On Church Vs. State (in primary schools anyway)

Or maybe that should read ‘On the Separation of Church and State’

In August I posted about how it is that my profession of a faith should upset others.  This post generated some interesting responses – as a response to the blog post, on my facebook feed, and on the twitter machine (@johnmhurley)

One idea that was prominent in the feedback is that the Catholic Church holds too much sway in our schools and in our public life.  Well, maybe I’ve phrased that wrong.  The argument is that the Church holds so much power in schools that those who do not share the same faith are discriminated against.  In addition to this, in the broader setting of our state, the Church is given a position of prominence whereby it may exert its agenda upon the secular institutions of the state.

As a starting point, lets look at the situation regarding education.

The vast majority of primary schools in Ireland are under the trusteeship of Catholic Bishops.  The property that the school lies on is usually the property of the local parish, and a priest of the parish is normally on the board of management for the school. Note that the teachers are paid for by the state, and schools receive  a capitation grant for each student.  This grant goes towards some of the running costs of the school.  Usually schools then fundraise locally to cover other expenses.

The picture for secondary schools is similar.  I was going to go into details on it but that isn’t necessary.  (but if you ask nicely I just might)

Many people object to the time given to religious instruction in Primary School.  The objections are especially strong when students are preparing for sacraments.  The objections are even more pertinent if one considers students in the classroom who may be of a different faith, or no faith at all.  In this case, are the wishes of parents being considered?  Is such a child excluded from class and educational opportunities when this goes on?

Imagine if preparation for sacraments was taken out of the primary school?  Imagine if only those who wanted to, who chose to, were the ones to take place in this preparation?

As it is, I feel that things are going in the wrong direction right now.  Each spring a debate pops up regarding the excesses around first communion in particular.  On Matt Cooper one day the owner of a Limo company explained how his company now had a policy not to take bookings for first communion.  Really?  Some parent thought that a Limo was appropriate?  Or did the Jonses get one first?

Imagine the pressure that this puts on families that are not so well off.  ‘What, you didn’t get a new Suit/xbox/laptop/bike/other (delete as inappropriate)?’

If the Church took the brave step and took instruction for the sacraments out of the school, there’d be uproar.  But could you see the positives?  Children of other faiths don’t get deprived of class time. Imagine the Sunday school setup?  It seems to work in America.

As the parent of a 6 year old girl who will receive her first communion in the not-too-distant future, I think that will not be a bad thing.  If she’s to receive her communion, then that means that she’s joining a community of faith – and maybe it’s appropriate as a parent I should be involved too.

I don’t know the exact picture of how something like this would work out, but maybe we need to start planning for it.  It would  be rough at the start, but I think that the journey would be worth it.

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