A proposal to reduce the time dedicated to religious education in primary schools will further undermine the “distinctive ethos” of Catholic schools, Dr Tom Finegan of The Iona Institute has said.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week, Dr Finegan criticised pressures being placed on Catholic schools to become ever more secular through a range of moves relating to curriculum and timetabling which seeks to erode the time given to religious education. In the latest such move, it is reported that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) may recommend this autumn a reduction in religious education class time to accommodate increased time devoted to new and core subjects.
Challenging this apparent diminution of the place of religious education, Dr Finegan said “Part of a school having a religious ethos involves being able to teach the ethos in question as true, worthwhile and important.” And he added: “It seems there is very serious pressure coming from State bodies on Catholic schools to become as secular and as agnostic as possible – even though this is to the detriment of parental rights and parental choice in education.”
The issue of parental rights, Dr Finegan pointed out, also touched on recent calls, led by Atheist Ireland, for religious education to be removed completely as a compulsory subject at secondary level.
“The goal of removing religion and faith from all schools is completely misguided,” he said. “Parents have a right to educate their children according to their own religious convictions, and this includes the right to choose schools that give expression to the faith they wish to pass on.” Removing religious education he said “attacks the rights of parents who want a faith education for their children”.
This was a perspective echoed by Fr Eugene Duffy, of the theology department at Mary Immaculate College.
Parents’ rights need to be respected,” he told this newspaper. “If they choose to send their children to faith-based schools this needs to be recognised.”
Referring to the campaign by Atheist Ireland, which has received backing from some in the Evangelical and Muslim communities, Fr Duffy warned that “there is no neutral ground to which we can all migrate” as any alternative, even secular, to religious education, is bound to be fraught with inherent biases.