How can a five-year-old child undermine a school’s religious ethos?

Despite what some people think, the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 has not removed the religious discrimination in access to schools in Ireland. Minority faith primary schools and any religious secondary school can still give preference to co-religionists. And Catholic schools can still refuse access to children who they believe could undermine their ethos.

Religious discrimination in access to schools is still legal

The vast majority of publicly funded schools have a religious ethos, mainly Catholic. Children from minority families are seen as a threat to that ethos, and the State has put in place legislation to ensure that five-year-olds don’t undermine the ethos of publicly funded schools with a Catholic ethos.

Since the enactment of the Admissions to Schools Act 2018, publicly funded primary schools with a Catholic ethos cannot give preference to children from Catholic families. But they can still refuse access if they believe that a five-year-old would undermine their ethos.

Second-level schools with a Catholic ethos can still give preference to children from the same denomination. So can primary and second level Church of Ireland schools. Religious discrimination has not gone away in the education system.

What schools are now saying about their admission policy

Parents have informed us that schools are now amending their Admission policies in line with the new Act, but they are still putting in their Admission policies that they can refuse access to a child if they believe that the child could undermine their ethos.

Parents cannot believe that schools can still discriminate in this manner and understandably feel that schools are still threatening their child refusal because they are not Catholic.

They can do this because the discrimination in Section 7-3(c) of the Equal Status Act had two parts. Schools with a particular religious ethos could give preference to the children from that denomination in access to the school. The second part of the discrimination was that they could refuse to admit a student if they could prove that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.

Section 7-3(c) of the Equal Status Act

(c) where the establishment is a school providing primary or post-primary education to students and the objective of the school is to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values, it admits persons of a particular religious denomination in preference to others or it refuses to admit as a student a person 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,

It has now been amended to:-

(c) where the establishment is a school providing primary or post-primary education to students and the objective of the school is to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values, it refuses to admit as a student a person who is not of a particular religious denomination and it is proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school,

How can a five-year-old undermine a school’s ethos?

It is difficult to understand how any school could prove that a five or twelve-year-old could undermine their ethos but it is still part of the legislation. It is a reminder to parents that if you belong to a minority in Ireland you still face religious discrimination in the education system.

Publicly funded schools with a Catholic ethos are ensuring that they put this reminder into their Admission Policies so that minority parents are told that you are only admitted on sufferance and we only include you because we have to.

The inalienable right of parents in the Constitution to respect for their convictions has always taken second place to the right of religious bodies to indoctrinate a particular majority in a given area.

In balancing out these rights, individual conscience has no meaning. All that matters to the State is that a particular version of a particular religion is given privilege over parents and their children.

This does not protect freedom of religion, it undermines it. How does it protect religious freedom to tell a family that their five-year-old could undermine the ethos of the school so we might not permit them access? It is ridiculous, and they know they could never prove it, but it is used to frighten parents anyway.

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