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Religion in schools: 'My son comes home saying things like, 'God makes it rain''

For many parents the real problems begin once their child has secured a place in school.

Various

MOST COMMENTARY ON the issue of religion in schools tends to focus on the baptism barrier, but for many parents the real problems begin once their child has secured a place in school.

Parents are in a very difficult position because removing their child from instruction they don’t believe in, often means segregating the child from the rest of the class, while the child continues to absorb the instruction anyway. This presents a huge dilemma for non-religious and minority religion families.

David Graham of Education Equality propose scheduling religious instruction at the end of the school day, outside core school hours, in order to give parents a meaningful choice as to whether their children receive this instruction. Here are some parents’ experiences.

Sinead*

I have a 10-year-old son. I put his name down for Educate Together shortly after he was born however, in the meantime, he was diagnosed with severe childhood apraxia of speech, and it was recommended that he attend a speech and language unit, attached to a mainstream primary school. We weighed up the benefits and decided that access to the speech therapist and the very small class was our priority. He’s still at the school and still receives speech therapy, however, second class (Communion year) was quite tough. We weren’t able to collect him from school all the time but he had an iPod and headphones that he would use to listen to stories when the communion preparation was in full swing. The combination of requiring access to specific learning resources and subscribing to no faith is not accommodated in Ireland. Obviously you want the best access to resources for your child, but it’s absolutely bonkers that this may include having your child endure religious instruction. A child who already has differences shouldn’t be made to feel even more different from his peers.

Julie*

My son is opted out of religious education but I allow him to take part in nativity plays and church concerts.  He was very upset to start out as they turn his chair away so he can’t take part, even though I explained to the school that I don’t mind him listening. He sang along to a song once and was told that he wasn’t allowed to.

I suggested giving him an art folder to work on, as he loves gluing, but the teacher said it would make the other children not want to do religion. I do understand the teacher’s side as she has limited resources, but my child’s wellbeing should be the priority and feeling excluded, different even, with no honest explanation to the other children about why he sits out the lesson, is appalling.

Maeve*

I finished sixth year last June. In my school religion was compulsory for Junior Cert, not just as a class, but as an exam subject. We were never told we had a right to opt out and were told that we had to do it. There was also constant involvement of Catholicism in classes, assemblies and events, so it would have been near impossible to opt out of any religious influence in the school. Many teachers did a prayer to start their class, every assembly started with a prayer, sometimes prayers were read out on the intercom, events were held in the local church with a religious ceremony, and even the sixth-year graduation ceremony was a mass.

Owen*

I have to stress that we are very happy with the school as a whole. We have attempted to opt our son out of religion butm unfortunately, it’s just not that simple because religion isn’t just for half an hour a day. It’s woven into the whole damn day. He comes home saying things like: “God makes eye colour” and “God makes it rain”.

I’ve always talked to him, using science as a background, about space, the planets, the sea and animals. We’ve always taught him to question things and keep questioning, but he’s five and his teacher is everything to him. I find it very difficult to contradict or explain other reasons for things that she’s said that God does.

Maura*

When I informed the teacher my son would not be participating in the religious education I was told I had to give a reason why. I said that as far as I was aware it wasn’t required as part of the curriculum, and besides I’m agnostic and my partner is a Protestant who has never practiced. His teacher said she would put him down as atheist. I don’t understand why I had to explain. It should just have been a choice and I’m bringing my child up without what I consider the hindrance or bias of religion. If, when he’s old enough, he chooses a faith, then I’ll support in any way I can. In the run up to Xmas each child had their photo taken and made a frame for it. When my son showed me I noticed the whole class had made star frames from six wooden lolly sticks (star of David-shaped) except my son and the two other opt-out children. They were only allowed three lolly sticks to make a triangle. Apparently the school considers stars a religious icon. He also has to sit in on all the talks given by the visiting priests (which seemed to be every week running up to Easter). They then get told that Jesus has given them a day off from homework.

*Names have been changed.

Education Equality Ireland is aiming to achieve equality in the education system for all children regardless of religious status. @edu_equal

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