Irish policy aimed at Catholic schools raises fears of discrimination

Irish Flag Credit La Marga via Flickr CC BY NC ND 20 CNA 5 22 15 La Marga via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

A proposed policy in Ireland that would ban Catholic schools from prioritizing Catholic students on wait lists is being criticized as discriminatory, since it would not apply to other religious schools.

Faith in Our Schools, a newly-formed Irish group, says the proposal "openly discriminates against the conscience and educational rights of Catholic parents" and the "religious, autonomy, and associational rights of Catholic faith schools," according to the Irish Times.

In Ireland, the Catholic Church runs more than 90 percent of schools, which also receive government funds.

When a religious school is full, the admission process to determine which students will move off the waiting list currently can take religion into account.

However, Richard Bruton, Ireland's education minister, is expected to soon announce plans to make legal changes to remove what is called the "baptism-barrier."

Bruton has said that it is "unfair that preference is given by publicly-funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school," according to the Irish Times.

The proposed policy would only apply to Catholic schools, however. Bruton has said that minority faiths, such as the Church of Ireland, will be able to continue to use religion in the admission process for their schools.

The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland - which represents Facebook, Google, and some 700 other U.S. companies - has advocated in support of the removing the "baptism barrier."

However, Catholic organizations within Ireland worry that Catholic children and their parents could end up discriminated against under the new proposal, which they also fear could threaten the ethos of schools' Catholic education.

The Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools, Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, and Association of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland have all spoken out against the proposal.

Ireland's Constitution protects the right to religious education and also has protections against religious discrimination. It acknowledges the right of parents to "provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children."

Ireland is a largely Catholic country; however, Church leaders have voiced opposition to several prominent legislative proposals in recent years.

In 2015, 62 percent of Irish voters supported referendum to change to constitution to support same-sex marriage.

This May, Ireland's 8th constitutional amendment, which outlaws abortion except in medical emergencies, could be repealed in a national vote.

Pope Francis announced in March that he will travel to Dublin from Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families. This year's theme is "The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World."

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