Atheist Ireland has responded today to the interim report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in primary education. The Forum is to send its final report to the Minister for Education by the end of December.
On the surface the Forum seems to be moving in the right direction, but the interim report proposes a very gradual approach that does not in practice vindicate the rights of nonreligious parents. My greatest concern is that they do not seem to appreciate the legal obligation to respect the human rights of parents who want secular education for their children.
For example, during the opening presentation of the interim report, an unscripted remark described the suggested removal of crucifixes in classrooms as “sensationalist nonsense”. While I did not expect the forum to support the removal of crucifixes from classrooms, I suspect that they would not even consider explicitly disrespecting any religiously-inspired suggestion in this way.
The right to a classroom free of religious symbols is central to mainstream secularism, and is not an extremist position. The European Court of Human Rights upheld this right in Italy as protecting freedom of conscience. This was overturned on appeal, citing the otherwise secular nature of Italian state schools. The situation is different in Ireland, where we do not have secular state schools to counterbalance the influence of symbols.
The key tests of the final report will be whether its advice includes effective remedies that make it enforceable in practice, whether all schools must convey all parts of the curriculum in an “objective, critical and pluralistic manner”, and whether secular non-denominational schools are widely available in all regions of the State. These tests are not only compatible with, but required by, rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and/or the terms of various human rights treaties which ireland has signed up to.
It’s on our campaign website for a secular education, TeachDontPreach.ie.