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Senator Ronan Mullen has condemned the report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism trying to impose a “diktat, unprecedented even by the standards of more multicultural European countries, about the use of religious symbols, art and, incredibly, prayers”.
Writing in today's Irish Times, Senator Mullen also warned that there might be “issues about the constitutionality of such proposals since they appear to undermine the right of parents to choose authentic denominational education and the rights of religious communities to meet that demand”.
He criticised the report for lacking “maturity and openness”.
The report's authors, he said “seem to assume that the main issue of human rights in education is the right to be free from religious influence”.
Senator Mullen also noted the lack of mention in the report of the right of freedom for religious belief.
He said the report contained “no recognition that denominational education by definition needs to include the communication of deeply held truths about what it means to be human in relation to our divine origin and end”.
He said: “The reason for the enduring support for denominational schools is that tens of thousands of parents, including many who wouldn’t regard themselves as particularly religious, want something more than mere toleration of diverse beliefs.
“They want their children to have values they can hold as true no matter what life throws at them. They may want their children to understand that real love is about self-giving, which is a much greater calling than just tolerating diversity.”
He suggested that the report was “more in tune, for example, with the parents in Portobello, Dublin, whose demand for non-Catholic schooling is not being met, than with the 100-plus parents in Ashbourne whose aspiration to a Catholic education the Department of Education will not currently facilitate because it wants some of these children to attend a local Educate Together school instead.
“The report proposes to delete, not amend, Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools which says that a religious spirit ‘should inform and vivify’ the work of a school.
“Clearly that language could be brought up to date and the rule made relevant only to denominational schools, but the recommendation of simple deletion is revealing.”
Senator Mullen also questioned the reliablity of the report's consultation of 81 children which it cited in support of its recommendations.
He said: “No faith-based problems arose when children were asked their feelings about 'belonging in school', being 'special at school' or being 'left out at school'.”
He noted that it was only when children “were specifically asked what was bad about the way religion was taught, and what they would do if they were minister for education for one day to 'ensure that all religions and beliefs were respected' that some children discussed negative aspects separate arrangements for Communion preparation etc.
These were “pretty leading questions”, Senator Mullen suggested.
He said that parents should now express their wishes.
Noting the report's recommendations that “All necessary information should be disseminated by the Department [of Education],” and “Other parties, particularly those with vested interests, should not be encouraged to circulate parents and other members of the community” he said we should be wary at “any impulse from the centre to control the flow of information”.
Meanwhile, the Mininster for Education, Ruairi Quinn has accused denominational schools of causing people to deny “their own religious beliefs to hold a job”.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he said that, because children were going to denominational schools, parents were “suffering going through things they don't believe in”.
He said: "Ultimately, parents should be comfortable about being able to send their child to a school whose ethos reflects what they practice at home. Nobody should be forced to participate in rituals or belief systems which they do not hold for themselves.
"What we have is people denying their own religious beliefs to hold a job, parents suffering going through things they don't believe in.”
His comments come after last week's Report of the Advisory Council to the Government's Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which made a number of recommendations concerning the ethos of denominational schools.
Mr Quinn, referring to a survey released last week by the Association of Catholic Priests, also opined that “[a]ll our Catholics are Protestants, it seems to me from this new survey".
The survey suggested that the majority of Irish Catholics favour married priests and women priests.