No baptism, no school for Reuben, 4
Earlier this month, the Sunday Times reported on the plight of the mother of a four-year-old boy in south Dublin whose son had been refused a place at a number of local primary schools because he has not been baptised.
Nikki Murphy, pictured above with her older son Reuben, had applied to 13 schools for the four-year-old, but was turned down by nine because he is not a Catholic or a member of any other religious group. Another four schools, with a multi-denominational ethos, said that they were already oversubscribed.
About 90 percent of Irish primary schools are under Catholic patronage, and are permitted by law to prioritise the enrolment of Catholic children if they are oversubscribed. Unbaptised children can be placed at the bottom of the list, due to section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act.
The story was picked up yesterday by National Public Radio (NPR) in America, which pointed out that in the US, parents who want to give their children a religious education have to pay for it for the most part.
In Ireland, it’s the opposite – 92 percent of state schools are run by the Catholic Church. That’s even though growing numbers of people in Ireland no longer identify as Catholic. And this is creating new tensions for parents trying to find schools for their kids.
Ireland’s Education Minister, Jan O’Sullivan, told the programme:
First of all, we’ve inherited a constitution which provides for religious denominations to protect their ethos. So we’re constrained by that in terms of what we can do in education … lot of that is determined by ownership, and the Catholic Church in particular own many of the schools – the majority of the schools in fact.
Interviewer Miranda Kennedy said:
The experience is making Nikki and Clem rethink whether they want to send Reuben to a Catholic school at all. Clem says his own Catholic education doesn’t sit well with them.
Clem Brennan explained:
I feel that illusion was forced on me and that’s why I feel so strongly about this. I’m just not going to do that to the boys.
A generation ago, there wasn’t much of a call for non-religious schools in Ireland, but since then, many people have turned against the Catholic Church in the wake of horrifying revelations about priest-child abuse and its cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy.
Parents with children in Catholic schools can request that they be pulled out of the religious portion of the school day, but that doesn’t mean that they will be taught during that time.
Paul Rowe is with the organisation Educate Together, which runs some non-religious schools in Ireland. He said:
There is no legal right to any alternative programme. In most schools, there’s no place for the children to go. They sit in the corridor or they go to the principal’s office and they just sit there. They are marginalized in the educational environment.
Nikki and Clem recently launched a campaign to open a secular school in their neighborhood. Nikki knows she could still get Reuben into the Catholic school if she baptised him, but she feels that she’d be lying. Nikki asked
What kind of message is that giving Reuben? It goes against my conscience to do it …
Nikki is hoping that the campaign to open a non-Catholic school in her neighborhood will succeed and that will save her from having to go through it all again for her younger son.