A viable, workable opt out option is what I'd like to see, where kids are not seen a 'different' or 'not fitting in' in the short term.
The problem with seeking a workable opt out from religion in denominational schools is that it is simply not achievable because the Irish Constitution does not protect your children from being influenced to some degree into a religious way of life in those schools.
This is what the Supreme Court stated in Campaign to Separate Church and State v Minister for Education.
The Constitution therefore distinguishes between religious ‘education’ and religious ‘instruction’ – the former being the much wider term. A child who attends a school run by a religious denomination different from his own may have a constitutional right
not to attend religious instruction at that school but the Constitution cannot protect him from being influenced, to some degree, by the religious ‘ethos’ of the school. A religious denomination is not obliged to change the general atmosphere of its school merely to
accommodate a child of a different religious persuasion who wishes to attend that school.”
This obviously means that schools are not legally obliged to change their atmosphere in order that your children will not be influenced into a religious way of life. In order for you to opt your children out of religion that is integrated into all subjects you would first have to know exactly what each teacher is doing in all the subjects so that you can opt out your child. That is simply far too much of a burden for any parent.
The difficulty for Ruairi Quinn and the Irish State is that they are obliged under human rights law to respect the philosophical convictions of non religious parents. Respect does not mean that the children of non-religious parents can be influenced into a religious way of life while accessing their human right to education. The right to respect is an absolute right rather than one that had to be balanced against the rights of others or which could be gradually achieved. The non-religious are not respected in denominational schools because these schools operate a religious integrated curriculum where it is impossible to opt out.
The European Court of Human Rights put it in the recent Lautsi V Italy case :-
“(e) Respect for parents' religious convictions and for children's beliefs implies the right to believe in a religion or not to believe in any religion. The freedom to believe and the freedom not to believe (negative freedom) are both protected by Article 9 of the Convention (see, in relation to Article 11, Young, James and Webster v. the United Kingdom, 13 August 1981, §§ 52-57, Series A no. 44).
The State's duty of neutrality and impartiality is incompatible with any kind of power on its part to assess the legitimacy of religious convictions or the ways of expressing those convictions. In the context of teaching, neutrality should guarantee pluralism (see Folgerø, cited above, § 84).”
Religious schools cannot guarantee pluralism simply because the curriculum is not delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, it is delivered through the eyes of the Catholic Church in over 92% of schools. The very purpose of a religious ethos is to influence children into a religious way of life.
Another issue for Ruairi Quinn is that the Supreme Court said that a school was not obliged to change its atmosphere if a parent of a different religious persuasion wishes to attend that school. Of course non-religious parents do not WISH to attend religious schools where their children will be influenced into a religious way of life and they are not a religious persuasion.
According to Article 42.3.1 of the Constitution “The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.”
The above would seem to mean that the State cannot oblige parents to send their children to schools where their children will be influenced into a religious way of life if that is against their conscience but of course that is exactly what the state does. You are legally obliged to send your children to school up to the age of sixteen and if the state has not ‘provided for’ a non-denominational school in your local area it means that you have no option but to attend a religious school in violation of your conscience and lawful preference. The State are saying that they have discharged their obligation to ‘provide for’ education under Article 42 of the Constitution if they provide that education in the local Catholic School even though the Supreme Court has said that those schools can influence your children into a religious way of life. Now that simply does not make sense especially as the Constitution also says that parents are the primary educators of their children.
This is the absolute mess that Ruairi Quinn wants to sort out and good luck to him because he will need it. I’m sure that he is aware that the Constitution Review Group Report stated in 1995 :-
“If Article 44.2.4 did not provide these safeguards the state might well be in breach of its international obligations and if that were to occur the State will be in breach of its obligations under Article 42.3.1.”