Education Minister’s plan to change Baptism rule, but strengthen school ethos, will strengthen religious discrimination

The Minister for Education has today announced deeply flawed proposals to amend the Baptism rule for access to State-funded schools, but without changing the law on school ethos. What seems to be the best of the four options in the plan, removing the baptism rule completely, is actually the worst, as the Minister says that “Under this last option religious schools could require parents or students to indicate support for the school’s religious ethos.”

So removing the Baptism rule completely would mean that minority belief parents must support the evangelising of their children into the Catholic faith. It would merely give children of minority belief families equal access to being compulsorily discriminated against within the schools, which is where the real problem is, and would give the Catholic Church access to more minority belief children to evangelise into Catholicism.

The other three of the Minister’s discussion options (catchment area, nearest school and quotas) would merely fine-tune the religious discrimination in access, and would still result in children being refused access to their local school because of the religious or nonreligious beliefs of their parents.

The Minister says this is to protect the rights of minority faiths to run their own schools, but that approach just legitimises even more religious discrimination. Currently, Church of Ireland schools discriminate against Evangelicals, and Islamic schools discriminate against Ahmadi Muslims. Every minority family and child has the same right to be treated equally. These plans will not do that.

The only positive aspect is that the Government has dropped its position that this change would be unconstitutional. Atheist Ireland has been telling them for years to stop hiding behind that argument. The Government should now take the same approach to protecting the human rights of children of all beliefs within our State-funded schools, instead of hiding behind unpublished legal advice that now seems to be changeable at will.

However, the Minister does not intend to do anything about even these proposals in the current Admissions to Schools Bill. Instead, he wants the public to discuss these four options, as if these are the outer boundaries of how to address the problem. But none of the four options address the fact that ten human rights bodies of the United Nations and Council of Europe have told Ireland that we are breaching the rights of atheist, secular and minority faith families inside our schools, and not just in access.

There is also a political dimension to this. Ending the Baptism Cert requirement, without also changing the ethos rules, would get the Church, as well as the government, off the hook politically. How? It would create the false impression that they are somehow bringing about religious equality in schools. In fact, at best, all that they would be doing is strengthening the ongoing religious discrimination inside the schools, which is the real problem.

Some in the Church would prefer to only teach already committed Catholics, but the Church officially sees schools as a way of evangelising minorities. We quote below from a Vatican document that says that the Church should seize on a large non-Christian presence in schools as an opportunity to propose the faith, as has long been the tradition of Church’s missionary activity.

Vatican Document explains Church’s evangelisation policy

In a Document on the Vatican website called ‘Where is your God?’ by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Church explains how it sees the education system as a way of evangelising minorities. Instead of handing over schools where migrants are in the majority, they are holding onto them to evangelise, as that is their mission. We are not making this up! This is a Document about evangelising non-believers and those that are indifferent.

The Vatican has stated that:

“Catholic Schools. In various countries some Catholic schools have had to close as a result of a lack of resources and personnel, while a weakening, or a rupture in the handing on of the faith in some schools and even Catholic universities, results from a growing number of teachers void of commitment and a solid formation. Too often teaching in these schools has little to do with the faith and Christian morality. The phenomenon of migration also destabilises schools when the large non-Christian presence is used as an excuse to justify abandoning an explicit teaching of the faith, rather than to seize on this opportunity to propose the faith, as has long been the tradition of Church’s missionary activity.”

The Catholic Church, with the help of the Irish State, uses the Irish education system to evangelise, as that is their mission. They do this through religion classes, but also by integrating a Catholic ethos into the State curriculum. They not only want this in Catholic schools, but in State schools as well. Integrating religion into the state curriculum enables them to continue to evangelise minorities, which is their mission.

How the Church has manipulated the opt-out system

They have managed to get away with this in Ireland, as they have manipulated the understanding of the opt-out system. The opt-out system in Ireland is a reflection of the educational philosophy of the Catholic Church.

Under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution, the state can fund religious schools. There are Constitutional conditions to that funding and one of those conditions is that minorities can opt out of religious instruction. The Constitution refers to religious instruction, not religious education.

Many people interchange religious instruction and religious education, and believe that they are one and the same. In Ireland, they are not the same thing at all, because our opt out reflects the teaching of the Catholic Church on these matters.

Human Rights Principles are quite different. They are firm about the protection of minorities. They see evangelising or pre-evangelising as pursuing an aim of indoctrinating, by not respecting parents convictions.  This behaviour is forbidden under human rights law, as it undermines religious freedom and the rights of parents and their children.

Religious Instruction is the formal Religion class

In Ireland, Religious Instruction is what you can opt your child out of in publicly funded schools. This is the religion class. In publicly funded Primary Schools with a Catholic ethos, it is thAlive O” Religion course or the new Catholic course “Grow in Love”.

The Catholic Church refers to Religious Instruction as Catechesis. They define this as follows:

“Catechesis describes the education process whereby the Good News of the gospel is announced and the faith of the Church is handed on to believers in the Church community, Catechesis presumes an initial conversion and openness to ongoing conversion Through the experience of learning about the faith, liturgy, morality and prayer, ‘catechesis prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church’ (GDC 86)

(Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland)

Religious Education is integrated throughout the school day

Religious Education is something different. The Church uses Religious Education to evangelise. They integrate Religious Education into the state curriculum and the general milieu of the school. They define Religious Education as follows:

“Religious education is a process that contributes to the faith development of children, adolescents and adults. Religious education helps people to develop religious ways of thinking, feeling and doing, which give expression to the spiritual, moral and transcendent dimension of life and can lead to personal and social transformation. Religious education can also teach people to think profoundly, allowing them to make free and consistent choices in the way they live their religious, and other, commitment’ (share the Good News, 38)”

To some degree, it is possible to opt out of the Religious Instruction classes. But it is impossible to opt out of religious education that is integrated throughout the curriculum and the daily life of the school.

And even opting out of Religious Instruction is difficult. No other option to the Religious Instruction class is offered, and there is no supervision outside the class.  All these obstacles are in place to stop parents opting out their children, and of

All these obstacles are in place to stop parents opting out their children, and of course, this helps the Catholic Church with their mission to evangelise in the education system.

The Church pre-evangelises minority children in schools

The Catholic Church also refers to a process called pre-evangelisation which they claim that they use in publicly funded National Schools.

“The Church also uses the term pre-evangelisation” when referring to a type of initial proclamation that, in  bringing the person to consider the deepest meaning of life, helps them, over a period of reflection, to be prepared to meet Jesus…”

Evangelising or pre-evangelising children from minority backgrounds in publicly funded National Schools undermines religious freedom, and the rights of parents to ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.

The State has a duty to protect everyone’s rights equally

The United Nations and the Council of Europe have been putting pressure on the Irish State to protect minorities in the education system from the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church.

To date, this has not happened. Ending the Baptism Cert requirement from schools admission, without also ending Church control over school ethos, will not be enough to ensure that the rights of parents and their children are protected in this Republic.

According to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, the majority of publicly funded National Schools are Stand Alone schools. Removing the Baptism Cert requirement (while welcome, if accompanied by a change in the ethos rules), will not change one thing for those parents and their children who have to attend these schools.

Education Minister’s plan to change Baptism rule, but strengthen school ethos, will strengthen religious discrimination

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