Catholic school management body undermines human rights of parents and children

The President of a Catholic school management association seems to believe that Catholic schools have a responsibility to disrespect atheist and secular parents’ convictions and undermine their human rights, and that children who are not educated to grow in faith are in danger of despair, nihilism and self-harm.

In a recent speech, Father Paul Connell, President of the Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools and the Joint Managerial Body for School Management in secondary Schools, said:

“The role of educators and particularly education leaders is absolutely vital in our Catholic schools. Underpinning all of this is our responsibility as Christian educators to help young people grow in faith. Otherwise they may be left without a moral reference point and in danger of despair. The alternative is a vacuum that can express itself in nihilism and the growing phenomenon in our schools of self-harm. And where there is a vacuum it can be filled by others who have nothing to offer but propaganda.

Father Connell misses several important points. Parents have no option but to send their children to schools with a Catholic ethos. Catholic schools disrespect the Constitutional and Human Rights of Parents and their children. The Right to ‘respect’ for parents’ convictions is an absolute right. The State funds the Joint Managerial Body, so we are all paying for this discrimination. And the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism recommended that the Minister for Education should make schools aware of the constitutional and legal rights of parents and their children.

Let’s look at each of these points in more details.

Parents have no option but to send their children to Catholic schools

Atheist and secular parents are obliged by force of circumstance to send their children to schools with a catholic ethos. We do not send our children to these schools to ‘grow in faith’. We have a Constitutional and human right to opt our children out of any faith formation or evangelisation in any publicly funded school. State funding of schools has conditions and two of those conditions are that minorities can have access, and that these schools must respect parents convictions. Parents and children cannot be denied their Constitutional and Human Rights just because they are belong to a minority.

Catholic schools disrespect Constitutional and Human Rights 

Claiming that schools with a Catholic ethos are inclusive and welcome all faiths and none is simply untrue. How does a Catholic ethos respect atheist and secular families, when they believe that without ‘growing in faith’ our children will have no moral reference point and are in danger of despair? They then go on to claim that our children will suffer from a vacuum in their lives that will express itself in nihilism and self-harm. How is this inclusive and how does it promote respect for the convictions of atheist and secular parents in schools with a Catholic ethos?

The Right to ‘respect’ for parents’ convictions is an absolute right

Fr Connell from the JMP also stated that:-

“the Catholic school cannot relinquish it’s own freedom to offer a formation based on the values to be found in a Christian education”

The European Court has made clear that the right to ‘respect’ for parents’ convictions is an absolute right,  not to be balanced against the rights of others, nor one that can be gradually achieved. This statement from Fr Connell is not based on the Constitution or human rights but on the educational philosophy of the Catholic Church. The State ‘provides for’ the education of minorities in schools with a Catholic ethos, it does so on the basis that the rights of all parents and their children are respected in those schools.

If the Catholic ethos disrespects parents and their children, that is not a ‘freedom’, but an abuse of the rights of parents and children. Are they seriously claiming that they have a right to disrespect parents and children and that the state should provide funding for this as this is a ‘freedom’?

The European Court has stated that:-

“58. Secondly, the Court emphasises that the supporters of secularism are able to lay claim to views attaining the “level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” required for them to be considered “convictions” within the meaning of Articles 9 of the Convention and 2 of Protocol No. 1 (see Campbell and Cosans v. the United Kingdom, 25 February 1982, § 36, Series A no. 48). More precisely, their views must be regarded as “philosophical convictions”, within the meaning of the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, given that they are worthy of “respect ‘in a democratic society’”, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education (ibid.). “

Atheist and secular families have exactly the same right to respect for their convictions that religious families have.

The State funds the Joint Managerial Body

The JMB is funded by an annual levy on schools, based on the number of students enrolled in each member school. Schools are paying a levy to the JMB, and the funding of schools comes from the State. This means that we are all paying for the JMB to undermine the rights of minorities in the education system.

The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that excessive involvement of religious authorities from one community in decisions that affect the rights of those belonging to another community may itself amount to a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief. In Ireland we hand control of our education system to private bodies such as the JMB, we fund those bodies whose purpose is to indoctrinate and evangelise and disrespect the rights of minorities.

Recommendation from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism

The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism recommended that the Minister for Education & Skills should make schools aware of the constitutional and legal rights of parents and their children. The Recommendation reads:-

“In order to clarify the constitutional and legal rights of children and parents and to reflect changes to the Rules for National Schools, the Advisory Group recommends that the Minister for Education and Skills should make schools aware of the human rights requirements of national and international law.“

That Recommendation has been ignored and at the JMB Conference. Seán Ó’Foghlú, Secretary General DES, Martin Hanavey, Assistant General Secretary, DES and Peter Baldwin, Assistant General Secretary, DES all sat there and listened while the JMB undermined the Constitutional and human rights of atheist and secular families in the education system. Did they applaud him when he finished disrespecting the rights of minorities? We assume that none of them stood up and reminded all of the following:

Section  15 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 states that in carrying out its function a Board of Management of a school shall :-

“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 way of life in society.”

How did the comments of Fr Paul Connell of the JMB respect the diversity of values and beliefs in Ireland? These people want to keep control of schools and expect the state to continue to fund them while they ignore the Constitutional and human rights of minorities. A Catholic ethos undermines the rights of minorities and they have no issue with standing up in front of members of the Department of Education and saying so. This is the kind of Republic that we are living in today!

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