Faith Formation in National School Classrooms

Letter to Editor of The Irish Times from Paddy Monahan: 9 January 2018

Sir, – In your otherwise excellent editorial on the “baptism barrier” (January 5th), you state “many schools are flexible and inclusive”.

Some 96 per cent of taxpayer-funded primary schools in Ireland have a religious ethos and, as father to a three-year-old boy who happens to be unbaptised I have to ask, where are these flexible and inclusive schools? I have searched pretty hard and have yet to come across one (outside the 2 per cent of schools in the State run by Educate Together).

The Constitution sets out “the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school”. Around 90 per cent of our primary schools are run by the Catholic Church, and in virtually all of them children not of the Catholic religion are sent to the back of the class for 30 minutes of mindless busy work every day while the rest of the class receives faith formation. This segregates and stigmatises children as “other” on a daily basis throughout their childhood while also breaching a clear constitutional right as such children absorb every word of the lesson being taught – not exactly inclusiveness. Catholic patrons appear deaf to the simple and expedient solution of moving faith-formation lessons outside the school day.

If, when it stated many schools “are flexible and inclusive”, the editorial meant “will enrol children of any religious background”, then I am afraid this is simply factually wrong. Almost every school in this country prioritises four-year-old and five-year-old children in enrolment on the basis of their religion.

We must be wary of mistaking an undersubscribed school that is obliged by law to take any child, but will rigidly apply its discriminatory enrolment policy as soon as it is fully subscribed, for a school that does not have such a policy in the first place. The mere existence of a discriminatory enrolment policy at the local school places years of stress and anxiety on parents of children of no religion or of a minority faith as to whether they will be lucky enough to get a place when the time comes. It also, of course, encourages baptisms of convenience; Catholic parents are safe in the knowledge that their children will always be in the top enrolment category.

To be clear, in my experience Catholic primary schools are neither flexible nor inclusive. If there is an example of a Catholic school anywhere in the country that does not operate a Catholics first enrolment policy and does not segregate children on the basis of religion, I’d love to hear of it. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Editorial in Irish Examiner on 16 January 2016: Discrimination on the religion ground in our National Schools

This editorial reflects on the Irish state’s performance before the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child in Geneva last Thursday.

The proceedings there can be viewed on this webcast:


THOUGH Enda Kennys statements on the possibility of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment should he be returned to power of course falls some way short of a commitment, his suggestion that he anticipates a vote on the divisive issue will take place over the next couple of years is pretty close.

The Taoiseach seems to accept the issue must be resolved one way or another though he has expressed doubts that proposals to change the current legislation would be endorsed.

Earlier this week one of his ministers Childrens Minister James Reilly speaking after a day-long hearing at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva returned to a second deeply divisive issue when he argued that ending religious discrimination in schools admission policies may also require a constitutional referendum.

He said he did not believe it was right that children should be discriminated against on the basis of religious belief or nominal, pretend religious belief or lack of it when applying for a place in State-funded schools. He did, however, acknowledge the constitutional provisions that allow religious institutions protect their ethos.

That essentially gives control of our primary schools all of which are funded more or less 100% by the State to the Catholic Church, a situation that no longer reflects the make-up of this society.

Ironically, and in a particularly Irish way, the legislation that allows 96% primary schools turn away children on the basis of their religious beliefs is called the Equal Status Act.

Deepening that anachronistic and offensive irony, the minister of state, who on December 2 approved the right of schools to reject pupils on the basis of their religion or lack of it, is known as the minister for equality.

The Equal Status Act 2000 allows oversubscribed schools favour children who share the schools patrons religious beliefs.

This, no matter how it is dressed up, discriminates against some children at the very moment that they should expect the States full support and encouragement.

At the very point the State should embrace young citizens from every background, it, or more accurately its agent, uses the baptised-or-not filter to rule on who gets a particular school place or not.

This is, no matter how enthusiastically it is dressed up, religious segregation and makes second class citizens of an ever greater number of Irish children.

The situation might be less fraught if there were more school places in areas where schools are oversubscribed but there are not and that shortcoming cannot be used to perpetuate an inequity.

Those who wish to preserve the current monopoly occasionally argue that under new patronage, many schools would become ethics-free zones and that religious education would be sidelined.

This, of course, is bunkum. Religious education would be available for those who wish to avail of it but it, or at least an exclusive version of it, might not enjoy todays unquestioning centrality.

New school patronage arrangements might also be an opportunity to place a new emphasis on the kind of civic morality so obviously absent on so many fronts.

Education Equality on Religion Tests for admission to National Schools

Letter to Editor in The Irish Times, 31 December 2015 from April Duff of Education Equality.

This statement is important because it sets out to deal with the two abnegations of human rights taking place in our National Schools under Roman Catholic patronage.

(1) religion tests in the form of baptismal certificates being applied for admission to a school;

(2) the integrated curriculum, driven illegally by Rule #68, prejudicially affecting the Constitutional right of a child not to receive faith-formation

Sir, – Education Equality welcomes the call by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan for changes to the Equal Status Act to ensure greater access to our national school system for children of parents of minority religions and no religion, insofar as it is an acknowledgment of a serious issue which needs to be addressed (“Minister calls for places for unbaptised pupils”, Front Page, December 28th).

While Labour’s proposals have not been set out in detail at this stage, it would appear, from the Minister’s comments, that they will involve some form of quota system whereby a certain percentage of school places would be set aside for children who are not of the same religious denomination of each school.

The parents who we represent do not want their children to be accommodated, tolerated or labelled in this manner. Our parents want the State to honour its obligations to their children and ensure they are granted full and equal access to the State-funded national school system, obligations which are placed on the State by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and our own Constitution.

In addition, no details have been provided as to how Labour intends to address the issue of exposing children to religious indoctrination against their parents’ wishes during the entire school day. Again a clear breach of human rights.

The Minister’s earlier announcement of her intention to remove rule 68 of the national school rules, which currently requires that religious instruction is the most important part of the school day, is largely symbolic in nature. The removal of rule 68 will not lead to the removal of the integrated curriculum that ensures religious instruction permeates the entire school day.

In fact, the Minister has stated that denominational schools will continue to be entitled to hold faith-formation classes during the school day.

Many of our parents, whose children have been offered places in denominational schools, speak of the bittersweet feeling which accompanies such an offer. They consider themselves “lucky” to have been able to secure a place without having to compromise their own beliefs. However, they are fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead of them as their children will feel ostracised during large parts of the school day and they will hear their teacher, a person of great influence, express views and beliefs which will often be in direct contradiction to their own.

Education Equality is disappointed to see that Ms O’Sullivan is quoted as saying: “I’m not saying denominational schools shouldn’t have their own religious faith taught during school time . . . They are entitled to do that”. It is true that the Constitution protects the rights of religious institutions to uphold their ethos. National schools are educational establishments. There is no constitutional or human right of religious schools to have the State fund religious education, during school time, which conflicts with some children’s beliefs.

There is, however, a constitutional and basic human right to freedom of religion. Teaching faith formation in one religion’s beliefs in the only school system that we have, in a way that imposes it on children of other religions and none, violates that right. In order to protect religious freedom, denominational schools do not need to be removed, but the way they operate does need to change.

Education Equality is proposing that faith-formation classes be held at the end of the school day, outside of normal school hours. This would ensure that no child’s human rights are violated, while also allowing those parents who wish to do so to opt their children in to faith formation.

We believe this is a pragmatic solution to the issue and will ensure the human rights of all children are fully respected.

Education Equality will continue its campaign for its twin goals of equal access and equal respect for all children in our education system, regardless of religion. We hope that all political parties will support these goals and we can take another step in cherishing all the children of the nation equally. – Yours, etc,



Education Equality

Dublin 8.