Dear Minister Bruton …

The Irish Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has formally launched a new consultation process on his plans to address the role of religion, in admissions to publicly-funded schools. In Ireland today, schools are funded by the State but managed by ‘patrons’. There are some schools managed by minority groups but 96% of all publicly-funded primary schools in Ireland are managed by the Roman Catholic Church. It is perfectly legal for the Church to discriminate based on religion. So, in many cases, five year old children are turned away from the local State school by the Roman Catholic patron because they don’t have a baptismal certificate.

In seeking to reform this system, which overtly abuses the human rights of children and their parents, the Minister has asked Irish parents to put the six options described below into their preferred order:

 

1. basing school admissions policies on catchment areas

2. using the geographically nearest school as a criterion

3. giving schools quotas of children from different religions

4(a) total prohibition of religious discrimination in admissions

4(b) prohibition, while requiring a declaration of support for ethos

4(c) prohibition, with religious quotas for minority faith schools

 

The Minister is also soliciting opinions on four specific issues pertaining to these options, which are:

 

A. Possible impacts on minority religions

B. Possible constitutional issues

C. Possible impacts on the management of schools

D. Possible unintended impacts

 

I have included my submission to the Minister below. I was greatly helped in composing the submission by the information on the Teach Don’t Preach website. I would encourage all Irish parents to make a submission to the Minister.

 


 

Dear Minister Bruton,

I have experience of religious discrimination in Irish schools. I am an atheist and I live in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. Since I am employed, home schooling is not an option for me and the law requires that I must send my children to school. The only options provided by the State in Castleblayney are religious schools, which offer no meaningful opt-out. If I sought to opt my children out of religious instruction, they would simply be asked to sit in a different seat nearer the door, while the rest of the class recite prayers. Such an approach would not remove the indoctrination and would only apply an extra dose of ostracisation on top of it. Consequently, the Irish State effectively imposes Roman Catholic indoctrination on my children against my wishes. This is a clear abuse of both my human rights and those of my children.

If I may paraphrase the Gospel of Mark, the practical implications of this indoctrination are legion, for they are many. Firstly, the practice of integrating Christianity within every aspect of the entire curriculum, removes any possibility of exercising my constitutional right to an opt out. When the kids sing songs, they sing religious songs. When they draw pictures, they draw religious pictures. Even the core areas of reading, writing and arithmetic have been polluted with the dogma of the prevailing religiosity. The image below is taken from my child’s English text book, called Spellbound. Question (c) in this image, offers just one from many examples, of how my kids are taught to spell through a religious ethos. In order to exercise my constitutional right to opt out of religious instruction, must I opt my children out of spelling classes too?

 

Extract from 'Spellbound 4' published by CJ Fallon
Extract from ‘Spellbound 4’ published by CJ Fallon

 

The Roman Catholic schools that the State obliges my four kids to attend, also request that parents should help children with homework, which seems like a good idea. Recently, one of my children was required to learn ‘The Memorare’ by heart as their homework. If the  precise text of this prayer has momentarily slipped your mind, let me remind you of it:

 

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,

that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, 

implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. 

Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; 

to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. 

O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, 

but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

 

Leaving aside for a moment the wisdom or otherwise of talking to young girls at primary school about the “Virgin of virgins”, the requirement here was to provide instruction in the unfailing efficacy of prayer, for those who need assistance. Do you really think it is your job as Minister for Education, to require my children to be instructed that if they are ever in distress and in need of help, a request for divine intervention will reliably provide them with a remedy?

The supposed efficacy of intercessionary prayer, like so much other Roman Catholic dogma, has been thoroughly researched even by Christian organisations, and repeatedly found to be nonsense. Many other demonstrably false Roman Catholic doctrines also make it into the school text books used by my children, like the creationist ideas in Humani Generis. This Roman Catholic teaching, insists that Adam was an actual historic character who was the direct ancestor of all subsequent humans. For example, my children are required to use the ‘Grow In Love’ school books (the Bishops who manage Roman Catholic schools, mandate the purchase of books published by Veritas, which is owned by the same Bishops). The image below illustrates some of the Roman Catholic creationism from the ‘Grow In Love’ school books, which the Irish State indoctrinates my children with.

 

Extracts from the 'Grow In Love' school books, published by Veritas
Extracts from the ‘Grow In Love’ school books, published by Veritas

 

As I hope you can see then, this issue is not merely about access. It is also about the religious discrimination that happens within schools. There is no point in having equal access to schools, just to be discriminated against once inside. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has already made this point by asking the Government to amend the Admission to Schools Bill, to ensure that the State curriculum is delivered in an objective, critical and pluralist manner.

None of your six consultation options respect my constitutional and human rights. Under Article 42.1 of the Constitution, the Irish State has a duty to respect the inalienable right and duty of all parents, to ensure the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. The European Court has said that this is an absolute right, not to be balanced against the rights of others, or to be gradually achieved.

Your proposals as a whole are unjust, costly, bureaucratic, and bizarrely complicated. Option 4(a) providing for an outright prohibition, is the only option that could even form part of of a model that respects my constitutional and human rights. It would only do this if the Government also removed the right to evangelise inside publicly-funded schools, whereby schools can integrate a religious ethos throughout the entire school day, as I have described above.

In terms of your request to consider my preferred option of 4(a) in the context of your four specific issues, I have included some comments on these issues below.

 

A. Possible impacts on minority religions

I am puzzled as to why you would specifically consider the impacts on minority religions while not mentioning the largest minority in Ireland, which is atheists. I’m also puzzled as to why you would assume that minority religions must always be the victims of discrimination. In many cases, minority religions are guilty of perpetrating the same religious discrimination as the majority Roman Catholic faith. For example, Church of Ireland schools discriminate against Evangelicals and Islamic schools discriminate against Ahmadi Muslims. Instead of privileging some religious institutions over others, the Government should protect the constitutional and human rights of all parents, children and teachers, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs.

 

B. Possible constitutional issues

The implication of the issues you describe here, is that the human rights of Irish citizens should be abused if there is a legal opinion that the Irish Constitution requires it. Such a suggestion is grotesque and outrageous. If the Irish Constitution is not consistent with the human rights obligations of the Irish State, then there should be an immediate referendum to make it so.

 

C. Possible impacts on the management of schools

I found the issues described here very troubling to read. You invite a discussion of how five year old children may be most efficiently segregated by the religion of their parents and then transported around our towns and cities, according to religious quotas. I grew up in Belfast. If you gave me a map of Belfast, in one minute I would be able to show you where most Catholics live and go to school and where most Protestants live and go to school. Do you really interpret your job as Minister for Education, to involve the sectarian Balkanisation of every town in Ireland, while arranging for the most efficient possible transport for religious quotas of five year old children? I find that idea to be horrifying and it does not describe an Ireland that I wish to live in.

 

D. Possible unintended impacts

In order to consider the unintended impacts, it is necessary to know what your intentions are in the first instance. From reading your speeches and press releases on this topic, this is not entirely clear. I should be charitable though in assuming that you would like to protect the human rights of all children in Irish schools and their parents. Human rights are not intended to describe an exalted set of goals that societies may continually strive towards, without ever fully achieving. Rather, human rights are an inalienable set of basic and fundamental rights, to which any person is inherently entitled, simply because they are a human being.

Your first two options do precisely nothing to protect the human rights of anyone. They merely divide religious discrimination into various geographic regions. Your options involving quotas, sound like attempts to turn Ireland into a country that might be depicted in a dystopian novel. You propose State bureaucrats being given quotas of children from various religious denominations, and arranging for the transportation of children between different zones in order to adhere to such quotas. This option introduces a formal mechanism to measure human rights abuses, without seeking to remove them.

You also propose that parents may be asked to sign statements of support for the religious ethos of a publicly-funded school, in order for their child to be permitted admission. This would make the human rights abuses much worse. Instead of the State requiring parents like me to acquiesce to religious discrimination, in order for my children to access a publicly-funded school, I would instead be required to sign a formal declaration supporting this process. Similarly, would the Irish State really require gay parents to sign a document supporting a Roman Catholic ethos, which calls them “intrinsically disordered”?

If your intention involves protecting the human rights of parents and children, then the only option is an unconditional prohibition on religious discrimination throughout the entire State education system.

Yours Sincerely,

John Hamill.


John Hamill

National Committee, Atheist Ireland

Secretary, Atheist Alliance International

 

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