Irish Faith-Based School Debate: Conference defends Freedom of Religion and Education

The right of denominational schools to have a clear identity and ethos was strongly defended at a conference on denominational education organised by The Iona Institute.

In 2011, an Advisory Group proposed the abolition of Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools which says that ''a religious ethos should inform and vivify the whole work of the school''. It also recommended that denominational schools should be required to make the display of religious symbols “inclusive of all belief systems in the school” and to ensure that communal prayers and hymns are “respectful of the beliefs and culture of all children in the school. Fr Drumm, chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, strongly rejected suggestions made by some contributors to the Forum that denominational schools were engaged in ‘indoctrination’ or ‘proselytism’: “To introduce a child to the faith of parents through the schooling system is not proselytism or indoctrination but education. Catholic parents have the human right to form their children in accord with their philosophical and religious convictions.” He said there was a “temptation in contemporary Irish discourse to dismiss religious belief as inherently irrational, divisive and anti-intellectual”. “Some go as far as to say that schools with a Catholic ethos cannot create a sense of civic virtue,” Fr Drumm said. He defended Section 37 of Employment Equality Act, which permits religious institutions to protect their ethos through their employment policy. He said: “If there were no Section 37, or its equivalent, then a religious body would have no right to use religious belief and affiliation in any of its employments.” Also, The Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Richard Clarke addressed the conference and told the audience that cuts to the education budget were disproportionately impacting Church of Ireland schools. Bishop Clarke said that the cuts were targeting smaller schools, and that many Church of Ireland schools would end up being non-viable if the cuts were implemented. Sources: