HAI statement on new RSE programme for Catholic schools

The Humanist Association of Ireland deplores the new syllabus for relationship and sexuality education which has been drawn up by the Catholic Bishops to be taught in primary schools which are under Catholic patronage.

As Catholic-controlled schools account for 90% of all primary schools, virtually all primary children will be taught about sexuality and relationships in accordance with Catholic doctrine. The aims of the new syllabus are to “provide a framework based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and reflecting the dignity of each person created in the image and likeness of God”. The syllabus contains such gems as the statement: “puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him”. In a lesson on safety and protection, senior infant children are advised to say the “Angel of God” prayer. Saying prayers is not educating children about safety – it is a religious invocation. LGBTQ+ relationships are framed in religious terms – the “Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted”. So, LGBTQ+ relationships will be acknowledged, but will be presented through the lens of Catholic church teaching, which approves marriage for heterosexual couples only.

The lack of choice in schools means that many children of non-religious families have no option but to attend Catholic-controlled schools. These children will be subjected to harmful Catholic indoctrination, or they can exercise their right not to attend these classes. That means that they will be denied sexuality and relationship education altogether. The Department of Education defends the right of these schools to teach young children about sexuality and relationships through the lens of Catholic teaching, arguing that “the school should never preclude learners from acquiring the knowledge about the issues, but ethos may influence how that content is treated”. What does this mean? It means that it is acceptable for State-funded schools to give its young pupils the message that you are a lesser person if you are LGBTQ+, because marriage is for heterosexual couples only. It tells young children that they will be protected from harm if they mutter religious incantations. It tells children that they are made in the image of a male, patriarchal god.

This latest initiative by the Catholic Bishops to exert control over the development of young children in the sensitive areas of sexuality and relationships highlights the continued failure of the State to divest its schools from Catholic patronage and to provide education for children of non-religious families, and all families who do not subscribe to Catholic Church teaching in matters of sexuality and relationships.

The HAI calls on the Minister for Education to accelerate the divestment programme, and to remove the privileged position of religion in all State-funded schools.

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