School patrons should be banned from seeking baptism certificates or other proof of a child’s religious affiliation in managing admissions, the Humanist Association of Ireland has said.
The grouping argues that non-religious parents are being forced into having “pragmatic baptisms” for their children because more than 90 per cent of primary school remain under Catholic Church control.
It is holding it first meeting next week with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan under the "structured dialogue" process for churches and secular groups that was set up a decade ago by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Brian Whiteside, director of humanist ceremonies, said "education is at the top of our agenda" for the meeting on Thursday.
“There is a new reality that has to be addressed. One third of couples are getting married in non-religious ceremonies. It’s reasonable to ask what sort of schools they want for their children.”
He said because the Government had “delegated the management of schools to the churches”, schools could insist on children being baptised before allowing their admission.
‘Lack of integrity’
“There has been an awful lack of integrity and honesty in many areas of Irish life, and here you have young people being bullied into doing something totally against their conscience.”
Mr Whiteside said he welcomed the intervention of Prof John Coolahan, chairman of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, when he suggested that grants might be cut in locations where schools refused to change patronage.
While there has been little progress on the divestment of schools from the Catholic Church, Ms O'Sullivan plans to announce this month up to four further Educate Together schools, including in Tuam and New Ross.
But Mr Whiteside said more radical solutions were required. He points out that when the national school system was set up in 1831, “it was to be a secular system where all children would be educated together. Before long, in very simplistic terms, the churches got their hands on them and we ended up with Catholic and Church of Ireland schools in most towns around the country.”
He said: “It’s time to revert to the original plan and have what we were meant to have all along: a secular national school system.” As a step towards this, he said the Government could either fine schools or lower capitation grants for schools which insisted on proof of religion in admissions.