October 2018 Church & State - October 2018

Ireland’s ‘Baptism Barrier’ Removed In Religious Schools

  Rob Boston

Lawmakers in Ireland are moving to get rid of a policy that allowed state-funded Catholic schools to deny admission to students unless they could produce proof of baptism in the church.

The so-called “baptism barrier” has become a sore spot, especially in Dublin and other urban areas where schools are often overcrowded. Some parents found they could not get a place in a nearby school for a child unless he or she was baptized because those slots were being awarded to baptized children who didn’t live in the neighborhood.

The Catholic Church exercises great control over Ireland’s educational system. About 90 percent of the country’s primary schools are run by the church.

Historically, the country has had close ties to the church, with more than 90 percent of the population being church members. But in recent years church attendance rates have dropped, and fewer people say they belong. A 2016 census showed that 78 percent identified as Catholic. Many residents of Ireland say they want the church to have less influence over public life. In May, residents voted overwhelmingly to end the country’s strict abortion ban.

The education changes have already passed the Dail, the lower house of the legislature, and are pending in the Seanad (Senate). Officials say they hope to have the new policies in place by 2019.

“The passing of this bill is an extremely positive step towards equality for families of all religions and none in our education system,” said April Duff, legal officer of a group called Education Equality, in a statement. “This bill means that non-religious and minority religion families will now be treated equally in admission to the vast majority of our publicly-funded schools. Finally, parents will be able to enjoy the right to freely choose and practice their own beliefs without the fear of being refused a school place as a result. It will come as a huge relief to many parents who currently fear discrimination because of their beliefs.”

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