Friday, January 29, 2010

Irish madrassas

Cardinal Seán Brady has been arguing that the state should continue to promote his beliefs. He wants his extravagant cult to continue to have a leading role in the indoctrination of children.
The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said parents had a right to have their children educated in accordance with their philosophical and religious convictions and the State had a duty to support this with public funds.

“Those parents who choose and value the Catholic education provided for their children are taxpayers in exactly the same way as parents who send their children to other types of schools.

“To disadvantage any group of parents because of their faith is completely contrary to the principle of equality and pluralism,” he said

Parents have a right (within reason, but then reason can be a tricky thing for some people) to tell their children whatever nonsense they want. They don't have a right to expect the state to pay for it. The state must not endow any religion (Bunreacht 44.2.2). 44.2.4 makes it clear that the state "shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations" nor should any legislation "affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school".

Is religious instruction received only in a religious education class? No. A school with what they like to call a "Catholic ethos" will be seeking at all times to provide religious instruction to its pupils. It extends beyond the classroom and beyond any particular slot in the timetable: that's what an ethos is.

So the religious instruction might come in the form of a Religion class, or might be included in the "ethos" of a CSPE class; it might be the statue of Saint whoever in the hallway, the crucifix on the classroom wall, the school prayer, the hymns at assembly, the religious imagery in the school crest; it might be in the name of the school.

All of those things are part of the ethos and part of a process of indoctrination that constitutes religious instruction. Your child might be able to opt out of Religion classes, but how do you opt them out of an ethos? You can't. The Cardinal's reference to "parents who send their children to other types of schools" is disingenuous. The Catholic Church's role in education in this country is so long-established and so pervasive that in many cases there is no other type of school available.

When the state pays for the Cardinal's schools it is endowing his religion and it is prejudicing the rights of children attending those schools who do not wish to receive religious instruction. If the Cardinal wants that then his church should be paying for it in its entirety.

State-funded schools should be entirely secular in their ethos, their decoration, their names, and their codes of conduct. Within that secular framework the state could allow time periods in which pupils can opt to attend classes in their own parents' religion or classes in philosophy or the history of ideas: Catholics can go to classes on Catholicism, Muslims to classes on Islam, atheists to classes on whatever they choose.

The class on Catholicism should be paid for in its entirety by the Catholic Church. The state does not have a duty to pay for religious education: quite the opposite is the case. Catholics may be taxpayers but that doesn't mean that the Department of Finance should be subsidizing the Church, which is effectively what the Cardinal wants it to do.

To suggest that the removal of a generations-old state subsidy for Catholic schools amounts to religious discrimination is nonsense. The state should treat everyone the same by making its schools secular and giving them a space in which the religious can provide instruction in their own particular set of superstitions, on their own terms, to their own adherents and at their own expense: what's unfair about that?

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