Atheist Ireland asks IHREC to investigate human rights breaches in Community National Schools

by Michael Nugent on February 8, 2017

Jane at OSCEAtheist Ireland has sent the following letter to the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission, asking it to investigate human rights breaches in Community National Schools.

RE: ETB / Community National Schools / Section 42 (1) IHREC Act 2014

Dear Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission,

We are writing to inform you that the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, the Education & Training Boards/Community National Schools (ETB/CNS) and the NCCA are disregarding their public sector duty to protect the human rights of the persons to whom they provide services.

As you are probably aware, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton is now promoting the Community National Schools with the intention of opening more of them around the country. These Community National Schools are supposed to protect the human rights of all parents and their children, given their public service duty under Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission Act 2014.

The Community National Schools are not inclusive of parents who as a matter of conscience seek a human rights based education for their children. The Community National Schools are ignoring some human rights and disregarding others.

We believe that the ETB/CNS are making religion and belief classes compulsory. These religion and belief classes are called the ‘Goodness Me Goodness You’ programme. Parts of this programme were developed by the National Council for Curriculum & Assessment who also have a public service duty under the Act. The GMGY is supposed to be inclusive of all religions and none given Section 7 –of the Equal Status Act.

The CNS is also encouraging attendance at religious ceremonies and festivals of other religions while failing to inform parents that they have a right to opt out of these ceremonies and festivals.

There is no policy on the website of the ETB/CNS that indicates that all parents can opt out their children from the GMGY programme and religious ceremonies and festivals. In a recent speech, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton has indicated that he is supportive of only certain religious faith groups opting their children out these classes and that is within limits.

In the ‘Goodness Me Goodness You’ programme there is what is called the ‘core’ part and it seems clear from the Minister’s speech that this is made compulsory.

Parts of the core GMGY programme require families to reveal details of their religious or philosophical convictions. The course actively requires parents and their children to speak about intimate aspects of their private life which is contrary to Article 9 and Article 8 of the European Convention.

Speech by Minister for Education

In a recent speech the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton stated that:

“I personally believe that one model, which I know has operated by some Community National Schools on the ground, which has merit is based on the principle that the entire class group is taught religion and beliefs together throughout the whole year. However individual faith groups who wish are allowed to withdraw from those classes, within limits (for example up to around 10 hours per year) to allow them to prepare for specific rites of passage or learn about specific issues to do with their own faith group during school time. Precisely how this is delivered can be worked out locally in cooperation with local faith leaders and communities. While responding to local needs is key, it is done within a framework set down by the patron to ensure consistency of approach and best practice.”

“So, for example, I am aware that many Community National Schools encourage their school communities to celebrate the religious festivals and rites of passage of the various religious communities within the school, whether it be First Communion, Confirmation or Eid. I am aware of non-religious and Muslim families in some Community National Schools showing up in large numbers to join the Catholic families in the school First Communion celebration, and Christian and non-religious families returning the favour for Eid. This is an example of precisely the type of shared understanding and integration that the State should be promoting through its education system, and I wish to recognise this here.”

“On the specific issue of faith and belief nurturing, the philosophy of the Community National School as a multi-denominational school is based on international best practice in this area,”

Relevant Human Rights

The Human Rights that we are referring to are Article II of Protocol 1 (the right to education) in conjunction with Article 8 (the Right to Respect for Private and Family Life), Article 9 (The Right to Freedom of Conscience) and Article 10 (The Right to Freedom of Expression) of the European Convention. We are also referring to the Right Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Belief guaranteed under Article 18 of the ICCPR, Article 2 (Freedom from Discrimination) and Article 26 (Equality before the law). The Right to Education guaranteed under Article 13 of the ICESCR and Article 2.

It is clear from the recent speech of the Minister that the State has not taken sufficient care to ensure that these religion and belief nurturing classes in the CNS will be delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

Faith and belief nurturing is not the same as teaching about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner in accordance with human rights law. The right of parents not to be put in a position where they must reveal their religious or philosophical convictions is equally ignored by the Minister and the ETB/CNS, (Article 8 European Convention).

The European Court has said that:

“The Court observes that information about personal religious and philosophical conviction concerns some of the most intimate aspects of private life. It agrees with the Supreme Court that imposing an obligation on parents to disclose detailed information to the school authorities about their religions and philosophical convictions may constitute a violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, possibly also, of Article 9 (ibid.).”

We would also like to remind you of the Recommendation in your Report, Religion and Education; A Human Rights perspective, also your Recommendation in the Submission on the Education Admissions to Schools Bill. These Recommendations are in relation to amending the Education Act 1998 to ensure that the State curriculum is delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. Those Recommendations have not been taken on board by the Minister.

Employment of Teachers

We are also concerned regarding the employment of teachers in the ETB/CNS and believe that there are issues here under the Constitution, the Employment Equality Act, Article 14 of the European Convention and Article 2, 18, 25 and 26 of the ICCPR. In particular we refer you to the Recommendation of the Human Rights Committee in 2014 (CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4).

The GMGY programme is not objective and neither is preparation for what the Minister has described as specific life events and subjects, such as Holy Communion. The GMGY requires teachers to discuss intimate aspects of parents’ religious or philosophical convictions. The Minister has made it clear in his speech that faith and belief nurturing and specific life events and subjects are part of the multi-denominational ethos of the ETB/CNS. The outline for the GMGY states that: “In recent times, the term ‘faith formation’ has been replaced by the expression faith/belief nurturing”. However, it does not say that the substance of the faith formation has changed.

Given the above it seems clear that teachers are required teach the GMGY programme as a condition of employment. It is not clear whether or not the ETB/CNS would employ teachers who object to faith formation as a matter of conscience.

It is also not clear whether teachers are required to teach specific life events and subjects such as Holy Communion as a condition of employment. There is no indication that there is a specific quota for teachers approved by the relevant faith groups.

Given the fact that in primary schools there are class teachers as opposed to subject teachers, this commitment by the State has implications for the employment of minorities in the ETB/CNS. It seems to us that minorities are again put in a position that they cannot get a teaching position without pretending to be religious. This also has implications for the public service duty of the ETBs to eliminate discrimination.

Conclusion

We would appreciate if you would look into this matter. There is an added urgency as it is also clear that the Education Minister Richard Bruton is now promoting these ETB/CNS and intends to open more of them in the future, while still doing nothing about the human rights abuses. As an interim measure we would ask that you remind the relevant parties including the Minister that there is a right to opt out of the GMGY Course and that it must be guaranteed.

We have attached an appendix with the relevant human rights standards in relation to our concerns and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Jane Donnelly
Human Rights Officer
Atheist Ireland

Appendix

Contents

1. Link to the Minister’s speech
2. Document No. 162 got by Emma O’Kelly from RTE under FOI
3. Statement by the Venice Commission
4. European Court and ‘objective, critical and pluralistic’
5. Lautsi v Italy case at the European Court
6. Toledo Guiding Principles.
7. Mansur & Others v Turkey Sept 2014
8. Grzelak v Poland 2010
9. Community National Schools Submission to Forum on Patronage and Pluralism
10. Catholic Bishops Submission to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism
11. Savaz Crkava Rijec Zivota and Others v Croatia
12. Document 105 got by Emma O’Kelly from RTE under FOI
13. Religious Education and Faith Formation in the CNS
14. Page 14 of the GMGY Curriculum for Senior class overview

1. Link to the Minister’s speech

This is the Minister’s speech referred to in the letter.

2. Document No. 162 got by Emma O’Kelly from RTE under FOI

This is available at this link along with all the Documents got under FOI as well as an outline of the issues.

3. Statement by the Venice Commission

“Religion or belief.
International standards do not speak of religion in an isolated sense, but of ‘religion or belief’. The ‘belief’ aspect typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world. Thus atheism and agnosticism, for example, are generally held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs. It is very common for legislation not to protect adequately (or to not refer at all) to rights of non-believers. Although not all beliefs are entitled to equal protection, legislation should be reviewed for discrimination against non-believers.”
CDL-AD(2004)028, Guidelines for legislative reviews of laws affecting religion or belief, p.4.

4. European Court and ‘objective, critical and pluralistic’

The European Court is very clear about delivering these types of courses in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. It is a General Principle.

It stated in the Folgero case that:

“(h)  The second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 implies on the other hand that the State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The State is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions. That is the limit that must not be exceeded.

(98)…“The Court observes that information about personal religious and philosophical conviction concerns some of the most intimate aspects of private life. It agrees with the Supreme Court that imposing an obligation on parents to disclose detailed information to the school authorities about their religions and philosophical convictions may constitute a violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, possibly also, of Article 9 (ibid.).”

“…..Moreover, Circular F-03-98 drew the school authorities’ attention to the need to take duly into account the parents’ right to respect for private life (ibid.). The Court finds, nonetheless, that inherent in the condition to give reasonable grounds was a risk that the parents might feel compelled to disclose to the school authorities intimate aspects of their own religious and philosophical convictions. The risk of such compulsion was all the more present in view of the difficulties highlighted above for parents in identifying the parts of the teaching that they considered as amounting to the practice of another religion or adherence to another philosophy of life. In addition, the question whether a request for exemption was reasonable was apparently a potential breeding ground for conflict, a situation that parents might prefer simply to avoid by not expressing a wish for exemption.”

5. Lautsi v Italy case at the European Court

The European Court has found the Secularism is a philosophical convictions protected by Article 9 of the Convention. Atheist/secular parents have exactly the same rights as religious parents.

The European Court in the Lautsi v Italy case in 2011 stated that:

“58. Secondly, the Court emphasises that the supporters of secularism are able to lay claim to views attaining the “level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” required for them to be considered “convictions” within the meaning of Articles 9 of the Convention and 2 of Protocol No. 1 (see Campbell and Cosans v.the United Kingdom, 25 February 1982, § 36, Series A no. 48). More precisely, their views must be regarded as “philosophical convictions”, within the meaning of the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, given that they are worthy of “respect ‘in a democratic society’”, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education.”

The European Court and the United Nations both recognise the positive obligation on the State to respect the right of atheist and secular parents to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. This right to respect is an absolute right, not to be balanced against the rights of others, or one that can be gradually achieved.

6. Toledo Guiding Principles.

International best practice states that schools “need to be careful to make the distinction between teaching about the holiday, and actually celebrating the holiday”. The Toledo Guiding Principles are clear about this but regardless of this the ETB/CNS are making parents and children feel guilty about accessing their right to opt out of religious ceremonies and festivals.

The Toledo Guiding Principles state that:

“For example, teachers can often take advantage of holidays periods to teach about religions in culturally sensitive ways. They need to be careful to make the distinction between teaching about the holiday, and actually celebrating the holiday, or using it as an opportunity to proselytize or otherwise impose their personal beliefs.”
Page 74 – Toledo Guiding Principles.

7. Mansur & Others v Turkey Sept 2014

The European Court has found that parents have a right to opt their children out of religion classes if they believe it will cause their children to face a conflict of allegiance between the school and their religious or philosophical convictions (ECHR Mansur & Others v Turkey, Sept 2014). The Minister for Education does not oblige the ETB/CNA to deliver the ‘Goodness Me Goodness You’ course in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner which is a General Principle of the European Court of human rights.

In Mansur & Others v Turkey the European Court stated that:

“The fact that the curriculum of the religion and ethics classes gave greater prominence to Islam as practised and interpreted by the majority of the Turkish population than to other minority interpretations of Islam could not in itself be viewed as a departure from the principles of pluralism and objectivity which would amount to indoctrination. However, bearing in mind the particular features of the Alevi faith as compared with the Sunni understanding of Islam, the applicants could legitimately have considered that the approach adopted in the classes was likely to cause their children to face a conflict of allegiance between the school and their own values.

The Court failed to see how such a conflict could be avoided in the absence of an appropriate exemption procedure. The discrepancies complained of by the applicants between the approach adopted in the curriculum and the particular features of their faith as compared with the Sunni understanding of Islam were so great that they would scarcely be alleviated by the mere inclusion in textbooks of information about Alevi beliefs and practice.”

8. Grzelak v Poland 2010

Parents have a human right not to be required to reveal their religious or philosophical convictions directly or indirectly and not to be compelled to assume a stance from which it may be inferred whether or not they have such beliefs (Article 8). Any course that puts parents in the position that they must reveal directly or indirectly their religious or philosophical convictions falls foul of the negative aspect of Article 9 (freedom of conscience) of the European Convention and Article 8 (the right to private and family life). The ETB/CNS requires parents to identify their religious or philosophical convictions so that they segregated them into various groups.

In Grzelak v Poland 2010 the European Court stated that:

87. The Court reiterates that freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs comprises also a negative aspect, namely the right of individuals not to be required to reveal their faith or religious beliefs and not to be compelled to assume a stance from which it may be inferred whether or not they have such beliefs (see, Alexandridis v. Greece, no. 19516/06, § 38, ECHR 2008…, and, mutatis mutandis, Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey, no. 1448/04, § 76 in fine, ECHR 2007XI). The Court has accepted, as noted above, that Article 9 is also a precious asset for non-believers like the third applicant in the present case. It necessarily follows that there will be an interference with the negative aspect of this provision when the State brings about a situation in which individuals are obliged – directly or indirectly – to reveal that they are non-believers. This is all the more important when such obligation occurs in the context of the provision of an important public service such as education.

The European Court has said that information about personal religious and philosophical conviction concerns some of the most intimate aspects of private life and that imposing an obligation on parents to disclose detailed information to the school authorities about their religious and philosophical convictions may constitute a violation of Article 8 of the Convention and possibly also of Article 9. In order to implement the Goodness Me Goodness You course and to facilitate segregation the school authorities consult with parents regarding their religious or philosophical convictions.

9. Community National Schools Submission to Forum on Patronage and Pluralism

The CNS encourage parents to attend religious ceremonies of other religions, to show friendship and respect while not informing parent or providing a practical solution to access their right to opt out (Document attached). That is coercion.

“Important festivals are honoured and marked in the schools. Christmas and Eid are two of the bigger celebrations – reflecting the composition of the school populations. Parents of faiths to whom these occasions may not be important are encouraged to come to the schools and join in the celebrations out of a spirit of friendship and respect for the parents and children of other faiths.

Conclusion in relation to the Religious Education programme

“In conclusion, “Goodness Me Goodness You!” is an inclusive programme, nurturing the faith of all children, respecting and celebrating faith differences and permeating the school day.”

If the CNS is celebrating faith differences then they are identifying children according to the religious or philosophical convictions of their parents.

10. Catholic Bishops Submission to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism

It is clear from this Submission that the Catholic Church views the teaching about religions in an objective manner is limited from a faith perspective. It is also worth mentioning here that the Catholic Church has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles so it is highly unlikely that they have agreed to the teaching of faiths and beliefs n the Community National Schools in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

“Religious Education

The report speaks of religious education, religious instruction, faith formation, “education about religions and belief systems” and ethics. No definition of these terms is given so it is unclear what philosophy of education underpins their use in the document. Care needs to be taken that the report uses such terms in a manner that parents would recognise. We believe that parents who are committed to a religious world-view expect that Religious Education should introduce their child to that same world-view.

It became clear at the forum sessions in June that all Patrons want to provide some form of programme with regard to religion and ethics. Such a programme could take a phenomenological approach as happens in many secular schools across Europe where children are introduced to religions as one datum among many others. The phenomenological approach is useful but it is very limited from a faith-based perspective. It amounts to education about religions and beliefs rather than education into and from religious faith.”

The reason that they Catholic Church gave for rejecting the Toledo Guiding Principles is below. It is not reasonable to assume that the Goodness Me Goodness you course in the CNS is delivered in objective, critical and pluralistic manner and in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles.

“Furthermore, the Holy See has noted the upcoming presentation of the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools and is surprised. While recognizing that they were prepared by the Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion, it is difficult to understand why participating States, especially the Holy See that speaks openly on matters of religion, were not consulted. The Document contains a reductive view of religion and a conception of the secular nature of States and their neutrality that obfuscates the positive role of religion, its specific nature and contribution to society. In doing so, the document contradicts what has always marked the OSCE’s understanding of religion. http://www.osce.org/pc/28557

11. Savaz Crkava Rijec Zivota and Others v Croatia

“The Court’s assessment

114. The Court has already found that the difference in treatment between the applicant churches and those religious communities which had concluded agreements on issues of common interest with the Government of Croatia and were therefore entitled to provide religious education in public schools and nurseries and to have religious marriages they performed recognised by the State amounted to discrimination in breach of Article 14 taken together with Article 9 of the Convention (see paragraphs 92-93 above). “

12. Document 105 got by Emma O’Kelly from RTE under FOI

It is clear from Document 105 that the ‘Goodness Me Goodness You’ programme is not objective, as when a parent asked about moral education he/she was informed that moral values were taught within a religious context.

Q. “Would it not be more appropriate to call the programme moral education instead of religious education?
Religious education has been the cause of division and war. Moral education has a unifying effect as we all share a similar value system.

A. It is true that all morality is based on love – of God and one’s neighbour. This will be a central theme in the Religious Education programme. However, moral values are taught within a religious context; we cannot divorce them from that setting.”

13. Religious Education and Faith Formation in the CNS

The Irish State has entered an agreement with the various faith groups to provide for “religious education and faith formation during the school day for each of the main faith groups represented. The press release in 2007 from the then Minister Hanafin announcing the schools stated that:-

“A general ethics programme will also be available for children whose parents opt for that….”
(attached)

A general ethics programme that would comply with human rights law, in particular Article 8 of the European Convention, never materialised in the ETB/CNS. Instead the ‘Goodness Me Goodness You’ Course was developed. This is not objective, as it is described as faith and belief nurturing not the teaching about religions, beliefs and ethics in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

The GMGY programme links to the press release from the then Minister, Mary Hanafin. That press release never referred to faith and belief nurturing but to religious education and formation.

The GMGY programme states that:

“For whom was GMGY written?

GMGY was written primarily for children attending the Community National Schools (CNS). It is also written for teachers and parents. Nurturing the beliefs of all children, in keeping with family faith/belief tradition, is clearly stated in the Minister for Education’s statement, announcing the establishment of the Community National Schools (CNS) in 2007.

“In many of our new communities, however, there is a need for an additional choice that can accommodate the diverse preferences of parents for varying forms of religious education and faith formation during the school day, in a single school environment that includes and respects children of all religions and none.”

In addition the CNS speak about integrating the CNS ethos throughout the school day and into other areas of the curriculum.

It seems to us that they have changed language in order to make religious education and formation more palatable in state schools.

14. On page 14 of the GMGY Curriculum for Senior class overview

This states that:

“Beliefs and religions

This strand seeks to develop children’s understanding of religion and belief, for self and other, through a comparative curriculum of belief and religions. The strand encourages inter-belief dialogue and the sharing of personal belief experience (religious and secular) in order to enable children to learn ‘about’ and ‘from’religion. The family plays an important role in this strand by informing the child about the beliefs and traditions of the home; the child then shares this perspective with their peers and listens to the perspectives of others. In this strand, parents are enabled to nurture the belief of their child and the school supports them in this process of belief-nurturing.”

It is clear that the GMGY is not neutral and objective as children are enabled to learn about and from religion. (attached)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 John Colgan February 8, 2017 at 11:11 pm

Congratulations on the great effort you have put into preparing this submission. Good luck with its progress.

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