A human rights group in Ireland claims that students are being coerced into attending religious classes that are in contravention of a ruling that is supposed to allow state school attendees to opt out of religious courses.

“Many schools make religious study compulsory or coerce students into the course. If students do manage to opt out they are left sitting at the back of the class,” Jane Donnelly, a human rights officer with Atheist Ireland, told New Europe while pointing out that, in February 2018, Ireland’s Department of Education ruled that students could opt out of religion class and pick an alternative elective in state schools at the secondary education level.

“Students have a constitutional right to opt out of religion classes, but no other subject is being offered. State schools have religious courses, but many also have a Catholic or Protestant religion class, mainly Catholic, as well. What usually happens is that the schools join the two classes together and make it mandatory.”

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland refused to implement the government’s ruling and claimed that they needed more resources before alternatives could be properly introduced.

Donnelly told New Europe that her organisation “expected the Catholic Church to object, but we were taken aback that the Teacher’s Union also refused to comply with the government’s decision. We have been campaigning for this for years because religious courses are supposed to be optional.”

“The result of all this is that things deteriorate in schools for minorities. Schools and teachers have gained a new confidence in forcing students into taking the religion class,” Donnelly added.

Atheist Ireland has written to all political parties that are contesting the local elections in Ireland on 24 May and asking them to support the right of students to attend state schools without attending religion classes and for students who do not attend to be given an alternative subject to study.

“The Irish Government seems to have capitulated in the face of lobbying on this. The position of students is worse now than it was before. Students have a constitutional right to drop out of religion and a human right to do so,” said Donnelly.

About 160,000 secondary school students are affected by the current educational practices- almost half the secondary school population in the Education and Training Board of Ireland.

 This content is part of the ‘Religious Freedom’ section supported by the Faith and Freedom Summit Coalition.