Northern Ireland Humanists has organised an open letter to Northern Ireland Education Secretary Peter Weir calling for broad reforms of the current Religious Education (RE) core syllabus. Northern Ireland differs strongly from the rest of the UK in almost exclusively teaching about Christianity until the age of 16, with little mention of any world religions or non-religious worldviews.
The open letter was signed by prominent Northern Ireland politicians and representatives of Northern Ireland Humanists and the Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum, who all believe Northern Ireland can do more to put sectarianism behind it by delivering a broad and inclusive RE curriculum covering the full spectrum of religious and non-religious beliefs in the country today.
The letter reads as follows:
‘We the undersigned believe that the current religious education (RE) core syllabus in Northern Ireland needs a drastic overhaul to be inclusive of major world religions and non-religious worldviews.
‘Today, Northern Ireland is a multi-cultural society made up of individuals from every walk of life, with diverse perspectives on ethical and existential questions.
‘As we move forward, and strive to put sectarianism behind us, we should be encouraging the next generation to understand the religious and non-religious worldviews around them in Northern Ireland today. Our nation’s diversity has long been one of its greatest strengths, and it is time this diversity was reflected in what is taught to our children in schools.
‘The curriculum as it stands today is determined by an RE Advisory Working Group organised by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations, and Assessment, with representatives from the four largest Christian churches and only minimal input from other faith and belief groups. We believe that it is time for a wider diversity of religion and belief groups to become actively involved, taking inspiration from the RE model used in communities across England and Wales.
‘We would urge Education Minister Peter Weir to meet those of us with subject expertise to discuss how the curriculum can be improved. Together we represent a wide variety of different religious and non-religious points of view, but we stand united by the firm belief that an inclusive education system can shape our nation’s future for the better. ‘
Northern Ireland Humanists has attempted to meet Peter Weir to discuss these proposals, as well as issues relating to mandatory Christian prayer in schools and religious discrimination in the employment of teachers, but so far Mr Weir has failed to meet the group.
Northern Ireland Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
The following were signatories to the letter:
- Boyd Sleator (Northern Ireland Humanists)
- Andrew Copson (British Humanist Association)
- Norman Richardson (Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum)
- Edwin Graham (Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum)
- Steven Agnew, MLA (Leader, Green Party in Northern Ireland)
- Councillor John Barry (Green Party in Northern Ireland)
- Eamonn McCann, MLA (People Before Profit)
- Councillor Johnny McCarthy (SDLP)
Listen to Boyd Sleator discuss proposed RE reforms on BBC Talkback on 26 October 2016 here: