Ask your TDs today to vote for the Equal Participation in Schools Bill tomorrow

by Michael Nugent on May 17, 2017

RC RBTomorrow, Thursday 18 May, the Dail will vote on the Equal Participation in Schools Bill that it debated yesterday. Please contact your TDs today and ask them to vote for this.

It is proposed by Solidarity and People Before Profit, and it incorporates proposals from Atheist Ireland and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

It is an an important step towards secular State-funded schools that respect everybody equally, and the eventual separation of Church and State.

It recognises that Irish schools breach human rights by evangelising religion throughout the whole school day, and not merely by discriminating in access.

It proposes five steps that are radical in Irish terms, but that would be uncontroversial minimum standards for State-funded schools in most modern pluralist Republics.

  1. It would prevent schools from discriminating in access on the ground of religion.
  2. It would replace the duty to have regard to a school’s ‘characteristic spirit’ with a duty to have regard to ‘the constitutional and human rights of all persons concerned’.
  3. It would move religious instruction and faith formation classes to after school hours.
  4. It would oblige schools to establish minimum standards for accommodating students whose parents opt them out of classes that are contrary to their conscience.
  5. It would oblige schools to deliver the State-prescribed curriculum in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both spoke against the Bill yesterday, so it will be defeated in the vote tomorrow. However, it is still important to contact your TDs, so that they know that their constituents want them to vote for equal participation in schools.

Sinn Fein, the Green Party and some independents also spoke in support of the Bill yesterday. The Labour Party and Social Democrats did not attend the debate.

How the Equal Participation in Schools Bill would make these changes:

The Bill would amend the Equal Status Act 2000 as follows:

Section 7(3)(c) privileges schools that have an objective that promotes certain religious values, by allowing them to give preference to co-religionists in access, and to refuse admission to a pupil if it is necessary to protect the school’s ethos. This Bill would delete this subsection.

The Bill would amend the Education Act 2000 as following:

Section 2 is the Interpretation section. It says that ‘characteristic spirit’ means ‘the characteristic spirit referred to in Section 15(2)(b).’ This Bill would delete this reference, as well as the reference in Section 15(2)(b).

Section 9(d) says that schools must ‘promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students’. This Bill would remove the word ‘spiritual’ from that list. Section 9(d) also says that schools must act ‘having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school’. This Bill would replace that with ‘having regard to the constitutional and human rights of all persons concerned’.

Section 15(2)(b) says that school boards must ‘uphold, and be accountable to the patron for so upholding, the characteristic spirit of the school,’ and goes on to say that this spirit would be ‘determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school.’

Section 15(2)(d) says that the Minister can make certain directions to schools ‘having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school and the constitutional rights of all persons concerned.’ This Bill would delete the reference to ‘the characteristic spirit of the school,’ and retain the reference to ‘the constitutional rights of all persons concerned.’

Section 30(2)(b) says that, when prescribing the school curriculum, the Minister ‘shall have regard to the characteristic spirit of a school.’ This Bill would delete that reference.

Section 30(2)(d) says that, when prescribing the school curriculum, the Minister ‘shall allow reasonable instruction time’ for ‘subjects arising from the characteristic spirit of the school.’ In practice, for most schools, this means religious instruction and faith formation. This Bill would replace this subsection with the following: ‘shall ensure that religious instruction and faith formation classes shall take place after core school hours.’

Section 30(2)(e) says that a school shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of their parents, or themselves if over 18. This Bill would add a duty to ‘establish minimum standards in relation to the nature of exemptions’ for such students, ‘having regard to the constitutional and human rights of all persons concerned.’

Finally, this Bill would add a new Section 30(2)(f) that shall ‘require all schools to provide knowledge and information in the State-prescribed curriculum in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination, outside of the specific context of religious instruction and faith formation classes where 10 exemptions apply.’

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