Minister Bruton is wrong – Community National Schools are not based on international best practice

In a speech last week at the IPPN Conference,  the Minister for Education said Community National Schools reflect international best practice in the area of faith and belief nurturing. He is wrong. He says that international best practice encourages schools to celebrate religious festivals and rites of passage.

But international best practice is actually the opposite of this. It is that schools must be careful to make the distinction between teaching about such festivals and rites of passage, which is appropriate, and actually celebrating them, which should be avoided.

Community National Schools are just another type of religious school, where the rights of minorities are again ignored. These schools were set up with an agreement in place between the state and the Catholic Church, in relation to the teaching of the Catholic religion in Community National Schools. That agreement between State and Church has not changed.

CNS schools were set up by State agreement with Catholic Church

Here is the Press Release when the Community National Schools were set up. They were set up as Interdenominational schools, not Multi-Denominational. Interdenominational schools are Christian schools. There is no public record of a change in the designation of Community National Schools from Interdenominational to Multi-Denominational.

The Department of Education stated in writing when they announced the Community National Schools that the teaching of religion will be the same as in denominational schools. This can only mean that there will be Catholic religious instruction classes, religious ceremonies, preparation for Holy Communion, a religious integrated curriculum and the hiring of teachers who have completed the Catholic Certificate in Religious studies.

Nothing has changed in the agreement between the Department of Education and the Catholic Church since the introduction of the Community National Schools. What has changed is the use of language when promoting Community National Schools.

International best practice treats nonreligious believers equally

But whether they are in Interdenominational or Multi-Denominational, neither designation is inclusive of philosophical convictions such as secularism, atheism or agnosticism. Atheist and secular families have exactly the same rights as religious families. The State is bound to ensure respect for their philosophical convictions.

The Venice Commission has stated that:-

“Religion or belief.

International standards do not speak of religion in an isolated sense, but of ‘religion or belief’. The ‘belief’ aspect typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world. Thus atheism and agnosticism, for example, are generally held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs. It is very common for legislation not to protect adequately (or to not refer at all) to rights of non-believers. Although not all beliefs are entitled to equal protection, legislation should be reviewed for discrimination against non-believers.”
CDL-AD(2004)028, Guidelines for legislative reviews of laws affecting religion or belief, p.4.

Minister says International best practice is to celebrate religious festivals and rites of passage

In his speech at the IPPN Conference, the Minister spoke about Community National schools encouraging their school communities to celebrate religious festivals and rites of passage. He stated that:-

“I am aware that many Community National Schools encourage their school communities to celebrate the religious festivals and rites of passage of the various religious communities within the school, whether it be First Communion, Confirmation or Eid. I am aware of non-religious and Muslim families in some Community National Schools showing up in large numbers to join the Catholic families in the school First Communion celebration, and Christian and non-religious families returning the favour for Eid. This is an example of precisely the type of shared understanding and integration that the State should be promoting through its education system, and I wish to recognise this here.”

This is something that the Community National Schools have promoted in their Submission to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism. They stated that:

“Important festivals are honoured and marked in the schools. Christmas and Eid are two of the bigger celebrations – reflecting the composition of the school populations. Parents of faiths to whom these occasions may not be important are encouraged to come to the schools and join in the celebrations out of a spirit of friendship and respect for the parents and children of other faiths.”

International best practice is to not celebrate religious festivals and rites of passage

But international best practice, as outlined in the Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs, tells us the opposite of what the Minister and the ETBs claim is international best practice.

The Toledo Guiding Principles state that:

“For example, teachers can often take advantage of holidays periods to teach about religions in culturally sensitive ways. They need to be careful to make the distinction between teaching about the holiday, and actually celebrating the holiday, or using it as an opportunity to proselytize or otherwise impose their personal beliefs.” Page 74 – Toledo Guiding Principles.

International best practice states that schools “need to be careful to make the distinction between teaching about the holiday, and actually celebrating the holiday”.

Community National Schools do not reflect international best practice

The Minister and the ETB are trying to convince us that these Community Schools represent something different than Denominational schools. The purpose of the language is to convince us all that what is happening in these schools is international best practice, is inclusive and promotes pluralism and diversity.

Let us be clear about this. What is happening in Community National Schools is not international best practice. International best practice does not support identifying and segregating small children according to the religious and philosophical convictions of their parents. You can read about that here:

Community National Schools do not respect human rights

When did celebrating religious festivals that you do not belong to become ‘showing respect and a spirit of friendship’?  Why are the Community National Schools encouraging parents to see religious festivals and celebrations in this manner? What do they say to parents who are reluctant for their children to attend these ceremonies and celebrate religious festivals?

Constitutional right to opt out of religious ceremonies

It is a Constitutional and Human Right for parents to opt their children out of religious festivals and ceremonies, as that is the practice of religion. The Community National Schools never inform parents of this, and have not put in place policy that enables parents to access this right. What they have done is made parents feel guilty about not attending religious festivals and ceremonies that they do not belong to.

So the Minister for Education is promoting the opposite of International best practice, and claiming publicly that Community National Schools follow international best practice. He seems unwilling to do anything about the control that the Catholic Church has over the education system. Instead he prefers to try to convince us that the evangelising mission of the Catholic church in State schools is just a normal part of a democratic republic.

Atheist Ireland

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