The state pays €10m a year for Catholic school chaplains to help Catholic parents
The State pays Catholic and Church of Ireland Chaplains to help parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children. This funding costs the state approximately €10 million per year.
This is the purpose of the funding of Chaplains in ETB Community and Comprehensive Schools and designated Community Colleges. Most Chaplains are Catholic but some are Church of Ireland.
The Deeds of Trust for Community Colleges, and the Model Agreement for designated Community Colleges, state that the Chaplain must be nominated by the relevant religious authority. In the vast majority of cases that is the Catholic Church.
In 1996 a case was take to the courts regarding this funding. It was claimed that the funding of Chaplains was an endowment of religion, forbidden by the Constitution. The case went to the Supreme Court and in 1998 they found that this funding wasn’t an endowment of religion, because the State was helping parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children under Article 42.1, 42.4 and Article 44 of the Constitution.
The courts said that Community and Comprehensive schools were denominational in nature. They are either Catholic or Church of Ireland. They were open to all members of the community. The Catholic Church told the court that if the State didn’t fund Catholic Chaplains’ then they would be obliged to pay for them.
The Supreme Court recognised that teachers in Community schools were mostly lay teachers, and therefore it wasn’t practical to combine religious and academic education the way that a religious order might have done in the past.
The court found that, regardless of this, parents had the same right to have a religious education provided for their children, and they were not obliged to settle just for the religious instruction class.
This is the reason why Chaplains are funded by the State. Their very purpose is to assist Catholic and Church of Ireland parents with the religious education and faith formation of their children.
Justice Barrington went on to say that, if minority parents chose to send their children to Community or Comprehensive schools, they can expect them to be influenced to some degree by the religious ethos of these schools.
Community and Comprehensive schools, as well as designated Community Colleges, are presented as the alternative to denominational schools by the Department of Education.
So where does all this leave minorities in ETB schools and also in denominational schools? Most parents have no choice where they send their children to school.
We are told that all parents have absolute Constitutional rights with regard to the education of their children, and that all schools are inclusive and promote diversity and pluralism.
We are asked to accept that inclusion, diversity and pluralism mean that our children can be influenced by a religious ethos in the general atmosphere of a school.
If religion is combined with academic subjects, this will be another avenue of religious influence, as well as our children being left in the religion class, because no supervision is provided outside the class.
Can you imagine if the State paid schools to employ an atheist, to assist parents with the atheistic education of their children, or to promote atheism in the general atmosphere of the school?
If that happened (which of course it shouldn’t), we would never hear the end of it. It would be seen as religious discrimination and undermining the rights of religious parents. It is the same when the State pays schools to employ a Catholic Chaplain to assist parents with the Catholic education of their children.