The Evangelical Alliance of Ireland (EAI) has joined Atheist Ireland and Irish Ahmadiyya Muslims in calling for reform to religious education (RE) to allow pupils to choose another subject in its place.
A joint study from the group based on hundreds of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) says that the state-sponsored religious education course at second level should not be compulsory.
The EAI said it was seeking to "protect children from coercion and discrimination in the area of religious education," the Irish News reported.
Around 85 per cent of Irish people say they are Catholics, but the group is concerned about school children being forced into religious instruction and Catholic faith formation.
The Atheist Ireland chairman Michael Nugent said that the existing RE course in schools "disrespects the philosophical convictions of atheist, secular and minority faith families".
He added: "The minister for education should immediately issue a circular letter informing all schools at second level that the state religious education course is not compulsory and students can choose another subject, and schools should actively inform students and parents about this."
Pastor Nick Park, the executive director of the EAI said that he disagreed with Atheist Ireland on many issues. "Nevertheless," he said, "I congratulate them on wading through a copious amount of documents to produce this comprehensive report, demonstrating clearly the state's failure to protect children from coercion and discrimination in the area of religious education."
Park added: "Parents from religious minorities, as well as parents of no religious belief, are being denied rights supposedly guaranteed to them and their children under the Irish Constitution and various human rights treaties. Most religions would hold that it is the responsibility of their members who are parents to provide religious instruction to their children, but religious formation and indoctrination should not be the business of the state or of state-funded schools. When the state acts in such a way it is bad for parents, bad for children, and ultimately bad for religion itself."
Imam Ibrahim Noonan, the Imam of Galway Ahmadiyya Mosque, stressed the need for separation between state and religion.
"The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has always adhered to the fact that religion and state are two different entities," he said. "Therefore it views that secular knowledge should be given eminence within the school curriculum. The state must recognise the importance of the feelings and sentiments of those who practise a particular faith or belief system, whether that be a religious system or non religious system. What is important is that department of education recognise that no particular faith should have the monopoly in the schools, as the very question that can be asked is: which version of a particular religion is the correct one, and who will teach it? All that should be taught in state schools is the basic fundamentals of any faith system or non faith belief system is, including historical and morals, principles and ethics."
The group's call comes amid an ongoing debate about the role of religious education in Ireland.
In May, the secretary general of the Department of Education, Seán Ó Foghlú, told the Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools that the community and comprehensive secondary schools under religious patronage were legally obliged to serve the entire community.
He warned: "The schools need to prepare for situations where a majority of students may wish to withdraw and where religious instruction and worship may be required by a minority, if at all."