Ireland (Wednesday, January 24, 2018 Gaudium Press) A proposal to end the ability of Catholic schools in Ireland to give preference to Catholic children is causing fears over the increasing secularization of society in the majority-Catholic country.
Unlike in the United States, the government funds religious schools in Ireland, and about 96 percent of elementary schools in the country are under the patronage of a religious group, and approximately 90 percent of these schools are run by the Catholic Church.
In some areas of the country - mostly in and around the capital Dublin - there are more students seeking places in certain Catholic schools than are available. These ‘oversubscribed' schools can choose students belonging to the school's denomination over students who live closer to the campus.
Last year, Ireland's Minister for Education Richard Bruton announced plans to prohibit Catholic primary schools - but not schools from minority denominations such as the (Anglican) Church of Ireland - from giving priority to students based upon their religion.
According to a statement from the Ministry for Education, Bruton argues it is "unfair that preference is given by publicly-funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school."
Although the government is presenting this as guaranteeing a child's right to an education, others see it as a sign of a growing secularization of Irish society.
"The core problem in all of this is that people believe that if you take religion out of schools, schools are then neutral. But they're not neutral, because there is always a belief system involved in the schools," said Patrick Treacy, a lawyer belonging to Faith in Our Schools, an interdenominational group supporting the freedom of religious schools.
"I draw a distinction between the term secular and secularist. I believe in every constitutional democracy, it must be secular: That is, that competing versions of the good and the role of religion must co-exist and mutually support and respect each other. That's the secular perspective. The secularist perspective is that there is no place for religion in public life: No place for religion in schools, no place for religion in public debate," Treacy told Crux.
The Republic of Ireland was once known as the most Catholic country in Western Europe, but more and more people are describing themselves as having no religion.
Currently, just over 78 percent of the population describes itself as Catholic, a sharp decline from the 84 percent who said they were Catholic in 2011. Of that number, less than 30 percent attend Mass every week; it was over 87 percent just 20 years ago.
Revelations about clerical sexual abuse has led to much of this decline, and to a less deferential position towards the Church from the government.