Report shows Irish teachers' concern over bullying of practicing Catholic students

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A report on a survey of 214 religious education teachers in Ireland is raising alarm that students who practice a religion, particularly Catholicism, are being bullied for their beliefs. 

In Ireland, religious education is a compulsory subject for all pupils. The survey studied teachers in post-primary schools, which are typically schools for children over the age of 12.  

The report, “Inclusive Religious Education: The Voices of Religious Education Teachers in Post Primary Schools in Ireland, Identity, bullying and inclusion” was authored by Dr. Amalee Meehan and Derek A. Laffan, MSc. The National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre and Dublin City University published the report, which was released in August 2021. 

“Students of faith are vulnerable to bullying. The negative view of faith and faith schools contributes to this effect, making students of faith a vulnerable group,” said the report. 

“The most vulnerable group of second level school students to emerge from the open forum are practising Catholics; the least vulnerable are those who profess a nonreligious or atheist worldview,” they said.  

The report blamed growing secular behaviors for why religious students would be targeted, and teachers reported “evidence of pressure on students to be/ identify as a non-believer.” 

The survey found that while the religious education teachers were concerned about bullying of all students who practiced a religion, they were “most concerned about the bullying of Catholic students.” 

Atheist students drew the fewest concerns about bullying, said the report.

“This echoes the growing field of research which suggests that in a rapidly secularising society, those who continue to practice any faith, especially the once-majority faith, are vulnerable to bullying,” said the report. 

While many teachers said they were “not concerned about religious-based bullying” in their schools, those who reported this behavior said that it was primarily from non-religious students targeting their religious peers. 

One teacher said “there can be hostility from non-religious students towards students who express faith at times,” and that students who express “strong beliefs” are subject to bullying, even by members of the staff. 

“Teachers singled out Christians as the most vulnerable group: ‘expressing religious based convictions can lead to low level bullying by staff members...e.g. expressing anti-abortion views,’” said the report.  

“‘Holding a religious worldview can be a lonely experience in modern Ireland,’” one teacher was quoted as saying.  

Another religious education teacher said that there is a “general intolerance of the Christian worldview which needs [to be] addressed,” in Ireland, and many teachers noted that their students “profess no active faith.” 

While surveys have shown that over 90% of Irish youth affiliate themselves with a religion, “Few students express active participation in their faith,” reported a teacher. 

The report suggests that “young people identify as religious at some level, but may find it difficult to express them.”

The report found that teachers were most concerned about negative stereotypes regarding their Catholic students.

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“Of the respondents who explained their answers, 50% voiced concern about anti-religious sentiment/behaviour such as ‘the lazy way that Muslims can be categorised as terrorists, and Catholics as paedophiles or supportive of such behaviour,’” said the report. The report added that these findings are not unique to Ireland and are found in many nations currently undergoing widespread secularization. 

A third of teachers who expressed concerns about negative stereotyping of religious students said that Catholic students were their primary concern. 

Teachers in the report blame a cultural shift towards secularism for why these students are being negatively stereotyped. 

“A Catholic student is more likely to be ridiculed or laughed at for their faith position so they tend to be silenced by the prevailing trend towards a secular humanist worldview,” said one teacher. 

Another added that Catholicism and Catholic values are viewed as “archaic,” and another said that “It is socially acceptable in Ireland to insult/belittle Catholics/Catholicism.”

In 1961, 94.9% of Ireland identified as Catholic. In 2016, that figure had dropped to 78.3%, with “no religion” making up the second-largest religious affiliation.

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