The WRC report on the ‘Homework passes for Masses’ discrimination case

The Workplace Relations Commission has published the recent case that found Yellow Furze National School in Meath had discriminated on religious grounds against a family.

You can find the case here

The school is under Catholic patronage, and it gave homework passes to children who attended Catholic religious services. But it refused to give the same pass to a child from an atheist family who was opted out of religion.

The parent who took the case said of the incident: “He came out of school crying. He told me the teacher had told the class that children who did not participate in the Communion choir would not receive a homework pass.”

The response submitted by the school shows the total lack of understanding of the rights of parents and the right to freedom of religion and belief.

Was there nobody in the school who raised the point that the student had a Constitutional and human right to opt out of singing at a religious ceremony, which is the practice of religion?

Catholic schools see inclusion as including minorities in the Catholic religion. They don’t accept that inclusion means that the Constitutional and Human rights of minorities are written down, acknowledged, accepted, and have practical application given to them on the ground.

What is it about the Constitutional right to not attend religion classes or ceremonies that schools and teachers do not understand? Why are teacher training colleges training teachers to undermine Constitutional and Human rights?

How can any school believe that inviting and welcoming minorities to participate in a Catholic religious ceremony and punishing them by not giving homework passes if they don’t attend, is inclusive?

Yellow Furze National School (the respondent) stated:

The Respondent submitted that that the claim is wholly unfounded as there was an option for the Complainant to attend and participate in the school choir that was to sing at the school’s First Communion ceremony (“the Ceremony”). The Respondent maintained that as a Catholic School it enjoys a proud tradition of participating in religious ceremonies. It further contended that music is an integral part of this, and that the school provides the choir for the Ceremony.  The Respondent also submitted that singing is part of the music curriculum, and students who play instruments are also invited to participate in the Ceremony.

It maintained that all children from 3rd to 6th classes, regardless of religion (or none), are invited and welcome to participate in, and are all encouraged to give of their time for the benefit of others, including singing in the choir for those children receiving a sacrament. In this regard the school choir traditionally provides the music for the Ceremony on an annual basis. The Ceremony always takes place on a Sunday and not during the school week. The Respondent submitted that all children are to participate in both the practice for the Ceremony and the Ceremony itself.”

But the WRC concluded that:

“As adduced in the evidence provided at the hearing, the Respondent operates a Code of Behaviour where it identifies that all children who engage in positive behaviour such as participating in extra-curricular activities, will receive a reward if the activity takes place outside of school hours. Furthermore, under its Discipline for Learning System the Respondent deems good behaviour as attending such extra-curricular as the First Communion Ceremony. The Respondent therefore decided to award children who attended or supported the church ceremony with a homework pass. I am therefore satisfied that under these circumstances a prime facia case (of discrimination) existed…”

“Having examined all the evidence in relation to the complaint, I am satisfied that the complainant was treated less favourably on the grounds of his non-religion in relation to being penalised by the Respondent for not attending the First Communion Ceremony. Homework passes were given to the children who did attend the Communion thereby causing deep upset to the complainant, who by virtue of this religious belief where he does not practice as a Catholic was not awarded the homework pass. I also find that the school did not respond reasonably to the concerns raised by the Complainant’s mother on 2nd May 2020, and whilst I acknowledge that meeting between the Complaint’s parents and the school on 7th June 2019 was emotive and adversarial, the Respondent again failed to address the situation in a timely manner.”

“On examination of all the evidence in relation to this complaint, and the detailed testimony given by the parties, I find that the Complainant and his parents were deeply hurt and upset by the treatment of the Respondent towards them to the point they have removed the Complainant from the school. I find that the complainant has demonstrated prima facie evidence of discriminatory treatment on grounds of religion and the respondent has failed to rebut the presumption of discrimination.

I note the Respondent, by maintaining it is appropriate to award a benefit to children to attend a religious ceremony, does not appreciate this action had an adverse effect on students who are not of a Catholic faith. As such it is in breach of its obligations under section 7 of the Act. Whilst it is not required to change the ethos of the school, nor is it in my power under the Acts to make such an order, it must operate in manner that it does not discriminate students who are of a different religious belief, or of no religion,in relation to the access of any benefit provided and in any term or condition of participation in the establishment by a student.”

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