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Students who opt-out of religion classes should be taught another subject

Richard Bruton said the new guidelines would mean children who don’t study religion “will no longer be sitting at the back of the class”.

Image: PhilipYb Studio via Shutterstock

A NEW SET of guidelines issued by the government say that students who don’t want to take part in religion classes should be taught another subject instead of supervised study or other activities.

The circular applies to religious instruction and worship at Education Training Board and Community Post Primary schools whose purpose is to “serve their communities however composed”. This means that religion-run schools are exempt.

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton said today that his Department had published a circular for schools setting out a new approach that would mean “children who do not want to participate in religious instruction will no longer be sitting at the back of the class or confined to the library”.

The department said that when schools were first established it was “reasonable… to assume that its pupil population was predominantly Catholic and to arrange religious instruction accordingly”.

However, this is no longer an appropriate approach. In a changing context the constitutional right not to attend religious instruction must be given effect through changed practices.

It added that as well as the students who don’t study religion being taught another subject, parents will no longer have to request a withdrawal from religious instruction.

The wishes of parents will have to be established as part of the process for planning and organising of subject selection, the department said.

The new arrangements, which will take effect immediately, will require schools to provide alternative timetabled tuition for those who do not want instruction in any religion.

Parents will also have to be consulted in relation to the school’s arrangements for worship and religious events, whether they wish their children to participate or not.

There may be occasions or events where parents may wish to participate, such as mass during school time, and schools “will need to plan accordingly”.

Minister Bruton added “It is important that ETB and Community Post Primary schools as multi-denominational schools, fully implement this circular as it presents an important opportunity to meet the expectations of parents and students in a changing society.

“This can only be achieved by consulting with parents, and including their wishes as part of the normal planning process of any school.”

Read: ‘No more baptism barrier’: Catholic schools won’t use religion as admission criteria, says Bruton

Read: Archbishop says Church stubbornly reluctant to let go of the control of schools

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