Schools Admission Bill will institutionalise religious discrimination

The proposed new Education (Admissions) to Schools Bill 2016 will not remove religious discrimination from our education system and protect human rights. Despite the requirement that the Admissions policies of schools will be obliged to include a statement that they shall not discriminate on religion, publicly funded National schools can still discriminate in access on the ground of religion and there will be no practical application given to the right to opt out of religion classes and to opt out of a religious ethos. This new Schools Admissions Bill 2016 will achieve one thing, it will institutionalise religious discrimination, not remove it.

There are three key human rights principles relating to religion that our government continues to ignore with this Bill.

1. The school Admission Bill will not remove religious discrimination in access to publicly funded National Schools as there are no plans to remove Section 7 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act. Children have a human right to access their local publicly funded school without religious discrimination.

The Equal Status Act permits publicly funded Nationals Schools to admit children of a particular religious denomination in preference to others or if it refuses to admit a child who is not of that denomination and, in the case of a refusal, it is proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school. In Ireland five year old children are seen as a threat to the religious ethos of a school.

2. Parents have a human right to opt their children out of religion in schools. There is no practical application given to this right in the School Admissions Bill, opting out is a theoretical illusion and not operable in practice. There is no obligation to provide supervision during religious ceremonies and particularly during the holy communion year. The School Admissions Bill will not oblige schools to provide parents with another subject while all this takes place.

There is no provision in the Bill for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives that would accommodate the wishes of parents. The Schools Admission Bill does not oblige schools to supervise children outside the religion class.

3. Under human rights law the State is obliged to ensure the state curriculum is delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner in order to respect the human rights of parents and children. In Ireland the State permits Religious Patron bodies such as the Catholic Church to integrate religion into the State curriculum in order to uphold their ethos. This covers subjects such as Relationship and sexuality education. Parents cannot opt their children out of a religious integrated curriculum.

There is no provision in the Bill to oblige schools to deliver the State curriculum in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. This Bill will not even oblige schools to write down their ethos and to inform parents where exactly they are integrating it into the state curriculum. Parents cannot ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions.

Despite the Recommendations of the United Nations, the Recommendations from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Recommendations from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism this government will continue to undermine human rights and the Schools Admissions Bill 2016 will not change that.

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