Controversy over religious emblems


NOVEMBER 12TH, 1892: A special meeting of Dublin city council was called in November 1892 to applaud the controversial decision of the National Education Board to remove restrictions which had prevented the Christian Brothers from receiving state grants for post-primary schools.

 Among the restrictions was a ban on religious emblems in schools, such as the display of crucifixes, and a “conscience clause” which was designed to allow all denominations to be educated together. The Christian Brothers had refused to adhere to the ban on religious emblems and, as a result, had been left out of the grant system. The High Sheriff of Dublin, Henry J Gill, proposed a motion complimenting the board on its decision and criticising a Church of Ireland deputation to the Lord Lieutenant which had opposed the decisions. The following is an extract from his speech to the council:

THE CATHOLICS of Ireland asked for nothing that they were not willing to concede to the Protestants (he said). A very large number of the Protestant national schools in Ireland would reap the advantage of these new rules as well as the Catholic schools. (Hear, hear.) He believed one of the principle things the Protestants would wish was that they could teach the Bible to their children at school.

They were prevented from doing so by the restrictions he had referred to but the removal of those restrictions would give them perfect liberty.

So far as he could see the rule proposed would not be detrimental to any religious body. It was a rule that could be brought into operation where the Commissioners (of Education) wished, and it would never be brought into operation in the case of a mixed school. Everybody was completely safeguarded, and no harm whatever could be done.

He thought the object of the deputation must be political, because if they could get . . . the Lord Lieutenant to oppose the Commissioners they would succeed in raising an outcry against the Government. It would be said that those two gentlemen, though they were Home Rulers, opposed the vast majority of the people at the dictation of a handful who were known to be strong opponents of everything Catholic and National in Ireland. (Hear, hear.) The people were merely asking that a body of men who for a great many years had been considered most zealous and excellent teachers would be put on an equality with the other teachers in the country.

The Christian Brothers’ schools were purely sectarian, but the vast majority (of) National Schools in Ireland were just as much sectarian, and they got Government grants, while the former were excluded. Why? Simply because the Christian Brothers were not opportunists, but had acted in a praiseworthy manner, even though their action involved pecuniary loss. In many National schools there were nuns belonging to religious communities. Every one had a crucifix hanging by her side – perhaps several crucifixes – which she displayed in that way, and, because the crucifixes were hanging from the belt, and not placed against the wall, it made all the difference in the world to those sapient gentlemen who had been opposing this reform all along.

There was an enormous grant of money made every year for education in Ireland, and supposing that on the same day in all the Catholic National schools in Ireland they chose to put up religious emblems who would take them down? Who would take them off the walls of all the schools, and if they were kept up would the English Government refuse the grants in consequence? The grants would continue.