Wednesday 24 January 2018

Irate dad takes son out of school over prayer recital

Martijn Leenheer says he told Drumlease Primary School in Leitrim that he wanted no religious instruction for his son Finn
Martijn Leenheer says he told Drumlease Primary School in Leitrim that he wanted no religious instruction for his son Finn

Anita Guidera

AN IRATE father who withdrew his young son from school after discovering that he was reciting prayers is considering further action against the school for "not sticking to its agreement".

Martijn Leenheer said he was "shocked" to accidentally discover five-year-old Finn had been reciting prayers several times a day at Drumlease Primary School in Dromahair, Co Leitrim, despite the fact that his parents had opted out of Catholic religious instruction for their child.

Finn now attends the Educate Together school in Sligo. But his father, who has outlined his case to the Irish Human Rights Commission, is considering taking his complaint to the Equality Authority or the Ombudsman for Children.

"I feel the school didn't respond to my concerns and they are still not responding to me.

"My belief is that the school should be responsible for supervising children if they want to opt out because the way it stands at the moment, they ask me if I want to opt out, I say, 'yes' and basically nothing happens," he told the Irish Independent.

Dutch-born Mr Leenheer said he and his wife Amanda had been given a "very welcoming" enrolment package when Finn started in the school, close to their home, last September.

"It stated very clearly that they welcomed all religions and none. The school also asked a question, if I wanted my son taught in the Catholic faith.

"I answered 'no', so you can imagine my surprise when I heard my son reciting prayers," he added.

He revealed he had been given the option of going to the school to supervise his child when religious education and prayers were taking place, but pointed out that it wasn't feasible.

After making various "unsatisfactory" attempts to discuss his concerns with the school, he withdrew his child from the school at the end of the last term.

"I would like to see the school being held responsible to make sure that kids who opt out really opt out, and not what is happening now where they ask you the question and then do nothing," he said.

In a statement, school principal David O'Farrell said the school had a long-established tradition of "promoting equality and respecting diversity".

"The mission statement of the school makes it clear that a Catholic ethos is an integral part of the curriculum and day-to-day life of the school. This includes a short prayer at the start and the end of the day.

"The school clearly embraces and cherishes all children equally, irrespective of having religious beliefs or having none," the statement concluded.

Jane Donnelly, education policy officer with Atheist Ireland described the right to opt out in Irish schools as "impractical and illusory".

"In my view we are in breach of our international obligations. The opt-out clause must be practical and it must suit the wishes of parents, but our opt-out clause just sits there in the education act.

"There are no statutory guidelines with it, and it is not sufficient to guarantee the right to respect philosophical viewpoints such as Martijn's," she said.

Irish Independent

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