The HAI has been made aware of the sentence in CJ Fallon basic spelling book used for 1st class onwards in primary schools. The sentence reads: “We should believe what we read in the Bible.” A member of public, a parent of three children attending a primary school in Dublin, who notified us about the sentence, wrote to CJ Fallon, stating:
“Given this book is used in the national curriculum in a multicultural society, I would appeal to you to consider the impact this has on children who are studying in primary schools and practise non- religions, or those who simply have no religion. To include a line such as this is exclusionary and offensive. In fact, I would suggest that listing the word “Bible” as an essential basic word is a stretch as it is, unless it’s purely in the sense of the definition being a “book of usefulness” rather than in the religious sense (and given the capitalisation of the word, I assume you refer to it in the religious sense). A sentence stating we should believe what we read in the bible is absolutely not appropriate to include in 2022, and unless you are going to include other terms such as Koran/Quran, Humanist, Atheist, etc, then you are not reflecting modern Irish society. If an 8-year-old can recognise this, surely a publishing company should?”
CJ Fallon responded by saying that this was one of their older publications and “the fact that the word Bible is in there at all shows that this is a product of its time.” They agreed that the sentence and the word should come out, and said they would “replace it with something more appropriate” in their next reprint.
The mother then inquired about when the textbook’s next edition will be reprinted (the textbook using the above-mentioned sentence showed print date 1985, and reprint date in 2020) and was told: “We only sell a small amount of it each year. Therefore, we may not even reprint it again unless there is a demand. If we do, we will make that change.”
In 2016 the Census figures indicated a surge in the non-religious category where ‘no religion’ almost doubled to 468,400, a massive 73.4% increase. ‘No religion’ is now the second largest category behind Roman Catholics with one in ten Irish citizens now identifying as non-religious.” The HAI believes the numbers will be even higher once the results of 2022 Census comes in.
It is obvious that Ireland as a society has changed, and that should be reflected in the country’s education. While the HAI appreciates the 2018 Education (Admissions to Schools) Act removing the so-called “baptism barrier” in primary schools, the HAI is also aware that the reality for many non-religious families is that there is a distinct lack of choice of school in their locality. Parents are thus forced to send their children to schools of a particular religious denomination whose ethos does not conform to their own.
There is also a clear issue regarding how to accommodate and respect children in a school where they do not belong to the ethos of the school patron. While parents do have the right under the Irish Constitution and Irish law to opt their child out of religious instruction class in school, the current practices in schools render the right to opt-out of unwanted religious indoctrination ineffective, not least because of the integrated religious curriculum, which is imposed on all children. Existing opt-out practices are wholly unsatisfactory and discourage parents from exercising their human and constitutional rights, due to the stigmatising effect it might have on their children.
A more pragmatic approach is required. In order to vindicate the rights of all parents and end classroom segregation, the simplest solution is to move religious instruction, including sacramental preparation, to the end of the school day under an ‘opt-in’ system. Religious practice is a choice, not an obligation.
The UN Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations to the fifth periodic report 2022, expressed regret over the lack of information relating to the access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools. The committee referred back to its previous recommendation from its 2014 review which recommended introducing legislation to not only prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, but to also ensure that diverse school types and curriculum options are available to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children.
The HAI strongly agrees with the UN recommendation, that the State, which gives massive funding support to the denominational sectors, should ensure that structures are put in place to protect the rights of children who do not belong to the denominations involved. Sentences such as the one in CJ Fallon spelling book does not belong in the education textbook of the modern, democratic society that Ireland now is.