Atheist Ireland, Evangelical Alliance, and Ahmadi Muslims welcome part and reject part of Schools Admissions Bill

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, welcome part and reject part of the Schools Admissions Bill passed by the Dail yesterday.

Despite our different world views, we campaign together for a State-funded secular education system that respects equally everybody’s constitutional and human rights in our schools.

  • We welcome that State-funded primary schools run by the Catholic Church will no longer be allowed to discriminate in access on the ground of religion;
  • But we disagree with the part that allows State-funded schools run by minority religions to continue to discriminate on the ground of religion if they are oversubscribed.

The most positive aspect of this Bill is that it is part of a pattern of Irish Governments starting to address the breaches in our schools of the rights of secular and minority faith students.

Recently, as a result of our intensive campaigning over many years on a human rights basis:

  • Parents and students are now more aware of their constitutional and human rights to not be discriminated against;
  • Schools are no longer legally obliged to integrate religion throughout the school day;
  • ETB second level schools must now give pupils a timetabled alternative to religion;
  • The majority of primary schools will now have to stop discriminating on the ground of religion in access to schools;
  • Also, under this Bill, schools will have to tell parents what their arrangements are for opting out of religion.

However, these welcome developments on their own will not end the breaches of constitutional and human rights in our schools. Contrary to caricature slogans, this issue is not about baptism certs. It is about changing the culture of our schools.

It is about respecting the fundamental human rights principle of the right to equal participation in all aspects of State-funded schools for all children, regardless of the religious or nonreligious beliefs of their parents.

This Bill could form part of making that happen, if accompanied by other legal changes. But there is no point in getting equal access to a State-funded school that is then allowed to discriminate against you and evangelise you once you get inside.

And there is no point in just fine tuning religious discrimination by allowing some minority religions to continue to discriminate in ways that people of other religious or nonreligious beliefs can not.

Instead, the Government should protect the Constitutional and human rights of the real religious minorities: individual parents, children, and teachers, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also made the wider point that we are raising, by asking the Government to amend the Admission to Schools Bill to ensure the religious discrimination in access is removed and that the State curriculum is delivered in an objective, critical and pluralist manner.

You can read more detail of our position on these issues in this article.

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