Debate in Ireland is heating up about the role of religion in managing school admissions. The Humanist Association of Ireland is calling for a ban on baptism certificates or other proof of a child’s religious affiliation.
Brian Whiteside, an official with the secularist group, told The Irish Times:
There is a new reality that has to be addressed. One third of couples are getting married in non-religious ceremonies. It’s reasonable to ask what sort of schools they want for their children.
The HAI says it “promotes the ideals and values of Humanism, working for people who choose to live an ethical life without religion.” The organization has made strong inroads in Ireland’s marriage ceremony business, as the Irish Independent reported last summer.
About 257,000 of 4.5 million living in the Republic in 2011, or just under 6 percent, said they had no religion. Catholics remained the majority at about 85 percent, according to the Central Statistics Office, and the church controls about 90 percent of Ireland’s primary schools.
The schools debate is more than just the usual separation of church and state struggle. It also brings full circle a vision for the Irish education system that began in the first half of the 19th century, long before independence.
Historian Diarmaid Ferriter writes this opinion column in the Times about Thomas Davis, a Young Irelander, poet and journalist, who argued for a state-endowed secular system of third-level education based on national colleges. Davis believed a “mixed education” was a vital component of an inclusive form of nationality in Ireland.