Religion will effectively be made optional in Irish secondary schools.
The Minister for Education, Richard Bruton has confirmed the change in a circular released today, stating that it is a constitutional right for students who chose not to participate in religion class to be offered an alternative, meaningful program.
Community and ETB (Education and Training Board) schools will now offer students a different subject, should they opt out of studying religion.
Previously, students who chose not to partake in religious education - which required parental consent and approval from the school principle - were forced to sit at the back of the class or in the library with no alternative study offered. In many cases, these students were not allowed to complete coursework of any other subject while in the class, nor were they allowed wear earphones.
Groups such as Atheist Ireland have long campaigned on the issue of religious education in State schools for parents and students who are not religious.
The change will come into effect immediately in more than 300 multi-denominational second-level schools.
Minister Bruton (below) stated, "It is important that Education and Training Board (ETB) and Community Post Primary schools as multi-denominational schools, fully implement this circular as it presents an important opportunity to meet the expectations of parents and students in a changing society."
"This can only be achieved by consulting with parents, and including their wishes as part of the normal planning process of any school," he added.
In a letter issued to Irish schools today, the Department of Education maintained 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 read.
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