The chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education Bishop Donal McKeown said that the right of parents to choose a faith-school need to be recognised. He said:
“This key principle, which recognises the right of parents, is guaranteed by the European Convention for Human Rights.
“It is worth pointing out that parents who choose faith-based schools for their children, pay taxes toward the provision of that education.
“The Catholic Church has also contributed substantial funding and resources for the provision of Catholic schools over generations, and this has ultimately saved the taxpayer money.
“Long experience across this island, north and south, shows that Catholic schools are committed to welcoming pupils of all backgrounds and to building a cohesive society in the service of the common good.”
Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
- Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
What is noticeable is that though teaching is mentioned it does not related directly to education in full. How else would states such as nominally Catholic France be able to offer fully secular education. The teaching of faith is not enshrined in the classroom, or in any school.
The only rights that seem to relate to parents (families) that the Bishop seems to suggest are a guarantee are in article 8:
Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life
- Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
- There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
But this related to private life and family life. There are arguments that national security, safety, prevention of disorder and crime could all be best served in an integrated education system where Seamus who goes to mass every Sunday on Monday is sitting in school alongside Johnnie from the Protestant church up the road. Also the economic argument for integrated schooling rather that duplication of resources in some areas, or indeed triplication in three sectors (state, catholic and integrated) makes sense.
The argument for health and moral case is one that the churches (both catholic and protestant) may take an exception to. While they may think that teaching their morals is all well and good it doesn’t meet the ultimate test. The teaching of abstinence and confining it to mixed-sex relationships through RSE classes (Relationships and Sexuality Education) is not meeting the need. There are teens heterosexual and homosexual across Northern Ireland who would have benefited from an inclusive education on these matters before it was too late.
As Liberal Democrats we don’t believe anyone should “be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” one of the ways to ensure that ignorance doesn’t damage the health of our young people is to take the faith out of schooling, provide full and frank discussion for all. Without opting out because it is comfortable for the information provider when it is the receiver’s needs that require to be met.