Religious discrimination and schools
Sir, – The wording of the census religion question “What is your religion?” is somewhat controversial. The CSO has undertaken to review this question in 2021, with the possible addition of a question on religious practice. The fact that over 468,000 of the population, or 9.8 per cent, chose “No religion” in last year’s census in response to this question, in its current format, is evidence of a dramatic shift in religiosity in Irish society. The equivalent figure in 1981 was 1.1 per cent.
Furthermore, the fact that a large majority continue to state a religious affiliation on their census form should in no way be taken as a vote of confidence in the current system, with its religious barriers to education and religious discrimination within the classroom. The overwhelming support for marriage equality in the 2015 referendum, notwithstanding the 78.3 per cent who self-identify as Catholic, shows the danger of drawing such inferences.
The annual marriage statistics provide a much more useful barometer of religious practice within the relevant demographic. Here, the number of non-religious ceremonies increased by 859 per cent between 1996 and 2016, with more than one in three young couples in Ireland today now choosing to marry in a civil or humanist ceremony.
Since most children in Ireland continue to be born within marriage, we can reasonably infer that many Irish schoolchildren live in non-religious households. This has been borne out by surveys showing that one in four baptisms are pragmatic.
Human rights should never be a numbers game. However, the families facing religious discrimination in our schools are now too numerous to ignore. We need equal access to school, and equal respect during the school day, for every child – baptised or not. To fail to provide this is to fail us all. – Yours, etc,