Irish Secondary School Students No Longer Required To Take Religion Classes

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A new stipulation created by Ireland’s Education Minister, Richard Bruton, says that the country’s secondary school students will no longer have to attend religious classes if they elect not to.

The Irish Examiner’s Niall Murray was among the first to report the news. Murray goes on to reveal that the decree will come into effect at well over 300 multi-denominational second-level schools. At least 80 of these same schools have education and training board (ETB) affiliates that are co-trustees with a local religious leader.

The country’s Department of Education is rumored to be taking immediate action on the subject. According to RTE reporter Emma O Kelly, the department plans to tell state schools to offer alternative courses if students express no interest in religious studies.

Before this rule was set in stone, students with no desire to study religion were not necessarily accommodated. Rather, O Kelly’s report unveils that students in this category were required to physically remain in their religious courses from start to finish.

In the past, it was generally suspected that most students at these schools carried a Catholic background. As a result, religious classes have always been taught under that haphazard presupposition. However, TheJournal.ie indicates that Ireland’s Department of Education considers such thoughts to be implausible. The department released a statement that endorses this assertion.

“However, this is no longer an appropriate approach. In a changing context the constitutional right not to attend religious instruction must be given effect through changed practices.”

A letter composed by the department went on to explain the importance of the change. The shift in practice better corresponds with the country’s constitutional principles, via the Irish Examiner.

“In a changing context, the constitutional right not to attend religious instruction must be given effect through changed practices,” it said.

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That being said, the decision is a puzzling one, according to what the Irish Times’ Carl O’Brien reports. While it is true that Bruton’s efforts do a good job of respecting privacy rights, those rights are currently too compartmentalized based on what education spokesman Aodhan O’Riordain believes. The latter thinks that Bruton needs to take things to the next level.

“The rights that Richard Bruton is recognising today for students in just one sector of our school system belong, under our Constitution, to all students who attend schools that take public funds… He needs to wake up to the reality that every school in our system that accepts public funds must be given the same instruction: that students who do not want religious instruction must be provided with alternative tuition arrangements.”

The students who choose to opt out of religious classes will not totally be off the hook. In the past, kids who did not want to receive religious instruction got to either sit quietly in the back of their classroom or use those moments to get homework done.

Denise Calnan of the Independent.ie discloses that students in this bubble will be bestowed with another “meaningful programme.”

The types of classes that will be offered as alternatives remain unknown, stemming from what Jade Hayden of Her.ie writes.

Although that is true, there is a far bigger concern at hand. Comments from the education minister imply that State-run schools will not earn extra funds in spite of the change.

O’Brien’s article includes these comments, which are surely not going to please everyone in the education field.

“They have to reconfigure their timetable so children who don’t want to participate in religion get the opportunity to do other things. That is common enough at second level where there will be students doing different options,” he told RTE Radio 1’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

Richard Bruton Talking To Press
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With that in mind, the goal appears to not focus itself entirely on the implementation of new subjects. In lieu of that, the government’s new law is more geared toward meeting rights-related demands. Therefore, how the students that opt out of religion classes are dealt with is up to the schools’ discretion.

However, this all seems too one-dimensional to a degree because an alternative class seems to be required. While the new law helps meet privacy issues, new instructors are likely going to have to be added to schools’ budgets.

Based on what the RTE exemplifies, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland is stressed for that reason. Assuming other classes will be offered, more teachers will need to be added to school staffs.

In O’Brien’s piece, the Union confirmed that there would be no way around it.

“On a practical level, other subject options will have to be provided at the time that religion takes place. Quite clearly, this will require the employment of additional teachers in schools,” the union said in a statement.

Since resources are not being provided, though, existing staff members could be adversely affected. Granted this change positively affects those with different faith backgrounds, some may be out of work unless Bruton’s position on funding reverses. Certain schools are already struggling to pay everyone who is already aboard.

TheJournal.ie explains that Bruton’s logic behind the decision pertains to the parents of the children as well. He stresses that he wants to meet their needs insofar as what their flesh and blood are taught.

Consequently, the parents will now be more heavily involved in how their kids’ schedules are arranged. They will be asked whether they want their child to be a part of religion classes or potential school-held worship activities.

The new set up also means that parents in such predicaments will pay different tuition rates if their kids do not take on religion. The specifics regarding tuition changes are yet to be determined.

Murray’s article admits that the changes may not be in full effect until this coming fall. Albeit schools will do what they can at the time being, making total shifts in secondary schools may not be doable.

Even though Minister Bruton’s efforts have their flaws, they address equality-related issues very much so. By virtue of a constantly fluctuating society, this approach is crucial for Ireland to have centered itself on.