Citizens’ Assembly is merely ‘a means to shape public opinion’ and cut constitutional thread
Senator Ronan Mullen has called for the Church to engage families in light of Government plans that could “kick the Church out of education”.
He said that the aim of the new Government to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on education is “not a triumph of public consultation” but a means to shape public opinion, similar to that of the abortion referendum.
“Critics of the Church see schools as one of its last remaining privileges, held on to by a constitutional thread, a thread they are determined to cut,” he said.
“But that constitutional thread, made up of clauses in Bunreacht na hÉireann that guarantee churches the right to run schools, is not an oppression of the majority by the few. It is one of the last hopes of people who believe in genuine pluralism and diversity in our society.”
Senator Mullen’s comments are joined by academics who say the Programme of Government could see Catholic schools forced “to adopt a secular approach”.
Dr Tom Finegan of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick has called for “coordinated courage among parents” who want their children educated in Catholic schools.
He raised concerns about the development of a “liberal-secular” relationships and sexuality programme across primary and post-primary schools and a “liberal-secular” religious and ethics education across primary schools.
“The effect of both proposals would be to turn Christian schools into secular schools when it comes to sex and relationships education and when it comes to an important part of religious education,” Dr Finegan said.
“This is not genuine pluralism: it is a coercive push towards secular monism. It goes a long way to destroying genuine choice of schools in terms of ethos, and so it seriously harms the interests of religious parents in having a choice of Christian schooling for their children.”
He added that supporters of Catholic and wider Christian education “should not be passive in the face of these threats to an authentic, faithful and confident religious ethos in Irish schooling.
“Nor should supporters despair that these proposals will inevitably materialise.”
Regarding the plans for a Citizens’ Assembly he said there is a “real possibility” the Government will use it as a “means to a referendum to violate Christian parents’ right to an authentically Christian education for their own children”.
Dr John Murray of Dublin City University said Christian schools shouldn’t “adopt an inferiority complex, as if the faith- and reason-based approach that they take is in any way lacking or in need of improvement by being replaced with a multi-denominational or non-denominational status or approach”.
“The new Government has no authority to treat Catholic education as outmoded or wrong; it needs to treat Catholic schools, and Christian schools more widely, as fully included in the Irish educational system and Irish society.
“If it looks like the government is planning to promote radical change in the Constitution to effectively ban Catholic and Church of Ireland education and schools, let’s hope that concerned Christian parents will make known their views in favour of this education and these schools.”
Dr Murray said currently there is “rightly” a pluralist system of education, adding: “We can and should work on making it as representative as possible, but that doesn’t mean making it a one-size-fits-all system of non-denominational and/or multi-denominational schools.
“And even if the Constitution remains as is, Catholic and COI schools need to guard against having programmes foisted on them that require them to contradict the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”