Blog Post

Should schools be allowed to discriminate?

The headline grabber from the INTO congress was Jan O’Sullivan’s announcement that new enrollment guidelines will now be enacted. The media have decided to set their focus on one aspect of the new guidelines: now schools can only prioritise the enrollment of 10% of past pupils. It has been taken on to such an extent that one would think that this issue was the main one that is crippling the education system!

The new guidelines, however, fall short of abolishing the more disturbing reality that schools are legally allowed to discriminate against children based on the religion of their family. Yes, a school can refuse to enrol a child because he does not worship the same god as the school is advocating. (For those of you oblivious to the Irish education system, over 95% of schools are run by religious groups.) While most schools, thankfully, do not refuse children on the basis of this law, the fact of the matter is that it still exists and can legally be used.

Listening to the radio, texts and commentary suggest that this is a much bigger issue than the 10% past pupil rule. However, one text caught my ear which was aimed at atheists. According to the texter, militant atheists need to realise that the vast majority of people believe in a god so therefore the ethos of schools in Ireland need to reflect this. (As an aside, I can’t understand how atheists are always referred to as militant.)

Here lies the problem and it’s two-fold.

Problem 1: Is Ireland a secular country?

According to the law, Ireland is supposed to be a country where no one should be discriminated again based on their race, religious views, etc. However, schools seem to be exempt from discriminating on religious views. If this is the case, shouldn’t this follow through for all matters relating to religious ethos? We can’t just pick some aspects of the religion that suit and those that don’t. If it’s ok to discriminate against families based on their religion, surely the same should happen for those who “practice” cohabitation, homosexuality, divorce, contraception? If we’re going to be spouting on about protecting religious values in school, we have to be consistent at the very least.

Problem 2: If the majority of people believe something, should schools reflect this?

The majority of people in Ireland currently believe in a god of sorts. Therefore, by logic, schools should reflect this. Let’s take some more majorities in Ireland and not majorities that are close majorities. Let’s pick ones where we’re looking at over 75%: Irish people, white people, non-travellers and hetrosexual people. I could add more but let’s just interchange words from our texter above.

Militant homosexuals need to realise that the vast majority of people are hetrosexual so therefore the ethos of the schools need to reflect this.

or

Militant black people need to realise that the vast majority of people are white so therefore the ethos of the schools need to reflect this.

I can imagine to anyone’s ear, this sounds wrong. Why does it sound wrong? Simply, because it is. However, the text to the radio station didn’t warrant any ruffles from the DJ. It’s as if, it’s ok to:

  1. call anyone who doesn’t believe in the majority view a militant
  2. disregard their opinion because their religious views are in the minority

Ireland needs to decide its own ethos and be open about it as they are in many countries. David Cameron openly declared that the UK is a Christian country. Israel is very open about its Jewish faith. Many other countries in the Middle East are very open about their Islamic faith. On the other hand, France is very open about being completely secular. Turkey, in 1922, also decided to be a secular country, despite its 97% Muslim population. Where does Ireland fit? If we can solve this problem, then maybe we can focus on whether 10% of past pupils should be allowed to prioritise the enrollment of their children into schools.

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