Saturday 29 April 2017

Religion class must be easy to opt out of, says report

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

RELIGION classes in church-run schools should be confined to the beginning or end of the day to make it easier for pupils to opt out, a new report states.

Changes to education legislation to ensure that schools avoid any inadvertent indoctrination or proselytism -- attempts to convert people to another point of view -- are also sought.

They are among 13 recommendations the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has made to Government to reduce the stronghold of religion on education.

The commission warns that change must start soon if the Government is to escape a rebuke when the United Nations reviews the country's human rights record later this year.

The IHRC report, 'Religion and Education: A Human Rights Perspective', is concerned that education systems must meet the rights of parents and children of the majority Roman Catholic religion, those of minority religions, and also those with no faiths.

About 97pc of primary schools in Ireland are church-run, mostly by the Catholic Church, although societal changes and immigration have led to demand for greater choice.

Diversity

The commission's main recommendation is to increase the diversity of school type, at primary and second level and in urban and rural areas, but says interim action is needed while waiting for that to happen.

The IHRC report is likely to find favour with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, who has already set up a Forum on Pluralism and Patronage to advise on a handover process for Catholic primary schools to other patrons.

Mr Quinn has also made no secret of his desire to see the teaching of religion taken out of the school day altogether .

A spokesperson for Mr Quinn said that the IHRC would be meeting with the forum to discuss the report.

Launching the IHRC report, commission member Professor William Binchy said that if choice was not possible, there should be a place available for a child that did not offend their religious or non-religious convictions.

The Department of Education inspectors should have a role in monitoring the teaching of religion to ensure that indoctrination and proselytism did not take place, he said.

Where choice does not exist, consideration should be given to moving religion class to the start or end of the school day.

Irish Independent

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