Religion in schools

Sir,– My first reaction, as a priest in a city parish, when I read that front-page article on multidenominational schools in Monday's Irish Times ("Progress on multidenominational schools too 'slow'", News, January 10th) was to wish that things could change quickly with regard to faith-formation in our parishes.

For a long time, we have been fooling ourselves into thinking that the faith was being passed on through our Catholic schools.

However, I rarely see a young person in church – or young parents, for that matter.

We seem to have forgotten that the faith is passed on to children through a series of developmental stages that begin in the home, with the parents as the source.


Unfortunately, we have been working from an old model of church and state enmeshment, which took it for granted that the vast majority of Irish citizens were baptised as Catholics, had prayers in the home, and went to Mass on a Sunday.

The new reality is that this basic foundation for the faith is no longer there.

We are depending on an educational system where the majority of the teachers in our Catholic schools, who teach religious knowledge as part of the official curriculum, are not practising Catholics themselves. It is a sham.

What we need to do is what every other church, in every other country does – have a parish-based catechetical programme for those who choose to commit themselves to their faith.

With non-denominational schools, we would unfortunately miss out on the benefits of the Christian ethos.

However, children who were of a different religious background, or none, would be treated the same as the Catholic students, unlike those times, at present, when schools prepare for the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Yes, the future will be challenging. But we need that challenge. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Atheist Ireland has asked the United Nations to raise religious discrimination in Irish schools when it next questions Ireland on economic, social, and cultural rights. We have also made a complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds regarding the teaching of religion in Irish schools.

The Government aims to have 400 multidenominational schools by 2030. This clearly is not happening, as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has told the UN. And even if it did happen, it would not address the problem.

Schools that are multidenominational are still religious schools. They do not respect the freedom of conscience of atheist families. Instead we need non-denominational schools, which treat everyone equally and do not promote either religion or atheism.

Also, even if they existed, having 400 multidenominational schools would not solve the problem, as most parents would not be able to access these schools. Having multiple school patrons, each with their own ethos, is the problem not the solution.

As an immediate step, schools must allow children to leave the classroom during religion class. Atheist Ireland has made a complaint to the Irish Comptroller and Auditor General about this, as schools that receive public funding are constitutionally obliged to do this.

Parents have a legitimate expectation that the State will fulfil its constitutional duty to protect their constitutional rights, and to fund the protection of these rights, and to not fund the erosion of these rights. The Department of Education is aware that many schools refuse to vindicate this right, yet the department still gives them funding.

Atheist Ireland has also asked the UN to raise the right to objective sex education, and Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows publicly funded schools to discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion.

Ireland is no longer a Catholic country. We are now a pluralist country with Catholic laws that we are gradually dismantling.

The most important next step is removing the anachronistic control that the Catholic Church has over the education of our children. – Yours, etc,




Human Rights Officer,

Atheist Ireland,


Dublin 9.