Plurality of patronage will never achieve pluralism in education

Opening up 400 multi denominational schools throughout the country will never achieve pluralism in education.

The policy of successive governments is to segregate children in some areas of the country on the basis of their parents’ religion.

Even if the state opened up 400 multi denominational schools throughout the country it would still leave many parents in the position whereby they had no choice but to sent their children to the only local school under catholic patronage. Even the Oireachtas Education Committee said that “Multiple patronage and ethos as a basis for policy can lead to segregation and inequality in the education system”.

It is simply not possible to open up multi denominational schools in every town and village in the country. Why does the state want to segregate small children on the basis of their parents’ religion or philosophical conviction?

Our education system was set up so that all children would be educated together not segregated on the basis of religion.

The Constitution envisages minorities attending publicly funded denominational schools and has made provision for their rights to be protected. The issue is that successive governments have failed in their constitutional duty to give practical application to those rights on the ground. They have bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church in relation to the rights of minorities in schools under their patronage.

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution states that:-

Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The Constitution singles out religious instruction (teaching) over other subjects in the curriculum.

State funding is conditional on students not attending religious instruction. The fact of the matter is that students are left sitting in the religion class where religious instruction takes place as no supervision is provided, and no other subject is offered to them. That is a failure on behalf of successive governments to protect the Constitutional rights of minorities in denominational schools.

The Constitution did not leave the rights of minorities in relation to access to schools and religious instruction in the hands of the Department of Education. Under the Constitution it is the duty of the Oireachtas to ensure that students can access publicly funded denominational schools and not attend religious instruction. Any legislation must not ‘affect prejudicially’ this right.

Article 15.2.1

The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is hereby vested in the Oireachtas: no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State.

It is quite clear from the Constitution that access to schools for minorities and religious instruction are to be given special protection. The duty to protect minorities in publicly funded denominational schools lies with the Oireachtas. These are the reasons why the rights of minorities must be protected in publicly funded denominational schools. The Constitution has made special provision for it. The funding of schools is not without constitutional conditions.

In addition the Supreme Court found that a religious ethos could only influence children to ‘some degree’ and in the ‘general atmosphere’ of the school (Campaign to Separate Church and State v Minister for Education 1998). Successive governments have never taken this on board and put in place statutory regulations to ensure that a religious ethos has limits. They have given Patron bodies limitless power in relation to ethos and they decide how it influences children from minority backgrounds in schools.

Plurality of patronage will never achieve pluralism in education; it is segregation by another name. Our Constitution envisages children being educated together and has put a duty on the Oireachtas to protect the rights of minorities in publicly funded denominational schools. It is not the Constitution that has failed us but successive governments.

Atheist Ireland


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