2 Feb 2011

Atheist Ireland says children's right to be exempt from religious class a theoretical illusion

The Tribune - Ireland January 9, 2011

Atheist Ireland condemns discrimination against parents

John Downes, News Investigations Correspondent

Parents who do not wish to have their children attend religious classes in school are routinely being asked to supervise them personally during school hours because schools will not do so, according to Atheist Ireland.

The organisation also said it had received complaints that some schools were forcing the children of non-religious parents to take a religious education course introduced a decade ago.

It said the current situation meant the right of individuals to be exempted from participation in religious classes was a "theoretical illusion" because there were no appropriate provisions within the education system for convictions of non-religious parents to be respected.

"Under the present system, it is parents who are responsible for the supervision of their children while religion classes are taking place. This simply does not constitute an exemption under human rights law and it is discriminatory," a draft position paper stated.

"What parent can take time to go to the school and remove their child from religion class during the school day? It is a burden that the religious majority simply do not have."

Elsewhere, the document – which forms part of Atheist Ireland's Teach don't Preach campaign, said the new religious education course introduced in 2000 was "supposed to be suitable for all religions and none". But it said it had received complaints that some schools were forcing the children of non-religious parents to take the course.

"This course disrespects the philosophical convictions of non-religious parents and breaches their human rights... in order to access the course the children of non-religious parents must endure the disrespect of the state for their parent's philosophical convictions."

Atheist Ireland education officer Jane Donnelly, who compiled the draft document, said it would be sent to the Irish Human Rights Commission later this month. The commission is preparing recommendations for the government on the place of religion in education from a human rights perspective and has asked for the opinions of citizens and groups before the end of this month.

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