A CORK parent has revealed the struggle of getting her children opted out of religion in school.
Elaine Dromey lives in the Cork city area. Her two sons, who are not religious, still have to sit at the back of the room during religion class.
This is the case in most Irish schools, where supervision or another subject is not offered to those who aren’t doing religion.
Elaine, who has three children, sent her two eldest children to an Educate Together primary school.
However, the family moved to a different area of Cork which meant her children’s schooling options were limited. Both she and her husband work full-time which meant they could not drive their children to schools further afield.
Her eldest son attended the local denominational secondary school because there was no Educate Together secondary school in Cork at the time.
Before her son began school, Elaine attended a routine meeting with the vice principal. She asked whether her son not having a religion would be an issue, and was assured it would not pose any problems.
“However, students had to do religion as an exam subject for junior cycle. My son couldn’t opt-out of this. I was told it was not focused on any one faith, and there was no ‘indoctrination’.”
“But in religion class, the curriculum was Christian-centric. I asked to have him taken out of the class, but I was told that it could not be facilitated.”
“There’s no study hall or anyone to supervise, I was told he can’t leave the classroom. I was stonewalled.”
Elaine says she was not given the option to remove her son from the class and to supervise him herself.
Elaine’s son did not attend his own graduation ceremony, as it was said by a priest.
“I even asked him at this stage would he not just go and sit through it. He said it would be disingenuous of him to go. I rang up the school, asking why the graduation ceremony had to be a religious one.
“Their response was that it was a ‘tradition’ and that they still ‘included’ people from different faiths or no faith. But by having a religious service for one particular faith, how is that inclusive?”
Elaine’s daughter, her middle child, is attending the relatively new Educate Together secondary school and has not encountered any problems.
However, her youngest son is 12 and is still in primary school. He attends his local denominational school. While there is an Educate Together primary school in the city, Elaine explains that her son was too young to take the bus on his own when they first moved.
Elaine’s son is still in the room when religion is being taught.
“Anytime they have religion, he just has to sit at the back of the class, with one other child who is Muslim. The school is very good and is very multicultural. But there’s just nowhere for my son to go,” Elaine says.
“At Christmas time there is a mass and they all go to the church. My son sits with the other non-Catholic kids at the back of the church. I asked why can’t one teacher stay behind in the school and supervise the children? I was told it couldn’t be facilitated.”
At this school, Elaine was given the option to take her son out of the class and supervise him herself.
“However, I would not have been able to do this anyway, as we both work.”
Elaine also explained that children who do not take religion are not allowed to do their homework and cannot be given extra work because this would give them an “unfair advantage”.
“So, he normally reads a book or just listens in. Sometimes he’s given messages to do,” she says.
“He does listen in to the parables and the teaching, and I’ve asked him would he like to be religious, but he says no. It’s strange having your child as an observer like that, as I myself did religion in school.”
Elaine’s son hasn’t made his communion and won’t make his confirmation.
“I said to him if he did want to be religious, that was fine and we would support that, but he wasn’t allowed to get the sacraments just for the money. There are people who do believe and the sacraments are important to them, and I want to respect that. My child won’t do them just for the sake of it.”
Elaine said that she believes the wider issue of church control over schools needs to be examined. “It upsets me how much power the church still has. I know the schools’ hands are tied, and that the religious orders sit on their boards… but schools are publicly funded. I want my children to make informed choices and not have a belief system imposed on them. I just think faith formation should not be in schools.”