So, Ireland is having a problem with school patronage. Currently, about 90 percent of state-funded primary schools are controlled by the Catholic Church. By “controlled by,” I mean that the Church decides admissions policies, who to hire to teach and administrate, and, perhaps most worryingly, the curriculum. Last year (and, unfortunately, several other times), the U.N. noted this problem and asked Ireland about this discrimination against non-Catholic, particularly non-religious or Atheist, Irish people and recommended changes be implemented to honor the human rights of the secular Irish, but since then, little has been done. Simply put, the Church does not want to give up any of its schools.
Parents should not have to lie about their faith in order for their children to get an education, and they also should not have to put their kids in a Catholic school in the first place just because there are no other options. Some families may want their children to receive “religious education,” but that doesn’t mean the children from secular families should be forced to “opt-out” of the large portion of the curriculum dedicated to Church-related learning, to mark themselves as “non-Catholic,” as “other.” Might I remind you, these schools are state-funded. The state itself (ideally) should be secular, all-inclusive.
Joe Humphreys of The Irish Times suggests two ways to begin amending this problem (assuming the Church does not in fact relinquish some of its schools): 1. ending “Catholic first” admissions policies, and 2. having children opt-in to religious education classes rather than being forced to opt-out. He goes further to say that even Catholic-operated schools that implemented these changes “would be Catholic in a much more meaningful sense, demonstrating a Christian spirit of openness to ‘the other.’ Indeed, they would exemplify the sort of Catholicism that many atheists admire – a welcoming, tolerant and intellectually-honest form of Catholicism that puts freedom of conscience centre stage,” as opposed to how many are now: exclusionary and discriminatory. Although I definitely think many more schools should be transferred from Catholic (or Protestant, multi-denominational, et al.) control to the secular, his sentiment regarding the “Catholic-ness” of inclusion is nice, and I hope that as more people begin to see this issue in those terms, more Christian schools will try to actually be Christian in word and in deed.