News Ian O'Doherty

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Ian O'Doherty: Time to excommunicate religion from our schools

Published 19/02/2014 | 02:30

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A boy on the day of his first Holy Communion. Picture posed

It's the story that has just about everything when it comes to exposing the fault lines you can find in any rapidly changing society.

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An unidentified Gaelscoil has been ordered to pay €750 after the Equality Authority found that the school's principal had been guilty of religious discrimination against a young Protestant boy in the run up to his class's First Communion. The EA heard testimony that the principal, who has now been placed on 'adminsitrative leave', was rude towards the child as his Catholic classmates and the school went on the record to state that they "made an unreserved apology to the complainant's parents in relation to the alleged treatment by the principal regarding the treatment of their son".

Amongst the delightful allegations, we learned that the principal made the lad do homework when the others didn't have to and there was also the bizarre and historically debatable assertion that Protestant were 'that rebel lot'.

What makes this story resonate so deeply is how it manages to combine two topics – the Irish language and religion – that are guaranteed to have people on all sides of the debate running to ramparts and preparing their volleys of abuse for those who disagree with them. But we should forget, for a second, the rights and wrongs of throwing good money after bad on the Irish language.

No, continuing the pointless distraction of religious indoctrination in our schools is an act of intellectual betrayal that also comes with the corrosive side effect of separating and excluding children on the basis of their parents' chosen faith.

We should obviously respect the rights of a parent to raise their child as they see fit, without undue interference – even in those instances when we don't feel any great respect for the faith itself. But it is none of the State's business what religion, or none, children are brought into.

The traditional defence for such brainwashing was the old canard that people were becoming less religiously observant in their home, so the school was the only place to teach them. And if that isn't that a nice piece of Soviet-style state indoctrination, I don't know what is.

The rejection and ultimate abandonment of all such teachings in school should not be seen as a negative move. Instead it is one which will free up more time for the most important non-academic subject a child can study – civics.

This country has plenty of people who are quick to trumpet their well learned piety, but who display the most basic ignorance of the requirements to be a decent citizen. And I can't be the only person who would prefer to see people emerge from school feeling they have a stake in their community, rather than being devout followers of a particular creation myth.

Then there is the even more pernicious myth that religion teaches students about morality and gives them a framework. Because, obviously, a 2,000-year-old desert document is far better suited to producing more moral people than a civics class that encourages a sense of citizenship and how to be a good neighbour.

The Gaelscoil case could have been ripped from a discarded Father Ted script – an apparently barmy school principal who still has a weird aversion to Protestants and who uses his position to become a small town, small time bully. Presumably seven-year-olds are just the right size for this guy.

But the parents weren't laughing and as we move towards more faith schools in this country, not fewer, we are going to see an ever-increasing disconnect between religious parents and those who would rather look after their own child's moral well-being, thank you very much.

Instead of steeping kids in a sectarianism most never wanted to learn, we'd be better off spending that time and money trying to at least introduce them to the concept of civic pride and responsibility, and a good grounding in the workings of Western democracy.

Or we could continue to waste taxpayers' money by directly inserting irrelevant and pointless superstitions into their heads.

IT'S NOT EVEN MARCH AND THE ROWS HAVE BEGUN

It's not often most people would agree with Dublin's Lord Mayor, but that's not meant as any slight on the current incumbent, Oisin Quinn. It's merely a recognition that what could and should be a crucial job in the running of this nation's capital city is utterly pointless. But many of us will concur when Hizzoner – as absolutely nobody refers to him – says that the Patrick's Day parade is a tacky mess that attracts "drunks and people who want to throw on leprechaun hats".

He is particularly exercised by the plans for a four-day funfair in Merrion Square, which he dismisses as tacky.

He's right, of course. But then I'm a traditionalist.

I grew up in an innocent time when the parade consisted solely of some tractors carrying a float full of Lovely Girls hurling sweets as hard as possible into the crowd while a troupe of American cheerleaders struggle through frostbite, frozen fingers and the ever-present threat of passing out.

Were we happy then?

Well, not really. But it was the way things were, dagnabbit, and that's the way they should stay.

Funfairs, I asks ya...

MAYBE IT'S A CULTURAL MISUNDERSTANDING?

The UN has just discovered what everybody else has known for years – North Korea is the most insane, deranged and truly irrational State in the world.

Anyone who has read Escape From Camp 14 will have learned just how truly nightmarish and savage their government is – parents forced to kill their children, entire families executed for the indiscretions of a distant relative, and the sense that the country is ruled by a deranged man-child, all add up to a rather horrifying picture.

But China has stepped in to defend its little friend and has warned the UN that it "cannot accept this unreasonable criticism. Publicising human rights issues is not conducive to improving the human rights situation".

Obviously, saying that feeding people to starving dogs is probably not the best way to resolve disputes was always going to offend the delicate sensibilities of the North Koreans.

I await the UN's furious riposte – presumably the form of a very angry letter.

That'll learn 'em.

Irish Independent

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