Some members of the Catholic hierarchy have ranted that religious freedom is under attack in the United States, but now one of Europe’s most devoutly Catholic countries is looking for inspiration from America’s tradition of church-state separation.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Ireland’s education minister, Ruairi Quinn wants to implement a gradual shift away from Catholic Church dominance over nearly all public schools.

Quinn indicated that religion does best in places like the United States where the church doesn’t have government power.

“The country in which religion has strived most strongly is where church and state are separated,” Quinn said. “The countries where religion is languishing either through neglect or indifference are those European countries which previously were dominated or controlled by the Catholic Church such as Portugal, Italy, Spain, not to mention Ireland.”

This shift away from church control of Ireland’s public schools has been in the works for some time. Back in 2011, Quinn set up a group to figure out how most of the country’s schools could be moved away from church patronage and said that his goal was to switch half of Ireland’s schools from church control to an alternative guardianship, Irish Central said.

The publication noted that in 2011, the Catholic hierarchy controlled about 90 percent of Ireland’s 3,200 primary schools.

It’s likely that Quinn’s plan has been sped up by a series of church scandals (including most recently the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s top Catholic leader who is now accused of “intimate” acts with priests).  

But regardless of the motivation, Quinn is really onto something: public schools should be open and welcoming to all, something that’s impossible when a single religious group controls the system.

Ironically, in many American states like Louisiana, Indiana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas, legislators are moving away from a public school system controlled by the taxpayers toward a system in which voucher-subsidized private schools are controlled by religious authorities.

There is no evidence that a religion-run system provides better education than the public schools, but some lawmakers don’t care – they want to support their favorite faiths  using your money whether you like it or not.

In the long run, merging religious education and public dollars will be bad for education and bad for religion. Just ask the Irish.

Separation of church and state is a great idea because it protects both faith and democratic government from harm. The Irish have realized that the United States offers a model that looks out for the interests of all faiths and those who have no faith, meaning everyone can observe or not observe religion as they see fit.

It’s a shame that some lawmakers in this country haven’t learned to value this concept the way the Irish have.