Religion and schools

 

Sir, – It is amazing that in a western democratic republic in 2016 someone should feel the need to say that “non-religious parents should not feel unfairly disadvantaged by attending the local school” (Msgr Dermot A Lane, “Catholic schools are not in a time warp: they are changing with the times”, Education Opinion, January 7th).

Msgr Lane writes that “appropriate educational provision be made for children whose parents do not wish them to take religious education”. However, under Irish law, while children have a right to opt out from timetabled “religious instruction” (an option that is often not real and effective), they do not have a right to be insulated from so-called “religious education”. In reality, the latter is not “religious education” in the true sense, as it is not education about religion. It is a form of faith formation, and unlike timetabled “religious instruction”, one that can permeate the entire school day.

Msgr Lane writes that, “The capacity of most primary schools to be inclusive in the last 20 years in meeting the demands of a new and diverse population has been remarkable”.

But the so-called Equal Status Act, which allows schools to discriminate against children in their admissions policies on religious grounds, was only enacted 17 years ago. Moreover, the “integrated curriculum” which permits religious beliefs (“religious education“) to permeate the entire school day was reinforced in the Primary School Curriculum, 1999. This integrated curriculum makes it virtually impossible to prevent a child from being exposed to “faith formation” in a school under religious patronage, in effect nullifying the conscience provisions contained in the Constitution and the Education Act 1998.

In its 2011 report Religion & Education: A Human Rights Perspective, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommended that: “Section 15 of the Education Act should be amended to provide for modifications to the integrated curriculum to ensure that the rights of minority faith or non-faith children are also recognised therein. In this regard, the State must take sufficient care that information and knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner with the aim of enabling pupils to develop a critical mind with regard to religion in a calm atmosphere which is free of any misplaced proselytism”. – Yours, etc,

ROB SADLIER,

Rathfarnham, Dubin 16.