Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Criticism of the Borrisokane Community College Prayer Service.

This Blog was written after my being forced to attend a compulsory religious event in my school in Borrisokane, Ireland. http://www.borrisokanecc.ie/

Secular, according to the Oxford dictionary, means “not connected with religious or spiritual matters”. That was, or so I thought, part of the ethics of a state school. Students were free to believe whatever they wanted and free from others forcing their ideas upon them. But no! Apparently religion can call a halt to normal school activity, with full support from the staff, and get special funding for a religious gathering. That being bad enough, it was also made a compulsory gathering.

My Class tutor had the decency to ask if there was any option to avoid attendance of the ceremony, and to try and understand my position, which is more than can be said of either the acting deputy principle or the staff involved in organising the event. The acting Deputy principle informed me that it was a “Multi-denominational event for all religions” and one of the religion teachers fatuously remarked that it can be for “Christians or atheists or agnostics or whatever”. These were both either lies or the teachers were ignorant of the programme contents. I find it hard to believe this as the religion teachers wrote the programme in the first place.

During the event four songs were sung, three of which were hymns. God (in the singular) was mentioned twenty-eight times. Jesus was named six times. There were two readings, both of them Biblical. Baptism, The Eucharistic Congress, the (catholic) year of faith and the kingdom of heaven all made their appearance. Christians and Christianity were mentioned six times, including a grotesque line from the prayer of the faithful calling the school community a Christian community. Faith was glorified four times, including “Our faith” referring to the school community. And this is just the official programme, not the sermon (delivered by one of the two Christian preachers to attend who were the only guest speakers!) This is not just non-secular but mono-religious and purely Christian. Nothing recognisable as non-Christian or secular humanist was mentioned.

If there is to be school sponsored prayer events in a secular school then the least that could be done would be to make attendance optional, but this did not happen. Although they are the majority, the Christians have no right to claim the entire school community as theirs, or force people to join their hollering. Neither, I should imagine, should many of them want to. The schools few but existing agnostic and atheist students should have been given the option of not attending. As should the even fewer Buddhists and assorted spiritualists, and of course the Christians themselves.
I will never attend a compulsory religious event with the school again, and the principle should apologise for making it compulsory and promise never to force students to attend religious events again.
Nathan Young.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yeah I can confirm that it is compulsory, although it's not a tyrannical or Orwellian affair to be honest. Whenever I would ask the reason why we would be herded into the canteen was to "prevent students from mitching" which I can perfectly agree with given some people.

    As a general rule i think that the service itself should be called for what it is, a Christian prayer service, not as the atheistic/ agnostic gathering that it is too often confused with.

    But in all honesty, I don't believe the teachers are purposfully trying to convert students. Quite a few of them I know are atheists, and the ones who are in favor of the christian service, have been employed at that school for over 20 years, thus the catholic ethos is the majority belief that they've had to cater to.

    Anyhoo that's some of my two cents, however yours still are none the shinier.

  3. Their excuse was to "prevent students from mitching"?

    As opposed to what?

    Given the choice of "mitching", and being forced to attend a ceremony in a religion alien to your own beliefs, it is better to "mitch". At least in that case, you could get some homework done.

  4. Wow. I went to a VEC school 9 years ago and was forced to endure supposedly secular religion classes and events - I ended up almost getting suspended for pointing out to a religion teacher that the sin of Onan was not in fact masturbation in a pastoral care class; I could go into a list of awful things (including morning prayer over the intercom) and dubious announcements about abortion in school assemblies but it just gets me mad. That said, I ended up getting into a discussion about it with students last year when I was subbing there and on the positive side, found most of that religious nonsense put them off religion. I even told them that being an atheist was fine and that I was one after some daft religion teacher told them it was a terrible thing. Urgh.

  5. That is a rotten experience. I went to a catholic all girls convent, as an atheist (which was fully acknowledged before starting school) and I never had any problem with taking a study period while religious ceremonies were ongoing. I had a few odd looks from the one remaining nun and a few students, but other than that, I really feel privileged with my schooling in Ireland. It seems to have been more forward than those that were apparently secular.

  6. Hi Nathan,

    Well, for a start, what on earth made you think that there are any "State" schools in Ireland? I'm sorry to burst your bubble but there are NO "State" schools in Ireland.

    Secondly, what led you to believe that your own school is in any way "secular"? I clicked through the link that you gave then clicked 'Pastoral Care' > 'Religious Education'. This is what is written there:

    Each class group from first year to fifth year has an allocation of two class periods of religious education per week. Sixth year students have an allocation of one class period per week. The programme studies the Christian Church's, [sic.] creeds/beliefs, code/moral laws and worship. An experiential approach to religious education is promoted. The aim is to develop the spiritual dimension of the individual and of the school itself. Classes are supplemented by the school retreat and the work of the Church of Ireland and Catholic Chaplains. Religious services take place throughout the year to celebrate special occasions in the church and school.

    Aims of Religious Education

    to provide the opportunity for students to worship God
    to consider spiritual and moral issues
    to explore their own beliefs
    to encourage participation in services
    to develop community spirit
    to promote a common ethos and shared values
    to reinforce positive attitudes

    No pretence there. "The programme studies the Christian Church's, creeds/beliefs, code/moral laws and worship", seems to make it quite clear that "secular" simply does not enter into the equation. (It also seems to be clear that someone who understands English grammar should write the website text.)

    However, your Constitutional and fundamental human rights are being breached by your being forced to attend these religious events.

    I would strongly suggest that you contact the Education Officer at Atheist Ireland (education@atheist.ie).

    These sorts of human rights abuses of young people show up the continuing, unbelievable arrogance of the religious. Just because they are grown ups with imaginary friends, they think that they somehow have the right to force rational, thinking, truth-seeking individuals – who have used the intelligence they were born with to investigate the ludicrous, irrational and scientifically unsubstantiated claims of the numerous religions practiced around the world and, rightly, decided that none of them are true – to attend "services" promoting the very mumbo-jumbo verbal diarrhoea that perpetuates the fantasies and myths that are religion.

    One part of Atheist Ireland's work is to visit international bodies to plead the cause of making secular education available for all in Ireland. Ireland is in clear breach of a number of International laws and treaties by not doing this already. It is indeed unfortunate that the religions have so much power over the government. By the way, take a read of the Irish Constitution, you can't be a judge, president or member of the Council of State unless you are a Catholic... or you are prepared to swear a religious oath to a god you don't believe in which would, of course, make you a liar.

    For (a lot) more information, visit atheist.ie.

    1. Well if you were watching the news at all you would have seen that the church is handing over schools to the state!

  7. Hi Nathan,
    I've left you a Facebook message with an interview request.
    Gabrielle Monaghan

    1. Hi Gabrielle
      I haven't received your message, You may have contacted the wrong Nathan Young. I sent a message to a Sunday time journalist with your name. I hope its you.

  8. Nathan deserves a lot of credit for standing up and so coherently articulating this event. He did not take any cheap shots at people who have religious belief (unlike one of the posters above), but instead simply made his point that he had a right to not attend a religious event at what is supposed to be a public school in an EU country in the 21st century. Good for you, Nathan, for what you had to say and how you said it.

  9. Hi Nathan,

    Well done for the interview in the Sunday Irish Times and the complaint to the IHRC. I hope that the Principal will apologise and if not make his email known so we can all email him.

    Keep your head high and don't give in. I have a lot of respect for what you are doing. We went through it ourself with our 4 year old son.

    With the highest regards,

    Martijn Leenheer

    1. I don't know what you take me for, but I'm not shearing personal information of other people so you can troll or spam or threaten them. I hope you realize how low and bullying your suggestion was.

  10. I think it might be best to change the template: white text on a black background is not easy on the eyes and many discourage readers.

  11. Hiya, Nathan. I'm an atheist mom of three, ages 14 (boy), 13 (girl), 11 (boy). Their views - which we regularly challenge - are at this time the same as ours, where faith is concerned.

    We're fortunate that for our younger two, the schools are excellent with understanding and accommodating our preferences when religious services take place. I'm notified in advance and fetch my 11yo for a cup of tea, slipping him back into the line when the other kids when they return. My 13yo's religion class is led by an enlightened teacher who truly teaches about the religions of the world rather than indoctrinating the kids into a certain religion. She chooses to attend the very few religious services they have in the school, none of which seemed, so far, to be more than simply ritual, more cultural than spiritual. She *is* given a choice in whether she wants to attend, though.

    The same could, at first, unfortunately not be said for my 14yo. He was in a much more overtly religious primary school, where the principal's reverence for the Catholic church filtered through into everything from class blessings to the Christmas concert. In secondary school (different from the one his sister attends), though technically he wasn't obliged to attend religion class, he had to sit in on the class for supervisory reasons. The very religious teacher's behaviour to him was hostile. She made some stunning comments about atheists, but then used the fact that officially he wasn't part of the class to forbid him from giving any feedback or challenging her assertions. He had no choice but to attend at least one mass, and due to his specific personality and thinking patterns, he found this very upsetting.

    We moved him to another school after first year for various reasons, and now he gets to sit in the social area and catch up on homework during religion class. There's never been any mention of masses or other religious services. What a relief.

    I appreciate the religion classes when they're presented the way my daughter experiences them, because it's good to be informed. However, the presentation of the subject is so hugely dependent on the teacher, and the textbooks I've had a look at are so shamelessly biased for Christianity that I believe these classes should be optional, so those who find the teacher is wasting this wonderful opportunity to study the fascinating landscape of religions by making it about their chosen religion, can choose not to attend.

    The religious majority don't realise how annoying it can be to walk into a school with a cross over the door, a statue of Mary in the foyer, and one of her dangling over the blackboard in class. Those things can be explained and accepted as part of the history of education in this country - and hopefully the role of the RCC in schooling will increasingly become no more than part of history. Yet it means a lot of tolerance is already being asked from those of other faith convictions. Added insults like your experience and those my son had to endure therefore smack even louder of arrogance.

    Best of luck, I fervently hope you're successful in your efforts to highlight the plight of the religious minority.