Atheist Ireland has had a positive reaction to our plans to develop the first ever course about atheism for primary school children in Ireland. We will be working with Educate Together to coordinate this project, with information provided by us and developed into lessons by professionals.

The Irish State discriminates against secular parents and their children. They take no positive steps to protect secular parents and their children from religious discrimination in the education system. There are no secular, non-denominational public schools in Ireland.

The Irish education system is funded by the Irish state, but the state effectively franchises the running of schools to private bodies called patrons. The patrons employ teachers and set the ethos of the school, and the state funds the maintenance of the schools and pays the teachers’ wages.

Over 90 per cent of patrons are Roman Catholic Bishops. Most of the rest are clerics from other churches, and there are a small number of multi-denominational Educate Together schools.

Religious schools can legally give preference to co-religionists in order to uphold their religious ethos. Parents are required to produce a Catholic Baptismal Certificate when enrolling their children at the only local school.

Schools can also legally dismiss a teacher if they do not uphold the religious ethos of the school. This religious discrimination is not confined to the school environment but also involves the private life of the teacher.

Catholic Schools in Ireland operate a religious integrated curriculum. Religion is integrated into the curriculum and the daily life of the school. The UN Human Rights Committee has raised concern regarding the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools as it denied parents access to a secular education for their children. They said that it was discrimination, and breached the right to freedom of conscience, the rights if the child and the right to equality before the law.

Atheist Ireland’s new course about atheism will provide an alternative option for parents who do not want their children indoctrinated with religious beliefs at primary school.

Our lessons about atheism will be based on the Toledo guiding principles and will be taught in an objective, critical and pluralist manner. They will teach about atheism, not teach atheism.

Atheist Ireland would be as opposed to teaching children that atheism is true as we are opposed to teaching children that specific religious beliefs are true. Instead, children should be given the information and thinking skills to evaluate the plausibility of various claims, and make up their own minds.

The initial project will involve a set of ten lessons for one age grouping, to be decided (either Junior and Senior Infants; or 1st/2nd class; or 3rd/4th class; or 5th/6th class). Ultimately we would like to develop it into four sets of ten lessons, one for each of those four age groups.

The lessons will be 30-40 minutes in length. Professionals will be employed to write lessons, and a co-ordinator will be employed to manage the project.

The lessons will be piloted in Educate Together schools. Feedback will be gathered and the lessons amended accordingly. The lessons will then be formally launched and promoted throughout the Educate Together network.

We also hope to make course material available for parents whose children are in denominational schools, and who want material for their child to study while they are opted out of the Religious Education / Faith Formation classes.

We will be launching a fundraising campaign specifically to help finance this project, and we look forward to seeing its impact on the Irish education system.