Ireland adopts policy aimed at Catholic school admissions

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A new law in the Republic of Ireland will prohibit primary schools from taking religion into account in admissions, a practice known as the "baptism barrier."

Previously, when a religious school was full, the admission process to determine which students would move off the waiting list could take religion into account.

The decision to ban Catholic schools from prioritizing Catholic students on wait lists is being criticized as discriminatory, since it would not apply to other religious schools. The Catholic Church runs more than 90 percent of schools in Ireland, which also receive government funds.

Although Catholic schools will no longer be able to use religion as a deciding factor in admissions, schools of minority religious groups, such as the Church of Ireland, can still use religion as a deciding factor to protect their ethos.

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Skills, signed reforms Oct. 3 that amend a section of the Equal Status Act 2000.

The new rules will apply to oversubscribed schools, which are mainly found in urban areas. Schools with extra space will be obliged to accept all applicants, regardless of religion, according to the Irish Times.

Bruton justified the changes by saying he wanted make it easier for parents to access their local schools and schools that meet their needs. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation said they had not received specific guidelines on how to change their admission policies, the Irish Times reported.

Catholic organizations within Ireland have expressed 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 changes.

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."

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