Father and daughter granted permission to challenge Christian-focused RE in NI schools

A father and daughter have secured High Court permission to challenge the exclusively Christian-focused religious education taught at schools in Northern Ireland.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 11th June 2021, 6:06 pm
Christian teaching

They were granted leave to seek a judicial review of arrangements which allegedly breach the right to learn about different faiths.

Lawyers for the family claim the indoctrination of Christianity is leading to entrenched segregation.

The child at the centre of the case is a seven-year-old girl who attends a primary school in Belfast.

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Together with her father, she is taking legal action against the core syllabus for Religious Education (RE) and Collective Worship at all Northern Ireland’s controlled schools.

They contend that a complete focus on Christianity, to the exclusion of all other faiths, is an unlawful violation of the Human Rights Act.

Proceedings have been issued against the Department of Education and the girl’s school, which cannot be identified to protect her anonymity.

Described in legal papers as a non-religious family, the child’s parents have expressed concern that she may adopt a specific world-view.

They do not object to Christianity being on the RE curriculum, but allege that no meaningful alternative teaching is available in Northern Ireland’s state-funded schools.

In contrast, according to their case, much more pluralistic teaching is in place in England, Wales and Scotland.

In court today counsel for the Department insisted the system is both flexible and lawful.

A lawyer representing the school argued that it has only implemented the mandatory curriculum.

However, Mr Justice Colton granted leave against both respondents on the basis that an arguable case had been established.

He listed the challenge for a full hearing in November.

Outside court the family’s solicitor insisted the case raised an issue of important legal principle.

Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law said: “Uniquely in this jurisdiction, religion, and specifically the Christian faith, and education are intertwined as a matter of law.

“It is our case that the State is not entitled to promote or privilege the Christian faith in this way. To do so only seeks to indoctrinate, and entrenches segregation.