Strong bars on strong cages

Jennifer Collins at Religion News reports on Ireland’s little problem with Catholic saturation of the public state-funded schools.

The Catholic Church runs 90 percent of primary schools in Ireland. The rest are mainly Protestant, and about 4 percent are managed by the nonprofit Educate Together, which is nonsectarian.

The arrangement is unsettling to some parents who have little choice in where to send their children.

“They integrated religion into every subject in the school,” said Martijn Leenheer, an atheist who moved from the Netherlands to a small village in west Ireland eight years ago. “For instance, in biology, they would say ‘God created these flowers.’ Even in math they do it. They basically make religion part of everything in the school.”

Although he requested that his son opt out of religious classes, Leenheer later found that his son was learning how to recite prayers and said the school’s principal was unsympathetic to his concerns.

He had to move to be able to have access to one of the Educate Together schools.

Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland said the European court’s decision may help parents like Leenheer.

“If you’ve got nowhere else but to send your child to the local school and the local school is Catholic and the state is funding that education for your child, then the state should be responsible for the protection of your human rights in that school and for religious discrimination in that school,” said Donnelly.

Ireland’s system of school patronage provides for public funding of schools but allows private groups to establish schools as long as there is sufficient demand.

Long the most powerful institution in Ireland, the Catholic Church has established more than 2,500 schools under the system. Educate Together has 68 schools, mainly in urban areas.

On the one hand more than 2,500, on the other hand 68. Hardly a fair fight, is it. Hardly a fair anything, in fact. Why should small children have Catholicism forced on them at school every day? Why should anyone, but especially small children, who naturally think that school=authority=truth.

Responsible for their own admission policies, many Irish schools often favor baptized Catholics when enrollment exceeds available seats. As a result, parents sometimes baptize their children in the Catholic faith so they can receive an education.

And then the church gets to count those children and thus gets to inflate its membership. It also does that by counting everyone except people who go to the trouble and expense of getting themselves officially taken off the rolls. The church fights dirty every step of the way.

As part of a study on the church’s role in schools, Ireland’s Department of Education found that around 8 percent of parents in some areas said they might move their children to nondenominational schools if given a chance.

“Everyone accepts that there’s probably an oversupply of Catholic schools at primary level,” said Drumm, though he added that a “blanket divesting” from church-run schools would only harm the education system.

Atheists like Donnelly remain skeptical.

“They might hand over a few schools here and there to try to give the impression that something is happening on the ground, but in reality they have no intention of handing over enough schools to radically change the system,” she said.

But the mere fact that Ireland is having the debate, albeit with the help of the European court, shows that the country is growing more diverse even as it retains its strong Catholic identity.

A “strong Catholic identity” that has been forced on it in myriad ways. It’s more like a strong Catholic prison than a strong Catholic identity.