Education: A foundation for life

The Humanist Association of Ireland supports the view that education is a foundation for life and that teaching in state-funded schools should be objective, pluralistic and always encourage critical thinking. It should promote learning in all forms, be inclusive and develop a respect for learning, a respect for each other and a respect for difference.

Education is a key part of the HAI’s work, and the advancement of education about humanism is one of our charitable objects. We regularly receive requests for advice and information from non-religious parents on issues relating to the education of their children. We provide support and guidance to parents and teachers, including humanism lesson plans, school speakers, guidance on the rights of parents and children, including exercising your rights to opt a child out of religious instruction.

Resources for schools

The HAI and Educate Together have found common ground in their objective of securing a more equal education system that is inclusive and equality based. In May 2017, the HAI and Educate Together launched a joint initiative to introduce humanist lesson plans into Educate Together primary schools. These lesson plans are still widely used, and they are available here as a free downloadable teaching resource. There are separate plans for 1st & 2nd class, and 3rd & 4th class.

The HAI also provide free humanist speakers for schools and colleges. To request a visit from one of our volunteer speakers, please email

We also have a list of recommended books on humanism.

Resources for parents

There is a right under the Irish Constitution to attend any school receiving public funding and not attend religious teaching. Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution states:

Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

There is no doubt that some progress has been made in advancing the rights of the non-religious in our education system. The introduction of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 allows all children an equal right to attend Catholic primary schools regardless of their religious background, removing the so-called ‘Baptism Barrier’. Earlier in 2016 the rule that gave religion classes a privileged status at primary level was abolished. The HAI has a very useful guide for parents on the Education (Admission to Schools) Act. The Act was introduced to implement a fairer system of school admissions.  Using a Q&A format, the HAI document explains the rights of parents who are not religious (or are of a different belief system) when their child’s school operates under a Catholic patronage.

Parents have the right under the Irish Constitution and Irish law to opt their child out of religious instruction class in school. Section 62(7)(n) of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 also obligates schools to put arrangements in place for students who wish to opt out of religious instruction. In conjunction with our Guide to the Act, we have provided a sample letter to support any parents that do not want their child to attend religious instruction. You can simply enter the principal’s name and your child’s name, and the letter is ready for use.

The letter can be downloaded here.

Education Campaign

Schools are where many non-religious people encounter their first discrimination, and it can be a challenge for children, parents and teachers to work their way through this. At a time when the percentage of non-religious in Ireland is growing on an ongoing basis, it is unacceptable for both children and teachers to experience direct discrimination. The HAI advocates for removing discrimination in our education system and promoting equal respect during the school day. All citizens of Ireland have the right to freedom of religion, and to religious non-discrimination.

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