Original Sin, a Four-Year old and State Funded Education.

The Republic of Ireland has approximately 3,300 primary schools. The Irish State ‘provides for’ education and almost all of our national schools are publicly funded. In Ireland, a National school is a type of primary school that is financed directly by the State, but administered jointly by the State, a patron body, and local representatives. This patronage system means that, in essence, our national schools are private with over 90% of them run by the Catholic church.

Under their ‘Catholic First’ admissions policy many of our national schools classify non-Catholic children as ‘Category 2’ . This means that if a local national school is oversubscribed a child from the school’s catchment area can be turned away solely on the basis of whether they have been baptised or not. Apparently this discrimination is justified because these 4-year olds have not been cleansed of ‘original sin’. Religious freedom was conceived to ensure freedom from discrimination in this instance it seems to be used as a license to discriminate. In desperation many parents have resorted to baptising their children into a religion that they don’t believe in.

Four-year old denied place at local school because he is not cleansed of 'original sin.'

Sunday Times 2 August 2015: No Baptism, No School.

If these category 2 children do gain access to their local school their parents can choose to opt them out of religion classes. However Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, (“Of all parts of a school curriculum, Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use. Religious Instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course, and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school”) means that opting out is not, in reality, an option because religion permeates the entire day including lessons in non-religious lessons like spelling and maths.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 10.11.28 It is a fundamental human right to be educated without being indoctrinated with or converted to any religion. The Irish State, through its ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and other UN Conventions has agreed to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of all parents within the Irish education system.

State funding of schools based on a particular majority in any given area results in segregation, discrimination and a denial of basic human rights. The provision of local schools for people of all religions and non-religions is financially and legally untenable. In contrast running state schools on a secular basis vindicates the rights of all parents to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs.

Opting out of religious instruction, education and faith formation is in reality not possible. Young impressionable children, whose parents have ‘opted out’, are frequently expected to ‘sit in’ during religious instruction but not listen. Furthermore religious instruction, practices, prayers and iconography populate the school day and so parents cannot exempt their children from these pervasive, influential and integrated elements. In addition, the considerable time afforded to sacrament preparation deprives children of the right to an effective education, arguably disadvantaging them compared to children who are not subjected to such religious preparation. The Irish State does not recognise that this kind of religious integration violates the conscience of non-religious parents and children. Non-religious parents currently have no means to vindicate their human rights.

Despite Article 42.3.1 of the Irish Constitution,  (“The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.”) parents are obliged to send children to schools in violation of their conscience and lawful preference because there is nowhere else to send their children to school.

Due to the Catholic Church’s discriminatory ‘Catholic First’ school admissions policies, non-religious children or children of non-catholic religions are denied their right to equality forcing many to baptise their children into a faith that they do not believe in simply to gain access to their fundamental right to education. The State must vindicate the rights of all parents to a state-funded education for their children.

Running state schools on a secular basis vindicates the rights of all parents to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs.

A version of this blog post was published in the Irish Times 8 August 2015

About sabinabrennan

I don't believe that we are any one thing. What and who we are at any moment in time is complex and context dependent. While labels are a useful shorthand that help us to navigate the world, all too often they play into people's prejudices and preconceptions. Here is a list of labels about me that begin with the letter 'p' Psychologist, Parent, Pro-Equality, Pacifist, Photographer, Perfectionist I could just as easily select another letter and make a different list of 'About me' labels. So try not to prejudge its just a list of labels beginning with 'p'
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7 Responses to Original Sin, a Four-Year old and State Funded Education.

  1. Pingback: Secular education: Avoiding the tyranny of the majority | Honesty Matters

  2. Willow says:

    I know! I remember in the first grade going to an Easter assembly and hearing all about how Jesus had died for you and other nice flowery things. Then marching back to class singing about marching off to war behind the cross of Jesus a Protestant hymn. Of course I didn’t know the words and it scare the hell out of me. I I couldn’t wait for Dad to get home to talk about it. Looking back now I think that was the first time my BS alarm went off.
    It’s not just Catholic or even Christian.

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  3. Great post! The kind that can get under the skin.
    Willow, your Dad was definitely a strong man if he was able to keep you from the powers of the bible belt! I commend him.
    I was raised free of religion, and I raised my kids to believe in what ever they wanted because it was their decision, not mine.
    The fact that there is that much control being taken by the church, you would figure there would be more of a protest about it.

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  4. Willow says:

    I wish I could say I was surprised by the statement in the definite religious bias shown by “However Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, (“Of all parts of a school curriculum, Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use. Religious Instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course, and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school”) means that opting out is not, in reality, an option because religion permeates the entire day including lessons in non-religious subjects like English and maths”.(The emphasis is mine.)
    I had a very unusual father that did his best to try to keep me as free of religious indoctrination as possible until I was old enough to think for myself on and evaluate religious indoctrination. When I say “unusual father” I am not kidding. He was born in the rural south of the US. For the international readers of this blog who don’t know what that means the other name for it is the very descriptive “bible belt”.
    So while I am not Irish I do have an idea of what that little boy in the picture is going to go through and I hope he has a mother who will sit down with him and talk to him like my father did without bias.
    So take heart little boy because you will be grateful every day for a mother that let you think for yourself.

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    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I can imagine how difficult it must have been for your dad – it is never easy to stand up for your principles and to stand out from the crowd. My own two children went through this school system. I had to take the difficult decision to let them partake in religious education and even sacrament preparation because I was afraid of the psychological damage that I would do to them if I ‘singled’ them out as different and forbade them from taking part activities that form such a huge part of the school year. One of them had nightmares about ‘hell’, a concept that we his parents don’t believe in, yet I had no control over what he had to listen to at school. Like your dad I tried to encourage critical thinking and I presented other viewpoints. Eventually both of my children made their own choices and pleaded with me to ‘opt them out’ of religious education. I wouldn’t mind if it was actually education about various religious practices and philosophies but it is the teaching of Catholic doctrine and faith formation that occurs from the ripe old age of 4 in schools funded by tax payers who are from multiple religions and none. In my opinion it is unconstitutional. Thanks again for sharing your experience. Sabina

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