-opted the harsh clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code, blaspheming online became a capital crime.
In 2017, immediately after passing PECA, Pakistan issued its first death sentence for digital blasphemy. The same year, the state launched a crackdown on online dissent and atheism, urging the masses to 'report blasphemers,' going so far as to abduct and torture activists and bloggers for dissent against the military establishment and Islamic hegemony.
Since Islamic hegemony helps the state, especially the all-powerful military and radical Islamist groups, maintain its autocratic control, it has been in the rulers' interest to silence all forms of dissent, DailyDot reported, citing sources.
The arrests for blasphemy have escalated over the past five years in Pakistan and so has mob violence. For instance, the lynching of Mashal Khan by fellow students in 2017 and the death sentence issued for university lecturer Junaid Hafeez in 2019 have silenced debate on religion and atheism in educational institutions, including in digital spheres
Moreover, the lynching in December of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara, over allegations that he had torn a poster that had Islamic prayers written on them, was a gory reminder of how Pakistan's blasphemy law continues to encourage Islamist mob violence.
According to DailyDot, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Federal Investigation Agency have access to groups and pages on social media, which has even resulted in summon of administrators during the state's crackdown on blasphemy. Read more...
Should we prefer secular polling places to churches?
The practical benefits of churches as polling places needs to be weighed against the potential impacts on priming and exclusion when considering their suitability, and this balance may shift in an increasingly irreligious society.
Democracy is an important humanist value. I vote in person – despite knowing my political party would prefer a postal vote – because of the value placed in this secular ritual: greeting the tellers, thanking the poll staff and any volunteers as they look up your name, and of course most importantly #DogsAtPollingStations*. I’ve voted in schools, community centres, and a few churches. I generally prefer secular polling places, but it’s a weak preference informed by more interesting flyers on the noticeboard more than anything else.
* Technically this should be Dogs at polling places, as these are the buildings that host individual polling stations. But pedantry shouldn’t distract from a cute dog in a rosette.
In the 2018-20 compulsory periodic review of polling places my village ticked over some formula of population or distance to qualify for a second polling place serving its western half. A local church has been selected, but I do feel glad that I’ll continue to vote at the community centre.
There are good practical reasons for churches and other religious buildings to be selected as polling places. While guidance makes no reference to religious considerations, great emphasis is placed on size, location, accessibility and availability. Local authorities have the right to commandeer schools free of charge, however these may not be available at short notice and the use of other council owned assets such as leisure centres can mean lost income. Churches meanwhile are usually empty and happy to host polling stations, both out of altruism, and in an effort to remain engaged with an increasingly secular civic life.
Over the years as a secularist activist I’ve had the occasional and varied complaint from members at the public either slightly miffed or genuinely aggrieved at having to vote in a church.
While churches using polling day to proselytise is unlikely, I’ve often seen the manipulative Alpha Course being advertised, along with other church activities being promoted. Though to be fair, I always check the community centre noticeboard when voting. The main concerns with religious polling places are priming, and exclusion. Read more...
Minister warns of atheist ideology after Polish scouts allowed not to mention God in oath
By Daniel Tilles
The Polish Scouting Association’s (ZHP) recent decision to allow recruits to omit the word “God” from their oath has drawn criticism from Catholic clergy and a minister in Poland’s national-conservative government, who warns that “attempts are being made to implement atheist ideology”.
Last month, the ZHP – which, with around 100,000 members, is Poland’s largest scouting organisation – decided at its annual congress to give scouts a choice between the current oath, in which they swear to “serve God and Poland”, or a new alternative one that omits mention of God.
“As an organisation, we want to give young people the opportunity to look for their own path,” wrote the ZHP in a statement. “Establishing a version that…omits the word ‘God’ will legitimise the accession of people who are not ready to define their faith, but are still looking for it.”
It noted that the decision had come “after a long discussion” and consultations with instructors since 2014. “The ZHP is a constantly evolving organisation that discusses issues that are important to its members” and allows “instructors to democratically decide on the most important matters”, it wrote.
One instructor in favour of the change was Sub-scoutmaster Adrian Przyczyna, who told critics that, if they think the new oath “threatens God, then you have a very weak God”, reports liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza
The decision was, however, also met with opposition from within the ZHP. The organisation’s pastoral council – made up of seven Catholic priests – warned that the change “can even be perceived as discrimination consisting of open de-Christianisation…[which] over time will result in the atheisation of members and not only moral but ideological conflicts”, reports Catholic weekly Niedziela
“We take a negative view of the change, believing that it serves primarily to remove Christian values[,]…undermine the identity of the Polish scout, and violate a more than one-hundred-year-old tradition of scouting, which was clearly oriented towards God and Christian values,” they continued.
The issue was also mentioned by Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawłowski, an official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, who during holy mass in Piekary Śląskie last week cited it as an example of the dangers of faith being pushed out of public life.
Yesterday, the critics were joined by a government minister, Jan Dziedziczak, who serves as a secretary of state in the prime minister’s office. The change made by the ZHP is a “very sad” and “bad decision”, he told Radio Poznań. Read more...
Trial of Mubarak Bala: Tolerant Pluralism And Imperative Of Islamic Reformation In Northern Nigeria
By Leo Igwe
The conviction of Nigerian Humanist, Mubarak Bala, after a judicial process marked by irregularities jolted the civilized world. People of conscience had hoped that human rights would prevail; that after some dark nights of denial and disappearance, some light would shine at the end of the tunnel untwisting extremist imaginaries that had viciously beclouded and gripped the minds of Islamic theocrats in the region. Incidentally, this hope was misplaced and terribly dashed. Mubarak Bala was handed down an outrageous sentence, short of the death penalty, that is unprecedented in the history of secular court trials in Nigeria. Following Bala`s sentencing, the darkness fiercely thickened culminating in the brutal murder of a Christian woman, Deborah Samuel, also accused of blasphemy in Sokoto, in Northern Nigeria.
Unlike Ms Samuel, Bala has been a marked man since he renounced Islam in 2014. He defied a tradition which says that a person born into the Islamic religion, cannot renounce the faith. Bala left Islam, managed to escape from a mental hospital where he was sedated, and medicated at the instance of his family against apostasy and unbelief.
Bala has been on the watchlist of jihadists because of his exercise of freedom of religion and from religion, his assertion of freedom of expression posed a mortal threat to their power base. He became a pariah in Kano, where he was born. Kano is a city that is notorious for religious bloodletting and for attacking and extrajudicially killing alleged blasphemers.
Mubarak Bala, like Socrates of Athens, was accused of impiety and corruption of young Muslims because he was encouraging young Muslims to think, question and speak freely about Islam and its teachings. Bala became the rallying point for freethinking, rationalist, secularist, sceptical and atheist youths. But Islamists could not countenance this disruptive development, this sweeping wave of social awakening and enlightenment. They moved to stop, silence, resist and neutralize him and his cause. The Islamists hounded Bala out of Kano, where the parents lived. They could not allow him to physically meet with people of like mind. They monitored and censored his posts on social media, to ensure that his comments did not violate their faith sensibilities.
But even for the most commonsensical posts, Bala was accused and abused. Bala was maligned. Bala was indicted for offending the religious sentiments of Muslims. He was threatened and harassed online and offline by Islamists including Muslim state police and army officers.
On April 28 2020, the police arrested Mubarak Bala in Kaduna following a petition by some Islamist lawyers. They complained that he made posts on Facebook that insulted the prophet of Islam. In the petition, the lawyers enjoined the police to prosecute Bala to avoid a breakdown of law and order in the region. The petition was a covert warning to the police that if they did not arrest Bala, he would suffer the same fate as Deborah Samuel, and a Christian pastor, Shuaibu Yohana, who was murdered for blasphemy in September 2021. The police took Bala to Kano where the petition was lodged. They disappeared from him for several months. During this period they denied him access to his family members and lawyers. In April this year, a Muslim judge, in an attempt to placate Islamists convicted Bala. No Muslim leader condemned the sham trial and sentencing of Bala. The Muslim community largely saw Bala's conviction as a well-deserved punishment, as justice served, not justice denied. Read more...
Scottish schools: Compulsory religious worship is a breach of the basic human right to 'freedom of belief'
By Fraser Sutherland
Currently the law in Scotland means that all primary and secondary schools must hold regular acts of religious observance “sufficiently frequently to have an impact on the spiritual development of the school community”.
Often religious observance takes the form of an assembly or other whole-school event, and will usually be Christian in tone in recognition of Scotland’s “long-standing Christian tradition”. Children and young people aged five to 18 do not have a say as to whether they take part in religious worship or not – no matter their own beliefs.
Humanist Society Scotland has been campaigning for children and young people to be given the choice to opt out of compulsory worship for over six years, and in that time has created a broad coalition that includes some of Scotland's largest children's charities and organisations.
Along with LGBT Youth Scotland, Together Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, we have campaigned for an opt-out system that puts the choice firmly in the hands of the child or young person in question.
Our humanist belief that any kind of religious worship or practice should be optional – if indeed it happens at all in a school setting, which is debatable – was bolstered by the findings of the 2016 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) report on Scotland.
This stated that children should have the right to opt out of compulsory worship under the grounds of “freedom of belief” and should be able to “independently exercise their right to withdraw”.
While parents can withdraw their children, pupils cannot choose to withdraw themselves. Independence to make their own decisions within their maturity and capacity is key to protecting the human rights of children and young people in the eyes of the UN committee.
The lack of choice that Scotland’s children and young people face when it comes to compulsory religious observation is massively out of step with this. Especially if you consider the fact that 16-year-olds in Scotland can vote, marry, and join the army, while some young people under that age are judged capable enough by our courts to instruct a solicitor or make life-or-death medical decisions without parental approval.