‘Baptism barrier’ and schools

 

Sir, – Plans announced by Minister for Education Richard Bruton to remove the so-called “baptism barrier” in enrolment risks disproportionately penalising Church of Ireland and other minority schools (“Bruton set to pledge end of school ‘baptism barrier’”, January 16th). These schools generally draw pupils from a wider area as their populations are not concentrated in sufficient numbers in any one place. The result is schools with pupils from a rich variety of socio-economic backgrounds and families representing one important vision of the breadth of Irish society. Not all use baptism as part of their enrolment policy, with some using other means to determine religious affiliation. Plans to prioritise based on the distance from a school will simply push up house prices, prioritising those who can buy their way into a catchment area. Does not enough in our national life favour the wealthy already? – Yours, etc,

Rev STEPHEN FARRELL,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – The Minister for Education’s plan to change the baptism rule, but not school ethos, will actually strengthen religious discrimination in Irish schools.

What seems to be the best of the four options in the plan, removing the baptism rule completely, is actually the worst, as the Minister says that “Under this last option religious schools could require parents or students to indicate support for the school’s religious ethos”.

So removing the baptism rule completely would mean that minority belief parents must support the evangelising of their children into the Catholic faith. It would merely give children of minority belief families equal access to being discriminated against within the schools, which is where the real problem is, and would give the Catholic Church access to more minority belief children to evangelise into Catholicism.

The other three of the Minister’s discussion options (catchment area, nearest school and quotas) would merely fine-tune the religious discrimination in access, and would still result in children being refused access to their local school because of the religious or nonreligious beliefs of their parents.

The Minister says this is to protect the rights of minority faiths to run their own schools, but that approach just legitimises even more religious discrimination. Currently, Church of Ireland schools discriminate against evangelical Christians, and Islamic schools discriminate against Ahmadi Muslims. Every minority family and child has the same right to be treated equally. These plans will not do that.

The only positive aspect is that the Government has dropped its position that this change would be unconstitutional. But none of the four options address the fact that 10 human rights bodies of the United Nations and Council of Europe have told Ireland that we are breaching the rights of atheist, secular and minority faith families inside our schools, and not just in access. Every family and child has the same human right to be treated equally by the State.

The only way to do that is through a state-funded network of secular schools, that do not promote either religion or atheism, but that teach children about different religions and beliefs in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL NUGENT,

Chairman,

JANE DONNELLY,

Human Rights Officer,

Atheist Ireland,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.