Dawkins expressed concerns to the Irish Times that parents are given too much leeway when it comes to their children's education. The biologist, who is backing a campaign by Atheist Ireland to overhaul education, spoke ahead of a talk at Trinity College in Dublin.
He said: “There is a balancing act and you have to balance the rights of parents and the rights of children and I think the balance has swung too far towards parents.
“Children do need to be protected so that they can have a proper education and not be indoctrinated in whatever religion their parents happen to have been brought up in.”
Physicist Lawrence Krauss who was also present for the interview agreed, but stressed he believed state education should be held to different standards than private schools.
He said: “If the state is going to provide education, it has an obligation to try and educate children. That means parents have a limited — it seems to me — limited rights in determining what the curriculum is. The state is providing the education, it’s trying to make sure all children have equal opportunity.”
He added: “Parents, of course, have concerns and ‘say’ but they don’t have the right to shield their children from knowledge.
“That is not right, any more than they have the right to shield their children from healthcare or medicine.
“And those parents who do that are often tried – at least in my country - and imprisoned when they refuse to allow their children to get blood transfusions or whatever is necessary for their health. And this is necessary for their mental health.”
He added: “Dawkins should give children more credit. Children know instantly the sincerity of their parent’s convictions. They know intuitively what is really important to them. Adolescents, because they are unused to decades of bargaining with their own weakness of will, are absolute hounds against hypocrisy. Children invariably test their parents’ ideas for themselves.”
Dawkins has previously addressed the topic on his website in a blog entitled: “Don’t force your religious opinions on your children.”