In Ireland, where even public schools are usually controlled by religious groups (90% Catholic, 6% Protestant), students at least have the legal option to opt out of religious classes and mass. The Irish Constitution says as much.
Surprise, surprise. That’s not how it actually works. The reality is that many schools affiliated with the Catholic Church, despite receiving federal funding, force students to attend religious services against their parents’ wishes.
Catholic secondary schools are telling parents that their children are obliged to attend religious education classes and Catholic masses despite the fact that the Constitution gives students an explicit right to not attend, should they or their parents so wish.
RTÉ News has looked at the websites of several Roman Catholic schools which state that students are “required” or “expected” to attend religion classes, or state that the subject is “compulsory”.
Some websites also state that non-Christian students are “required” to attend mass, and one states that Muslim students specifically must “fully participate” in Christian liturgies.
When reporters contacted several of the schools, they were told the policies were “under review”… but whether they’ll ever update their websites or actually change the policies is doubtful. And not just because administrators insist on pushing their faith on students.
All of the schools that spoke to RTÉ News said however that they would have difficulties accommodating students who wished to opt out.
They said that unless parents could collect and supervise students who were opting out, then the student in question would be required to remain in the classroom while religious education was ongoing.
If the schools can’t make the proper accommodations, then they’re breaking the law and ought to be punished for it. In the meantime, groups like Atheist Ireland are trying to make sure parents are aware of how to remove their kids from those not-at-all mandatory religious indoctrination classes.
One group alone can’t fix this problem, though. It requires parents speaking up, students taking a stand, government officials not willing to let these schools off the hook, and administrators who take students’ rights seriously.
It’s not like we can count on religious institutions to do the right thing.
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