ETB schools pay €9.8 million to chaplains, but deny doing religious instruction

The Department of Education spends €9.8 million per year on 156 Chaplains in ETB schools, which are supposed to be the State-run alternative to denominational schools, even though the ETBs claim that there is no religious instruction in the schools.

The €9.8 million is paid to help Catholic and Church of Ireland parents with the faith teaching and practice of their children. The vast bulk of that €9.8 million goes to helping Catholic parents.

According to the ETBs Draft Core Values and Characteristic Spirit Report, 26% of schools are designated, which means they have special arrangements with the local Church. A Draft ETB Report states that:

This is further complicated by the fact that approximately 26% of ETB schools are ‘designated schools’ with legally binding model agreements or deeds of trust which guarantee certain provisions for Catholic children (in the majority of cases) in relation to Religious Instruction and worship. These schools are still defined by the DES as ‘multidenominational’

In Ireland over half of second level schools are Catholic. In addition, the State helps Catholic parents in 26% of ETB schools with faith teaching and practice for their children, while minorities cannot access another subject if they opt out their children from religion classes, in schools that are presented as the alternative to denominational schools.  This is presented to us as inclusion, pluralism and diversity.

Supreme Court Case

The funding of Chaplains in ETB schools was the subject of a Supreme Court case in 1998. A lobby group called the Campaign to Separate Church and State took the case. They argued that State funding of Chaplains in ETB schools (then VEC schools) was an endowment of religion contrary to Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution (which says that the State shall not endow any religion).

The Supreme Court found that the funding of Chaplains was not contrary to Article 44.2.2  of the Constitution. It found that the State was not endowing a religion, but was helping parents with the religious education of their children under Article 42.1 of the Constitution, over and above mere religious ‘instruction’ under Article 44.2.4.

The English version of the Constitution refers to the right to not attend religious instruction. But the Irish version of the Constitution takes precedence. Article 44.2.4 translates directly into not attending ‘religious teaching’ (teagasc creidimh). The Supreme Court sees this ‘religious teaching’  as something less than ‘religious education’ under Article 42.1 of the Constitution.

Section 30-2(e) of the Education Act 1998 and Section 15-2 (e) reflect the inalienable rights of parents under Article 42.1 and Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution to opt their children out of anything that is against their conscience. The ETBs are legally obliged to respect the philosophical convictions of families who seek secular education for their children. It is a legal obligation that they ignore and undermine.

Why are the ETBs employing chaplains?

Since the recent Circular Letters from the Department of Education, ETB schools must give a an alternative subject to children who opt out from attending religious instruction.

The ETBs now claim that they don’t do religious instruction anymore. They (wrongly) describe religious instruction as classes that involve faith formation.

But if they are not doing faith formation, then why are they paying €9.8 million a to chaplains whose purpose is to provide for faith teaching and practice?

The Supreme Court said that:

“It therefore appears to me that the present system whereby the salaries of Chaplains in Community Schools are paid by the State is merely a manifestation, under modern conditions, of principles which are recognised and approved by Articles 44 and 42 of the Constitution.”(page 27)”

The Court went on to say:

“Nevertheless parents have the same right to have religious education provided in the schools which their children attend. They are not obliged to settle merely for religious “instruction”. The role of the Chaplain is to help to provide this extra dimension to the religious education of the children. The evidence establishes that, besides looking after the pastoral needs of the children, the Chaplain helps them with counsel and advice about their day to day problems. It therefore appears to me that the present system whereby the salaries of Chaplains in Community Schools are paid by the State is merely a manifestation, under modern conditions, of principles which are recognised and approved by Articles 44 and 42 of the Constitution.”(page 27)

According to the contract of the Chaplains, faith teaching and practice are intrinsic to school chaplaincy.  The Chaplain is a person of faith, a Priest, Religious or a lay person on the relevant faith, committed to the teaching and values of Christ, acting on behalf of the Church and the school community while upholding the teaching and moral standards and practices of the Competent Religious Authority, together with the characteristic spirit and founding intention of the school.  Minority faiths don’t get a look in here as it is the Catholic Church that sanctions the hiring of Chaplains. You can see the job description here

The rights of parents

The Court Supreme Court went on to say that:

“But the matter does not end there. Article 42 of the Constitution acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of the parents to provide for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. Article 42. S.2 prescribes that the parents shall be free to provide “this education” (i.e religious moral intellectual physical and social education) in their homes or in private schools or “in schools recognised or established by the State”. In other words the Constitution contemplates children receiving religious education in schools recognised or established by the State but in accordance with the wishes of the parents.” (page 25)

It is constitutionally impermissible for a Chaplain to instruct a child in a religion other than its own without the knowledge and consent of its parents. Regardless Chaplains in ETBs do that all the time as they are required to take four hours teaching per week.

It is clear that the total cost of Chaplains in ETBs is €9.8 million per year; there are 156 of them, and their main purpose is faith teaching and practice. The role of the Chaplain in ETB schools does not come under public procurement, as the only relevant religious authority is the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland depending on the Deeds of Trust or the Model Agreement. The State helps Catholic parents with the faith teaching and practice of their children while the Constitutional right of minorities is ignored. ETBs don’t help parents with the secular education of their children and simply ignore the wishes of these parents.

Chaplains are not Counsellors

In a recent response to a Dail question by Ruth Coppinger, the Minister, Joe McHugh stated that Chaplains did pastoral and counselling duties. He never mentioned faith teaching and practice, even though he referred to the original agreements concluded when the schools were established.

“The appointment of chaplains to these schools flow from the original agreements concluded when the schools concerned were established. The chaplains perform pastoral and counselling roles and play an important role in supporting student well-being.”

However, the Contract for Chaplains clearly state that they cannot do counselling. The Minister claimed that the Chaplains were Counsellors, and never mentioned in his Dail Response that faith teaching and practice and intrinsic to school chaplaincy. The Contract States that:

“The Chaplain is not a counsellor. While some Chaplains may have professional qualifications in counselling, such “professional” counselling is not part of the Chaplaincy role. In the event of professional counselling being required by a student, the Chaplain should refer such case(s) to the Principal for referral to the relevant service. “

Conclusion

In ETB schools, the alternative to denominational schools, Catholic and Church of Ireland parents get help from the state with faith teaching and practice for their children, even though the ETBs claim that there is no religious instruction in the school.

This state help includes €9.8 million per year for mainly Catholic Chaplains. No public procurement process is in place and the state helps Catholic and Church of Ireland parents with faith teaching and practice in ETB schools.

Parents who seek secular education for their children get no such assistance, in what are presented as the alternative to denominational schools. The ETBs are actively undermining their right to opt out their children under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, and they don’t recognise or respect their ‘alienable’ right under Article 42.1 of the Constitution.

In addition, the NCCA religion course, which is mandatory in many ETB schools, teaches their children about the relevance of religion to their lives and teaches their children to respect beliefs which are contrary to their conscience.

There is plenty of funding to help Catholic parents in ETB schools, which are supposed to be the alternative to denominational schools, but no resources to offer students that opt out of religion another subject.

This is what is on offer in ETB schools. This is what inclusion and accountability means on the ground.

The ETBs have a public sector duty to eliminate discrimination and uphold human rights. It all sounds great until you realise they just make it up as they go along, and their inclusion and respect is based on a Catholic philosophy of education with a purpose to evangelise.

They are actively working to undermine the Constitutional right of minorities to not attend religious teaching under Article 44.2.4 and Article 42.1 of the Constitution.

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