Letter to the NCCA on Secondary R.E. course

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Ygern
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Letter to the NCCA on Secondary R.E. course

Post by Ygern » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:01 am

[Posting on behalf of Marks]
Dr Anne Looney,
Chief Executive Officer,
National Council for Curriculum & Assessment,
24 Merrion Square,
Dublin 2.

11 October 2010.

Dear Dr Looney,

As the Education Officer of Atheist Ireland (see http://www.atheist.ie), I wish to make a complaint concerning the second level Religious Education course under the curriculum. This course disrespects the philosophical convictions of non-religious parents and breaches their human rights. It cannot be claimed that the Religious Education course is suitable for all students as in order to access the course the children of non-religious parents must endure the disrespect of the State for their parent’s philosophical convictions. This is discrimination and a breach of their human rights.

There is a positive obligation on the State under Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights which gives parents the right to demand from the State respect for their philosophical convictions and respect for the dignity of all human beings in the teaching about religions and beliefs under the curriculum. There is also an obligation on the State to avoid a situation where pupils face a conflict between the course and the philosophical convictions of their parents.
The European Court of Human Rights has stated that: “where the Contracting States include the study of religion in the subjects on school curricula, and irrespective of the arrangements for exemption, pupils’ parents may legitimately expect that the subject will be taught in such a way as to meet the criteria of objectivity and pluralism, and with respect for their religious or philosophical convictions” (para 68, Hasan and Eylem Zengin v Turkey, ECHR, 9th October 2007).

The United Nations in their General Comment on Article 13- The Right to Education – International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has said: “Article 13(3) has two elements, one of which is that State parties undertake to respect the liberty of parents and guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions. The Committee is of the view that this element of article 13(3) permits public school instruction in subjects such as the general history of religions and ethics if it is given in an unbiased and objective way, respectful of the freedoms of opinion, conscience and expression. It notes that public education that includes instruction in a particular religion or belief is inconsistent with article 13(3) unless provision is made for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives that would accommodate the wishes of parents and guardians.”

As well as discovering that the content of the Religious Education course disrespects non-religious parents we have learned that some schools are combining the Religious Education course under the curriculum with the Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students. These schools are then presenting the course to non-religious parents as a compulsory subject along with English, Irish and Mathematics and thus as suitable for all religions and none. It cannot be claimed that this course is suitable for all religions and none as it disrespects the philosophical convictions of non-religious parents and has elements of religious formation.
One of the stated aims of the Religious Education course at second level is “To appreciate the richness of religious traditions and to acknowledge the non-religious interpretation of life”. The non-religious interpretation of life is merely acknowledged in passing in a section of the course alongside materialism and fundamentalism called ‘Challenges to Faith’.

Merely acknowledging the non-religious interpretation of life does not constitute respect for the philosophical convictions of non-religious parents under Article 2 of Protocol 1 (Right to Education) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has stated: “The verb ‘respect’ means more than ‘acknowledge’ or ‘take into account’. In addition to a primarily negative undertaking, it implies some positive obligation on the part of the State. The term ‘conviction’, taken on its own, is not synonymous with the words ‘opinions’ and ‘ideas’. It denotes views that attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance (see Valsamis, pp. 2323-24, & 25 and 27, and Campbell and Cosans, pp. 16-17, & 36-37)” (para 84-c – General Principles Folgero v Norway, ECHR, 29th June 2007).
The Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students issued by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference states: “The syllabus, intended for certification and assessment, drawn up by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, allows flexibility in regard to the actual presentation of its content according to particular Christian denominations and faith traditions.” Section 30(2)(e) of the Education Act does not oblige schools to inform parents that they are combining the Religious Education Course under the curriculum with the Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students. In any school that has a religious ethos such as Denominational Schools, VEC Community Schools and VEC Designated Community Colleges, the Board of Management has a legal right to teach this course through the lens of the Catholic Church. These schools can therefore combine the Religious Education course under the curriculum with the Guidelines for the faith formation and development of Catholic students. This course has elements of religious formation and is not delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner which is a requirement of human rights law. It accepts as a truth the existence of a God and it is not neutral and objective. This course does not confine itself to the general history and ethics of religion. It gives priority to Christians and in particular Catholics over other religions and philosophies of life. It identifies with and supports students from a Christian and Catholic background.

There is a clear difference between this and what is required by human rights law as the European Court of Human Rights has stated: “The second sentence of Article 2 implies on the other hand that the State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, enabling pupils to develop a critical mind with regard to religion (see, in particular, paragraph 14 of Recommendation 1720 (2005) Council of Europe, in a calm atmosphere which is free of any misplaced proselytism” (para 52, Hasan and Eylem Zengin v Turkey, ECHR, 9th October 2007).

The United Nations Human Rights Committee in their General Comment on Article 18 (Freedom of Conscience) of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights stated the following: “The Committee is of the view that article 18.4 permits public school instruction in subjects such as the general history of religions and ethics if it is given in a neutral and objective way. The liberty of parents or legal guardians to ensure that their children receive a religious and moral education in conformity with their own convictions, set forth in article 18.4, is related to the guarantees of the freedom to teach a religion or belief stated in article 18.1. The Committee notes that public education that includes instruction in a particular religion or belief is inconsistent with article 18.4 unless provision is made for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives that would accommodate the wishes of parents and guardians.”

There are now two significant cases at the European Court of Human Rights in relation to Religious Education courses – Folgero v Norway (29th June 2007) and Hasan and Eylem Zengin v Turkey (9th October 2007), and many more that relate to education in general. There is also a case at the United Nations – Leirvag v Norway (23rd November 2004). These cases show us that our education system breaches the fundamental human rights of non-religious parents. The UN Human Rights Committee has already raised the issue of a religious integrated curriculum at primary level and this also applies to second level denominational Schools and any VEC school that operates a religious integrated curriculum such as Community Schools and Designated Community Colleges. The United Nations stated: “The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education (Article 2 Freedom from Discrimination, Article 18 Freedom of Conscience, Article 24 The Rights of the Child and Article 26 Equality Before the Law)” (CCPR/C/IRL/CO/3 – July 2008 – International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights).

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has issued Guidelines that provide an overview of the human rights framework and legal issues to consider when developing curricula about religions in order to ensure that the freedom of thought, conscience and religion of all those touched by the process are respected (see http://www.osce.org/publications/odihr/ ... 993_en.pdf). It notes that, “Teaching about religions and beliefs is most effective when combined with efforts to instill respect for the rights of others, even when there is disagreement about religions or beliefs. The right to freedom of religion or belief is a universal right and carries with it an obligation to respect the rights of others, including respect for the dignity of all human beings.”

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in their Recommendation 1720 - 2005 have stated that the aim of this type of education should be to make pupils discover the religions practised in their own and neighbouring countries, to make them perceive that everyone has the same right to believe that their religion is the “true faith” and that other people are not different human beings through having a different religion or not having a religion at all. They have also stated that “by teaching children the history and philosophy of the main religions with restraint and objectivity and with respect for the values of the European Convention on Human Rights, it will effectively combat fanaticism”.

It is difficult to see how this course can play a role in tolerance and mutual understanding and develop in students the skills needed to engage with those of no religious tradition, given that the State has no respect for the philosophical convictions of the non-religious and that the course is not taught with respect for the values of the European Convention on Human Rights. Atheist Ireland urges you to commission an urgent review of the post-primary Religious Education course to determine how its status, curriculum and delivery might be revised such that the rights of non-religious parents and children are met.

Should either you or your colleagues feel that it would be useful to meet to discuss these issues in greater depth, I would be more than happy to do so. I look forward to hearing your substantive responses to the points developed above.

Yours sincerely,
Jane Donnelly
(etc)
Tulip1
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Re: Letter to the NCCA on Secondary R.E. course

Post by Tulip1 » Tue Oct 12, 2010 7:13 am

At first glance very good, I am in a hurry though and will read it better when I am home again
Pope says atheists pick & choose their morals. Correct. Today I will be frowning on child abuse & not having a problem with homosexuality.
Feardorcha
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Re: Letter to the NCCA on Secondary R.E. course

Post by Feardorcha » Tue Oct 12, 2010 9:21 am

Excellent!

There is a website at http://www.ncca.ie/en/Curriculum_and_As ... elopments/
where you can give your views on the curriculum and join the discussion in the blog section. I see a couple of comments already from pupils wanting to drop Religion from the curriculum.
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