Irish Atheists, Muslims and Evangelicals urge curriculum reform

The report argues that children of atheist, secular and minority faith families are forced into Catholic faith formation
The report argues that children of atheist, secular and minority faith families are forced into Catholic faith formation

School children should be allowed to choose another subject in place of religion, a new study has recommended.

Atheists, Muslims and Evangelicals in Ireland are supporting the change as part of a joint call for religious education reform.

They argue that the state-endorsed religious education course should not be compulsory.

In recent months, Atheist Ireland has researched hundreds of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) in the Republic about how it devised the state RE course at second level.

This research, the group said, supported the case it had been making for years: "That the state second level religious education course disrespects the philosophical convictions of atheist, secular and minority faith families".

It added that schools in Ireland were, therefore, forcing children of atheist, secular and minority faith families, into religious instruction and Catholic faith formation.

Now, as part of an inter-belief alliance for secularism, Atheist Ireland, Irish Ahmadiyya Muslims and Evangelical Alliance of Ireland have jointly called for an end to religious discrimination in Irish second level schools.

The group said members each respected that they had very different world-views as atheists, Muslims and Evangelicals.

They also agree that each person should be treated with respect, their right to hold their beliefs should be treated with respect, and the government should treat all equally before the law by remaining neutral between religious and non-religious beliefs.

Atheist Ireland chairman Michael Nugent said the existing religious education course in schools "disrespects the philosophical convictions of atheist, secular and minority faith families".

"The minister for education should immediately issue a circular letter informing all schools at second level that the state religious education course is not compulsory and students can choose another subject, and schools should actively inform students and parents about this," he said.

Imam Ibrahim Noonan, Imam of Galway Ahmadiyya Mosque and missionary in charge of island of Ireland, supported this call.

"The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has always adhered to the fact that religion and state are two different entities.

"Therefore it views that secular knowledge should be given eminence within the school curriculum. The state must recognise the importance of the feelings and sentiments of those who practise a particular faith or belief system, whether that be a religious system or non religious system.

"What is important is that department of education recognise that no particular faith should have the monopoly in the schools, as the very question that can be asked is: which version of a particular religion is the correct one, and who will teach it? All that should be taught in state schools is the basic fundamentals of any faith system or non faith belief system is, including historical and morals, principles and ethics."

Pastor Nick Park, Executive Director of Evangelical Alliance of Ireland said as a Christian minister, he disagreed with Atheist Ireland on many theological matters and issues of faith.

"Nevertheless, I congratulate them on wading through a copious amount of documents to produce this comprehensive report, demonstrating clearly the state's failure to protect children from coercion and discrimination in the area of religious education," he said.

"Parents from religious minorities, as well as parents of no religious belief, are being denied rights supposedly guaranteed to them and their children under the Irish Constitution and various human rights treaties.

"Most religions would hold that it is the responsibility of their members who are parents to provide religious instruction to their children, but religious formation and indoctrination should not be the business of the state or of state-funded schools. When the state acts in such a way it is bad for parents, bad for children, and ultimately bad for religion itself."

Earlier this year, community and comprehensive schools under Catholic patronage in the Republic were told they need to be prepared for a time when religious instruction and worship may not be required by pupils.

Seán Ó Foghlú, secretary general of the Department of Education, told the Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools, that the community and comprehensive secondary schools under religious patronage were legally obliged under deeds to serve the entire community.

"The schools need to prepare for situations where a majority of students may wish to withdraw and where religious instruction and worship may be required by a minority, if at all," he said.