Faith formation in the education system

Latest review of the primary curriculum represents another wasted opportunity

Sir, – The latest review of the primary curriculum represents another wasted opportunity to tackle the place of faith formation in our education system (“Primary schools to teach foreign languages as religion time cut under new proposals”, News, December 28th).

Some 2½ hours per week are currently devoted to the “patron’s programme”, code for religious indoctrination. For comparison, three hours are dedicated to history, geography and science combined.

It is an astonishing amount of class time to spend on material that is not required by a large cohort of the population and from which increasing numbers of pupils are opting out.

The proposal to reduce this period by just 30 minutes to two hours is tokenistic and fails to take account of a rapidly changing population with respect to religious belief and practice.


The State continues to take a patron-centric, rather than a child-centric, approach to education by allowing bishops’ impulse to evangelise the children in their care to take precedence over families’ individual human and constitutional rights.

As modest as it is, this reform nevertheless reminds us that the role of religion in our schools is not above question.

Education Equality has consistently argued that religious instruction should simply be moved outside core hours on an opt-in basis in all publicly funded schools. This would free up significant curriculum time and ensure that all children are treated with equal respect at school, whatever their family background.

Our proposals are cost-effective, inclusive and achievable. But they clearly require a degree of realism and political ambition that the Government has yet to find. – Yours, etc,


Communications Officer,

Education Equality,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – The new framework document for the primary school curriculum ignores the constitutional rights of atheist and minority faith parents with regard to the religious and moral education of their children.

Whether religion is taught for two hours or 2½ hours every week is neither here nor there when schools are obliging children to attend any religious classes that are against the conscience of their parents.

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution is explicit. The Oireachtas must ensure that any school in receipt of State aid respects the right of any child to not attend religious instruction. This means the right to physically leave the classroom, not be made sit at the back of it.

The State is again trying to introduce a broader course about religions and beliefs. The last time they tried this, the Catholic bishops scuppered it, because the Catholic Church objects to teaching about religion objectively.

But even if the State did bring in such a course, parents would still have a constitutional right for their children to not attend it. Just as a Protestant family has the right to not attend classes in Catholicism, an atheist family has the right to not attend classes in several religions.

Also, based on experience in second-level schools, that course would be delivered through the religious ethos of the school, and most likely be taught alongside the school’s denominational religious instruction, without telling parents that this is happening.

While this framework document may be helpful with regard to other subjects, it continues to ignore the constitutional rights of atheist and minority faith parents with regard to religion.

The State must address that issue, because it will not go away by ignoring it. – Yours, etc,




Human Rights Officer,

Atheist Ireland,


Dublin 9.