This is what we sent to the local press after the visit to the Minister for Education and Skills
Mid West Humanists
An Atheist Community in Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary
www.facebook.com/groups/midwesthumanists/ 28 November 2014
For Immediate Release
Mid-West Humanists meet Minister for Education and Skills and ask that Ireland have a State Secular system of schools
Members of the Mid-West Humanists (MWH) met Jan O’Sullivan TD Minister for Education and Skills on 28 November 2014 to ask that Ireland’s system of schools, primary and second-level, be changed to a state system of entirely secular schools.
The Mid West Humanists said to the Minister that the present education system discriminates against children who have no religion and breaches their human rights by denying them access to an education free from the teaching of religious beliefs as facts. These children have the same rights as those of any religion to be taught in an objective manner by the teachers, whom their parents also pay through their taxes. In the last census in 2011 there were 256,000 people who stated that they had no religion, though the true number is substantially more.
The present system – the Patronage system – is biased towards religion, and towards some few religions even more strongly.
There are 3200 primary schools in Ireland. For 94% of these schools, the Patron is a religious organisation, and for 90% the Patron is Roman Catholic. Of the 3200 schools, 1800 are each more than 10km from the nearest other primary school. These all have Roman Catholic patrons. These schools are smaller than average, and these districts cannot support 2 schools.
The changes that the Mid-West Humanists seek to Ireland’s education system, in addition to removing the bias and the discrimination, will make it easier for government to deal with the increasing variety of religions to which people in Ireland belong – including making it easier to provide education.
The secular system that we propose would also liberate teachers who are unhappily forced to teach values in which they no longer believe.
Peter O’Hara from the MWH explains, ‘We proposed this change to the Minister because a system of secular schools would be the best for society in Ireland, irrespective of the number of people of any religion or of no religion. Once the new system is established, no child or parent need have any anxiety that the child attend their nearest school, a part of their community, because the school will not teach as a fact any religious doctrine, and it will show the same respect to all children, no matter what the religion, or absence of religion, of the child or the parent. All the school will want to know is the child’s age.’
Ireland has become a much more diverse society ethnically, culturally and in relation to religious beliefs and philosophical stances. The State cannot provide a school connected to each religion. In addition, to segregate children into different schools is to discriminate against them.
Peter O’Hara from the MWH adds, ‘A secular education system in a secular Irish State, where everyone has the right to their religious beliefs or nonreligious philosophical stances, and where the State remains neutral on these beliefs or stances, is the only way to protect equally the rights of religious and nonreligious people and to prevent discrimination against nonreligious citizens. We should attend school together, to allow us to live together as equals,’ he says.
The Mid West Humanists are not asking for more schools of multi-denominational Patron, such as the Educate Together schools, but for all state-supported schools to be in State ownership, and to be secular schools. The MWH are sure that, if the Department of Education and Skills enabled more multi-denominational Patron schools, and presented this as a step towards schools generally becoming secular, this would delay the change that is really necessary. The really necessary change is that all schools be secular so that all children can attend schools where their human rights are respected – (1) the right to an education without being taught that religious beliefs are facts, and (2) the right to a sense of unity with the whole of society, not being segregated.
The Mid-West Humanists are a group of people from Clare, Limerick and Tipperary who meet on a monthly basis to discuss issues relating to an ethical philosophy of life, based on a concern for humanity in general. Humanism is a view of life that combines reason with compassion, an interpretation of existence on the evidence of evolution and not on belief in a supernatural power.
Anyone wishing to find out more can contact Peter O’Hara on email@example.com.
You can read more detail of our arguments, for changing the system of schools to a secular system, on our website.
The Mid West Humanists’ website is www.midwesthumanists.com/.
The full text of our letter to the Minister is on our website.
There now follow the Summary and details of the changes that the Mid West Humanists seek.
The Mid West Humanists’ summary statement on Education
Numbers refer to the detailed items after the Summary
1. The Mid West Humanists ask that the Oireachtas and Government of Ireland change from the present system of administering schools, primary and second-level, to an entirely secular system of schools that the state operates itself.
2. We ask that teacher training colleges become secular in the same way.
3 to 8. We ask that the curriculum include subjects to enable citizens to live in a secular society that includes people with a large variety of religious, political, social, and cultural views.
9 to 11. The Education Act 1998, the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equal Status Act 2000, and Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools 1965 discriminate in favour of religion and its adherents and against people with no religion and their philosophical stance on life. We ask that these be amended so as to end discrimination.
12. We suggest state limits on how private schools operate.
Changes Required in Ireland’s Education System – Mid West Humanists
- The state should provide primary and secondary schools that are open to all children, free of charge. All public schools should belong to State organisations, either national, regional, or local. Education must centre on each child and aim to maintain a child’s natural curiosity and natural critical thinking. Schools that the State funds from the people’s taxes should have no connection whatever with any organisation, that is not answerable to the people via the Government or the Oireachtas. Schools that the state funds should not give power or control to any religious organisation.
- Teacher training colleges should be third-level colleges, or their departments, that are secular in the same way as the primary and secondary schools, as just described. Student entry to the teacher training colleges should require no religious or similar qualification, and training should not involve teaching the tenets or ideas of one religion. Training should include training for the subjects we mention next.
Subjects in the Curriculum – centred on the Child
- All schools should teach to all children an account of the religions in the world – not merely in Ireland – with similar accounts of life-stances that do not involve religion or belief in a god. This would include the reasons the various people describe for holding to the various religions and the other life-stances. Schools should not present these ideas or doctrines as facts, and should not carry out worship or try to persuade children to adopt any of these ideas.
- All schools should teach philosophy – analytical and critical thinking – starting in infants classes.
- All schools should teach about the state and the society in which the children live, with some comparisons with other societies and states, past and present.
- All schools should teach about social and personal relations together with interpersonal morals, and about relationships, sex, and health.
School Premises availability
- State schools should be available for extra-curricular classes – outside normal school hours – to be given to some or all of the school’s children, or to other persons, and for other gatherings.
Classes in particular Religions
- A school could include classes to teach about a particular religion among the extra-curricular classes. The school should not organise these classes but should facilitate those who would organise them
Changes in several Acts and Regulations
- The Education Act 1998 should be amended –
so that schools must respect the human rights of all children;
so that an ethos of a school – which should no longer be compulsory as at present – must also respect the children’s human rights (at present the Act sets no limits on the content of the ethos); and
to oblige schools to teach to all children an account of the religions in the world (not merely in Ireland), with similar accounts of life-stances that do not involve religion or belief in a god.
- A school’s right to discriminate in employment of teachers in order to maintain its ethos should be removed from the Employment Equality Act 1998. A school’s right to discriminate in admission of children or trainee teachers, to maintain its ethos, should be removed from the Equal Status Act 2000.
- The Rules for National Schools 1965 and the national curriculum should be amended –
to cease setting religion as the most important subject and to stop it being integrated within other subjects;
to remove the interpretation of “spiritual” as automatically connected to a “higher power”; and
to oblige all schools to teach about religion and about other philosophies of life that do not involve belief in a god, in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner – the Toledo Guiding Principles.
- The state could permit other organisations to operate schools, but not with funds from taxes. If the state permitted such schools, the State would still have a duty to children attending there that they receive a reasonable and adequate education. The State would have to regularly inspect such schools. The State would have to compel the private schools to teach the 4 subjects above in paragraphs 3, 4, 5, and 6, and to prohibit teaching of religious ideas as facts during the normal school day.