- Aug 21, 2005
Irish atheist student says school forced him to attend prayer meeting | Irish News and Politics spanning the US, Ireland and the World | IrishCentralA young Irish atheist has made an official complaint after his school forced him to attend a multi-denominational prayer service.
Teenager Nathan Young has complained to the Irish Human Rights Commission that his vocational education committee (VEC) school breached his human rights.
The 16-year-old student at Borrisokane community college in Tipperary has demanded that the school principal apologize and promise not to make religious events mandatory for students in the future.
The report above is based on a story from the Sunday Times.
One of the best reflections on the story comes from a contributor to a poorly contributed to (in numbers terms) site called the Irish Catholics' Forum from what looks like one of the main contributors to the site, hibernicus:He was refused permission to leave the service by the acting deputy vice-principal who told him it was a multi-denominational event for all religions.
Young disputes a claim by one of the religion teachers who wrote the services programme that it was for Christians or atheists or agnostics or whatever.
He claims God was mentioned 28 times and Jesus six through-out the service, which included three hymns, two Bible
readings and references to baptism and the Eucharistic Congress.
Irish Catholics' Forum - Irish Catholic Forum vs Atheist.ie
As he notes, the school itself is at fault as no one should be forced to attend a religious service against their will and this applies to young adults too. Secondly, the teachers and principles do not seem in any way aware that there is any contest for the truth present here: it is simply a smorgasbord of relativism (albeit with the food on offer all having a tang of christianity off it).The first thing I have to say is that Mr Young has indeed been treated disgracefully and he should have been allowed to opt out of the assembly. His being compelled to attend it was as outrageous as forcing a Jew to eat pork or a Mormon to drink coffee, and this would hold true even if the school was explicitly denominational instead of being multidenominational or nondenominational.
The second thing that strikes me is the complete cluelessness of the teachers responsible for this outrage. It is quite clear that they were not oldstyle bigots but modern lowest-common denominator liberals, and their spirituality is of the "warm and fuzzy whatever you're having" variety. This is exactly the problem - because they do not see religion as something which involves truth-claims, they do not realise that anyone could legitimately object to participating in their multidenominational service any more than they could legitimately object to reading fiction in English literature class. They don't realise that some religious commitments/positions are mutually exclusive and that to hold one necessarily rules out another, and because they see things this way they persecute Mr Young without realising that is what they are doing, just as I am sure they would persecute a fundamentalist Protestant or traditionalist Catholic who objected to attending the service.
This kind of issue is going to come up with greater frequency in our schools and it will be present in primary schools as well where the parents will make the choices. The Constitution grants one the right to not receive religious instruction in a state funded school. How long before a test case occurs?
Finally, even if a plurality of patrons and types of school becomes more common following Quinn's recent initiative some areas will still only be able, because of population or an overwhelming majority, be able to offer one type of school and that is most likely to be a RC ethos one. How will children whose parents do not want them to receive religious instruction be accommodated in a way that does not exclude them in any harmful fashion?
The student in the story above has said that he would be happy with an apology, but it would be interesting to see him take a case.