Say what you will about the Catholic church, but they always have the best interests of the nation's children at heart - don't let your own knowledge on, or a quick Google of, this subject disabuse you of this notion. As is consistent for anyone wanting the best for children the Irish Episcopal Commission have written a letter to the Minister of Education seeking to curtail the educational opportunities to children in secondary school.
To give some context, the letter comes as a response to a memorandum issued to State-run secondary schools by the Department of Education. Minister Bruton expressed that it was the desire of the department that any students who were opting out of religious classes, for whatever personal reasons, should be provided with alternate tuition organised by the school. Prior to this memorandum, students abstaining from religious classes would typically sit at the back of the religion class or would go to supervised study.
The letter sent by the Irish Episcopal Commission, signed by its head, Bishop Brendan Leahy, as well as Bishop Brendan Kelly, the chair of the group's council for education, declared that it would be unfair for students opting out of religion to receive extra tuition in exam subjects. They instead suggested that students opting out of religion should be offered a course in "religious heritage and values as well as ethics".
While this may sound a bit like saying that the Maths curriculum should be replaced by a course in 'looking at numbers and doing some addition, subtracting and then maybe a bit of algebra on the side?', they were also keen to highlight the reality of religious education. They stated that religion as taught in schools is not 'indoctrination' but instead a vital tool in developing a 'respect in understanding our cultural heritage'.
While there is evidently a very solid argument, socially, culturally and historically, for the study of religion from a myriad of perspectives, a spokesperson for the Department of Education sought to clarify that it is the conflation of including religious instruction in religious education in some schools that in part motivated their decision. Speaking to The Irish Times they said that the memorandum issued sought to provide "clarity for parents in individual schools where there is any practise of including religious instruction or worship during classes set for the delivery of the State curriculum in religious education."