Scrapping religion rule ‘largely symbolic’

Minister’s spokesman says faith schools may continue to teach religion daily

The removal of a 50-year-old rule privileging religion classes in national schools would not make a difference in schools, a spokesman for Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has said. The Minister announced on Tuesday that she would rescind “rule 68” next month.

The rule, instituted in 1965, says religious instruction is “by far the most important” part of the school curriculum.

At present, 30 minutes per school day are set aside for religious instruction, a situation supported by the State in rule 68. Its removal would be “important”, said the spokesman, but “largely symbolic”.

“Will it make any difference on the ground? It won’t. If faith schools want to continue to teach religion for 30 minutes a day they will still be permitted to.”



His remarks come as a new organisation,

Education Equality

, begins a campaign to end “religious discrimination” in all State-funded schools. It will hold its first press conference in Dublin tomorrow.

The organisation is preparing to take a constitutional challenge to the Equal Status Acts 2000-2011, which permit schools to discriminate on the basis of religion to protect their religious ethos.

"We have a legal team working on a pro-bono basis and are also looking at challenges to the current opt-out arrangements in the schools," said its founder Nikki Murphy.

Ms Murphy, a parent whose unbaptised son was last year turned away from nine primary schools in Dublin 6, said Education Equality would have two goals: to ensure equal access to schools for all children regardless of religion, and equal respect for all religions during the school day.

Baptismal certificate

The requirement in many schools, particularly those that are oversubscribed, for a baptismal certificate discriminates against the children of parents who cannot, or choose not to, get their children baptised, says the new group.

The rights of those children of minority faiths, or none, who do get places in faith schools are also being violated, says Ms Murphy, as it is “effectively impossible to opt out of religious instruction”.

“Religion permeates the whole school day,” she said. “Parents frequently report to us that their children sit at the back of the class during religious instruction class and preparation for sacraments, are required to attend religious services with their class and come home singing hymns and reciting prayers.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times