According to the Irish newspaper the Belfast Telegraph, Ireland's record on religion in schools will come under scrutiny next year during a review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The reason is that the way in which religion is taught in the overwhelming majority of schools in the Republic of Ireland may be a breach of the human rights of children.
The Government has been told it is time for it to reconsider the role of religion and how it is taught in Irish classrooms.
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHCR) has in a discussion paper pointed out that parents have the right to withdraw their children from any instruction that conflicts with their own convictions. This may, however, not be enough considering the very prominent role played by religious orders in Irish education.
While most people in Ireland define themselves as belonging to the Roman Catholic Church or Church of Ireland, a significant number now define themselves as being of no belief or of Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other beliefs.
By the end of January, recommendations will be made to the Government on the measures required for the State to meet its human rights obligations in this area.
Although the Irish situation may be seen as “somewhat unique internationally”, the IHCR also pointed to the fact that all countries were grappling with the issue regarding the role of religion and its teaching in their national school systems.
- - - -
For my own part I welcome the initiative taken by the UN Human Rights Council and would hope that it will also apply to other countries such as Austria, where the teaching of religion is organised in conformity with a long-standing agreement with the Catholic church, which, for instance, may object to the appointment of teachers not acceptable to them.
In my view, religion should not be taught in any schools but students should be taught about religions in an unbiased and non-confessional way by teachers who are no preachers and also be taught about alternative life stances, such as humanism. In connection with that, students should also learn about ethical standards and human rights.
This subject should not be optional but treated in the same manner as other sucbjects, such as history, literature, philosophy and geography.
Religion may be taught and practised in churches, mosques, synagoges and temples and taught privately to students by their parents or others, but not in schools. To teach small children how to pray is not education. It is indoctrination.