Court of Appeal: Christian education in NI does not breach human rights

Exclusively Christian religious education in Northern Irish primary schools has been adjudged to be legal by the Court of Appeal.

Currently, provisions in the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 mean that RE lessons and daily collective worship (CW) such as assemblies must focus on Christianity, but parents of a child in Belfast had argued that excluding other worldviews breached their child’s human rights.

The non-religious family said they were concerned the focus on Christianity meant their child might adopt a Christian worldview, and said no meaningful alternative teaching is available in the Province’s state-funded primary schools, and in June 2022 a High Court judge ruled in their favour.

No violation

The Department of Education had argued that the parents are able to withdraw their children from this teaching, and that there is already scope for teaching on other religions and worldviews in the existing curriculum, and the Court of Appeal has ruled that there was no breach of human rights.

While the senior judges upheld the earlier ruling that there is a lack of pluralism in the core curriculum, they said no human rights had been violated because parents had the “unqualified statutory right” to withdraw their children from both RE lessons and collective worship if they choose.

The judge noted that the child’s mother and father had not chosen to exercise this right of withdrawal.

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‘Common sense’

The Christian Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer Callum Webster said: “It is so encouraging that common sense has prevailed. The law does not forbid Christian-focussed RE and assemblies in primary schools. The Court of Appeal has recognised this.

“Those who disagree with the Christian faith have freedom to withdraw their children from RE lessons and collective worship. They do not have a right to force Christian teaching out of schools which have a Christian ethos.

“Many schools in Northern Ireland were started by churches or by Christian benefactors and transferred to the state on the understanding that a Christian ethos be maintained. The Court of Appeal ruling upholds this.”

Also see:

Religious Education in schools ‘lacks sufficient substance’

Stormont backs compulsory ‘inclusive’ sex ed across the Province

NI court rules Christian education ‘breaches human rights’

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