State fails to explain religious discrimination in schools that the State runs directly

Irish State fails to explain religious discrimination in schools it runs directly

 

The Department of Education has failed to explain why there is religious discrimination in access to even the few primary schools that the State runs directly, never mind in the schools where it cedes control to religious patrons.

Ireland has nine State schools at primary level where the Minister for Education & Skills is patron. Last June Atheist Ireland wrote to the Dept of Education asking why as Patron they discriminate on religious grounds in access to Athy Model School. See our Article on these State schools with a copy of the letter sent to the Minister, “Even two schools directly run by the State are discriminating on religious grounds. Why?”

We received a response from the Dept of Education & Skills which does not address our concerns. We have now responded again to the Department, seeking clarification. We have sent a copy of both letters to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. This article contains our latest response, and the letter to which we were responding.

1. Latest response of Atheist Ireland to the Department of Education & Skills regarding religious discrimination in State schools

Thank you for your letter dated 31st of October. Unfortunately your letter does not clarify the matter at all, but raises additional issues in relation to human rights. We have sent your response to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and will also send them a copy of this letter.

In our letter to the Minister last June, we raised concern regarding the obligations of the State under the European Convention and the Constitution in relation to education. Your letter does not refer to the obligations of the State under the European Convention, it only refers to domestic legislation.

We appreciate that you refer to the Education Act 1998 and equality legislation, but we still cannot understand how the Dept of Education & Skills is complying with either Act. Questions relating to Article 42.1 of the Constitution and the European Convention still remain unanswered, as does opting out of the religious integrated curriculum in schools (Rule 68).

We again ask you to respond to all the concerns in our letter in June regarding these Model schools, and in particular Athy Model School. Since our letter in June we have also discovered that An Mhodhscoil in Limerick gives preference in access to staff from the Dept of Education & Skills in Limerick. We cannot understand how either the Education Act 1998 or the Equal Status Act sanctions such discrimination.

Boards of model schools have duties to the Department as patron

As you have pointed out, it is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act 1998, and schools are legally obliged under Section 15 2 (d) to publish their enrolment policy.

Can we remind you that under the Education Act, Boards of Management in all schools have duties to the recognised patron? In that context:

(a) The Dept of Education & Skills is recognised under Section 8 (1) of the Education Act as the patron of Athy Model School and all Model schools.

(b) Section 8 (6) of the Education Act 1998 states that;

“The patron of a school shall carry out the functions and exercise the powers conferred on the patron by this Act and such other functions and powers as may be conferred on the patron by any act of the Oireachtas or instrument made thereunder, deed, charter, articles of management or other such instrument relating to the establishment or operation of the school.”

(c) It is the duty of Boards of Management under Section 15-(1) of the Education Act to manage the school on behalf of the patron. The Board of Management of Athy Model School is managing the school on behalf of the Department of Education & Skills.

(d) Section 15-2 (b) of the Education Act 1998 obliges Boards of Management when carrying out its functions, to uphold, and be accountable to the patron for so upholding, the characteristic spirit of the school.

(e) Section 15 – 2 (e) obliges the Board of Management to, “have regard to the principles and requirements of a democratic society and have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society.”

Impact of the Louise O’Keeffe case on State’s duties in all schools

In addition to the above, the European Court in the Louise O’Keeffe case stated:

“150. It is indeed the case, as emphasised by the applicant, that a State cannot absolve itself from its obligations to minors in primary schools by delegating those duties to private bodies or individuals (Costello-Roberts v. the United Kingdom, cited above, § 27. See also, mutatis mutandis, Storck v. Germany, no. 61603/00, § 103, ECHR 2005V).”

151… “There were four National Schools in the applicant’s parish and no information was submitted as to the distance to the nearest fee-paying school. In any event, the State cannot be released from its positive obligation to protect simply because a child selects one of the State approved education options, whether a National School, a fee-paying school or, indeed, home schooling (Costello-Roberts, cited above, § 27).”

Department is directly responsible for discrimination in model schools

In the case of the Model Schools the Department of Education & Skills is the recognised patron. Your letter does not claim that the Department of Education is not the patron of Athy Model School and indeed all nine Model Schools.

It is the Dept of Education & Skills who is responsible for the discrimination on religious grounds in access to Athy Model School.

It is the Dept of Education who is endeavouring to enable each child in the school to acquire a set of moral values based on the religious ethos of the school.

It is the Dept of Education & Skills who is failing in its positive duty to ensure that the Constitutional and Human Rights of parents and children are protected in these Model Schools.

Endeavouring to enable each child in the school to acquire a set of moral values based on the religious ethos of the school is not in accordance with Article 42.1 of the Constitution, Section 15 – 2 (e) of the Education Act, Articles 9, 14 and Article II of Protocol 1 of the European Convention and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.

Last July the UN Human Rights Committee under the (ICCPR) questioned the government delegation about religious discrimination in the education system where the vast majority of school are managed by private bodies. See the Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee last July (CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G14/141/79/PDF/G1414179.pdf?OpenElement

In Ireland it does not make a difference whether the school is managed by a private body or the state, as both types of school discriminate on religious grounds.

It is the responsibility of the Department of Education & Skills to ensure that all the nine Model School respect the inalienable rights of all parents under the Irish Constitution, the European Convention and the various UN Conventions that Ireland has ratified.

The Department has a positive obligation under the European Convention to protect the human rights of all parents and children and cannot delegate that to the Board of Management of Athy Model School or indeed any school.

What we are requesting

We again ask you to respond to all of the concerns in our letter in June regarding these Model schools, and in particular Athy Model School, as well as to the additional information we have included in this letter.

Since our letter in June, we have also discovered that An Mhodhscoil in Limerick gives preference in access to staff from the Dept of Education & Skills in Limerick, and we also ask you to respond to this concern.

We look forward to hearing from you.

2.  Letter from the Dept of Education & Skills

This is the letter from the Department that Atheist Ireland was replying to in the above letter.

Thank you for your recent correspondence to the Minister for Education and Skills, Ms. Jan O’Sullivan T.D., in relation to Athy Model School. I apologise for the delay in issuing a reply.

It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998. In this regard a Board of Management may find it necessary to restrict enrolment to children from a particular area or a particular age group or on the basis of some other criterion.

The selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. Under section 15 (2) (d) of the Education Act 1998 each school is legally obliged to publish it’s enrolment policy.

Existing equality legislation which outlaws discrimination in relation to the admission of a student, makes provision for exemptions to apply in the case of single sex schools and in the case of schools where the objective is to provide education in an environment that promotes certain religious values. The legislation provides that any school that has this objective may admit a student of a particular religious denomination in preference to other students. Such a school can also refuse to admit a student who is not of that religion provided it can prove that this refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.

The Government gave approval last March for drafting the Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill 2014 which seeks to improve the admissions process and to ensure that the way schools decide on applicatons is strucutred, fair and transparent.

• The provisions regarding religious instruction in primary schools are set out in Circular 11/95 and the Rules for National Schools. Circular 11/95 provides that thirty minurtes of the standard school day of five hours and forty minutes is allocated for religious education. Rule 69 of the Rules for National Schools state, among others, that:

• No pupil shall receive, or be present at, any religious instructin of which his parents or guardians disapprove.

• The periods of formal religious instruction shall be fixed so as to faciitate the withdrawal of pupils where the above applies

• Where such religious instruction as their parents or guardians approve is not provided in the school for any section of the pupils, such pupils must, should their parents or guardians so desire, be allowed to absent themselves from school, at reasonable times, for the purpose of receiving that instruction elsewhere.

On 1 July 2014 a paper entitled Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions was published to provide an update on the progress made to date on implementing the Forum’s recommendations on new schools, divesting of patronage, enrolment legislation and the development of progreammes on Education about Religon and Beliefs and Ethics. It also outlines good practice and options for promoting diversity in schools, in particular in relation to:

  • The right to opt out of religion classes;
  • Scheduling of Religion Classes and other Religious Activities;
  • Options for Pupils in relation to Religous Ceremonies of the Ethos of the School;
  • Celebration of Religious Festivals;
  • Display of Religious Artefacts.

The paper is not prescriptive on how schools should address these issues but instead it encourages school authorities to engage in consultation with stakeholders and to review their policies and practices on an ongoing basis to ensure that they remain suitable for the school population that they serve. It recognises that each school should arrive at solutions that suit its own particular context. It also notes that this is an evolving situation and that practices may evolve over time as circumstances change.

The paper invites stakeholders to continue to provide feedback and information on these issues which will continue to inform the future development of policy in this area.

I trust that the above clarifies the position for you.

Summary

As you can appreciate the response from the Dept of Education & Skills did not clarify the position.

The Irish State went to the European Court in the Louise O’Keeffe case and tried to absolve itself of responsibility by delegating that responsibility to Patron bodies. In this situation, where the  Dept of Education & Skills are the Patron body, they now try and absolve themselves of responsibility by delegating that to the Board of Management.

Atheist Ireland will continue to put pressure on the state to respect the Constitutional and Human Rights of atheist/secular parents in Ireland.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    steve white November 14, 2014

    as not including the response you got from dept of ed make this story very hard to comprehend

    Reply
    • Avatar
      steve white November 14, 2014

      oh sorry I see it is there below

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Jane November 14, 2014

    Steve,

    The response from the Dept of Education is in the article.

    Reply

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