Secondary school students will be allowed to opt out of religion class

Students at hundreds of secondary schools across the country will no longer have to sit through religion classes if they choose not to, according to the Irish Examiner.

Education Minister Richard Bruton's directive will effectively make religion an optional subject in more than 300 multi-denominational second-level schools, including more than 80 community schools where the local education and training board are co-trustees with a religious patron, according to the report. 

“The new arrangements will ensure that children who do not want to participate in religious instruction will no longer be sitting at the back of the class or confined to the library,” Mr Bruton said of the move.

In a letter issuing to schools today, the Department of Education said the past practice of arranging religious instruction based on an assumption that majority of students are Catholic is no longer appropriate.

“In a changing context, the constitutional right not to attend religious instruction must be given effect through changed practices,” the letter said.

The key change is that those who do not want to participate in religion classes must be offered an alternative subject to study, rather than simply supervised study or other activities as is the current norm.

Parents must be made aware that such an opt-out from religious instruction is available, and the Education Minister stressed that the move wasn't about adding new subjects to the current timetable. 

“It is about ascertaining the wishes of parents and reflecting those wishes in the normal arrangements involving the timetabling of choices expressed,” said a spokesperson.

Parents will also be asked if they wish their children to attend, or take part in, religious worship or other services. Parents are to be advised about the nature, frequency, timing, and duration of the services to facilitate such decisions, according to the Irish Examiner.