How Irish teacher training breaches the human rights of atheist and non-Christian teachers

Pats Cert Rel StudiesLast week the UN Human Rights Committee asked the Irish Government if its proposed Bill to amend the Employment Equality Act specifically protects atheist teachers.

Here is a concrete example of discrimination against atheist and minority faith teachers in Ireland that will not be changed by the Bill.

Saint Patrick’s teacher training College in Dublin offers a four year Certificate in Religious Studies, awarded by Dublin City University.

It is described as “as a valuable preparation and necessary qualification for a career in Catholic Schools.” This means that it is required for a career as a teacher in any of the Catholic schools that represent over 90% of the primary schools in Ireland.

The college claims that the course “is open to students of all faiths or those who do not espouse any religious tradition.” However, it involves many elements that many conscientious atheists or non-Catholic religious people could not carry out.

Here are some of the elements of the course:

  • The Programme Objectives include “To be sensitive to the importance of the meaning and value of spirituality and of religious experience in human life,” and “to assist the participants to have the opportunity to engage in personal reflection, research and discourse with a view to enhancing their own religious awareness.”
  • One of the Learning Outcomes in the module on Liturgy and Sacraments is to “Demonstrate an understanding of how to prepare a para-liturgy in the primary school.”
  • Three of the Learning Outcomes in the module on Spirituality and the Educator are to “Demonstrate an understanding of the importance of exploring the significance of Spirituality for the Educator personally and in relation to those they teach,” and “Examine/reflect on their own spirituality/received influences,” and “Explore and gain a deeper understanding of and possible appreciation for the riches of the Christian tradition and its relevance for the educator in particular.”
  • Two of the Learning outcomes in the module on Religious Education and the Child are to “Examine the literature on the faith development of young children,” and “Demonstrate competence in the planning of liturgy, prayer and sacraments (Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation) in the Catholic primary school.”
  • One of the Learning Outcomes in the module on The Professional Practitioner in religious Education is to “Demonstrate ways in which Religious Education can be integrated with other areas of the primary school curriculum.”

This is not an objective course in religious studies. It is a course that includes doctrinal elements and religious faith formation, and which overtly aims to religiously influence the participants in the course, as distinct from teaching the participants about religious studies in a neutral and objective manner.

How can Saint Patrick’s College and Dublin City University seriously claim that this course “is open to students of all faiths or those who do not espouse any religious tradition”?

Yet completing this course is a requirement for teaching in any of the Catholic schools that represent over 90% of the primary schools in Ireland.

All training colleges in Ireland are denominationally run, Catholic or Anglican, state funded institutions. There are no non-denominational teacher training colleges in the country.

This is a direct quote from the College’s FAQ about this course:

“Do I have to do the Religious Certificate in Religious Studies?

The Certificate in Religious Studies is a requirement for teaching in a Catholic primary school. Teachers applying for positions in Catholic primary schools in Ireland are expected to hold this qualification which equips them to teach religious education according to the tenets of the Catholic faith. The Certificate in Religious Studies (CRS), offered by St Patrick’s College (SPD), meets this requirement and has, in the past, enabled graduates to secure teaching positions in Catholic schools both in Ireland and elsewhere.”

If I choose not to study for the CRS, are there any repercussions?

As the vast majority of schools are under Catholic management you will be limiting the number of schools where you can hold a teaching position. Also, although some people have secured employment in Catholic schools in the past without the Cert, many such teachers have found that upon seeking promotion (e.g. principalships) they are ineligible to apply.”

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Michael,

    “This means that it is required for a career as a teacher in any of the Catholic schools that represent over 90% of the primary schools in Ireland.”

    “Yet completing this course is a requirement for teaching in any of the Catholic schools that represent over 90% of the primary schools in Ireland.”

    Does the actual percentage affect the issue?

    If it was less – say 60%, 30% or even 1% – would it then be OK for a school patron to insist on a religious course to be a requirement for teaching in their schools?

    I agree that it is a serious issue (I come from a minority religious position!).

    I’m just wondering if the percentage is relevant to the basic argument or whether it’s simply objectionable to require a religious course of this nature for teaching in a (state funded) school – even if it was just 1 school.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Also can you clarify – doesn’t Hibernia College modify this statement?

    “All training colleges in Ireland are denominationally run, Catholic or Anglican, state funded institutions. There are no non-denominational teacher training colleges in the country.”

    It’s a privately funded (non-denominational from what I can determine) post-graduate training college. It’s where my wife trained.

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