Jane Donnelly and I wrote a chapter on secular education and human rights for the book ‘Towards Mutual Ground – Pluralism, Religious Education and Diversity in Irish Schools’ edited by Gareth Byrne and Patricia Kieran and published last week by Columba Press.
Other contributors to the book include Dermot Lane, Patricia Kieran, Robert Jackson, Terence Merrigan, Suzanne Dillon, Andrew McGrady, Marie Parker-Jenkins, Gavin D’Costa, Anne Looney, Elizabeth Osewska, Gareth Byrne, Niall Coll, Anne Hession, Jones Irwin, Rik Von Nieuwenhove and Michael Hayes.
Here is an extract from the chapter by Jane and me.
Only Secular Schools Respect Every Person’s Human Rights Equally
There is one fundamental question that informs all debate about pluralism and patronage in education. That question is posed here as an option:
1. Do you wish to bring about an education system that satisfies the desires of a majority of parents and children, (perhaps to satisfy the desires of those who happen to share your own personal religious beliefs) regardless of the wishes of minority groups?
2. Alternatively do you wish to bring about an education system that respects equally the human rights of all parents and all children, without sacrificing the human rights of a minority in order to satisfy the desires of a majority?
The manner in which a person answers these foundational questions determines what conclusions they arrive at.
It is understandable that many parents, and representatives of particular religions, have as their priority an education system that satisfies their own desires, and the desires of those who think like them. However the role of the state should be to counteract this self-centred approach, and to ensure that the education system respects equally the human rights of all parents and all children. In practice, the only way to ensure this is for the state to establish a secular education system.
A secular education system would be neutral on the question of religion and non-religion, and it would allow further educational options to develop as a supplement and not a replacement to that secular system. Religious schools or atheist schools should be an added extra for parents who want to avail of them, if they can afford them. However having religious schools as the foundation of the educational system creates only the illusion of choice.
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