Irish commission: Catholic school discriminated against atheist student

CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Republic of Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission has decided that an atheist child was discriminated against by his Catholic school when students were rewarded for attending a religious ceremony.

The commission, an independent, quasi-judicial forum, ruled that the Yellow Furze National School in County Meath had discriminated against an atheist student.

Early in the 2019 school year, the students had been promised a homework pass if they took part in the choir during a First Communion ceremony

The boy’s mother complained, but the school defended its policy.

"Any student, regardless of his/her religion in our school who opted not to participate in this extracurricular event was not 'rewarded,'" the school said, according to the Irish Post last year.

The school added that children of any religion were able to participate in the choir, and that the claim of discrimination was thus “wholly unfounded.”

The commission said the school “does not appreciate this action had an adverse effect on students who are not of a Catholic faith,” the Irish Times reported.

His mother said that "on that day my son was the only child in the class who was not participating. He was also the only non-Catholic child in the class." She added that “he came out of school crying.”

“We are atheist and this is not a choice that is open to him,” she said.

The Irish Post reported in 2019 that the boy was one of two pupils in his class of 33 to receive homework instead of attending the choir ceremony.

According to the commission the boy’s parents were “deeply hurt and upset” by the school.

“We felt that the school had disregarded the fact that we have a different set of beliefs,” the mother told RTE News. “We felt that our child had been singled out and punished for not being a Catholic,” and she added that she hoped the ruling would “change things for children here who are not Catholic".

The mother has since enrolled her son in a different school.

The commission ordered the school to pay €5,000 and demanded the school review its policies so it complies with the Equal Status Acts. The school will also have to post a memo of its compliance in a noticeable location within the school.

The mother told RTE News she will return the €5,000 to the school, “because it will be our friends and our neighbours who will be funding it, through school fundraising. We have been vindicated, but we feel that it would be wrong to accept this money.”

Catholic schools in Ireland make up 90% of all primary schools in the country, the Irish Times reported. The ruling is likely to affect how other schools promote and organize religious events.

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  1. There is something I don’t understand. I mean the logic in this affair is somehow strange: this student was supposedly discriminated against because he didn’t receive the homework pass other students obtained for participating in the choir, which led his mother to feel “punished” for being atheists. But I think they took the issue from a distorted point of view: when someone is rewarded for doing something, it’s meant to congratulate and encourage this person, not to punish the others who couldn’t do the same thing. For exemple, nobody would say that rewarding children for participating in a charity cake sale is discriminatory against other children who don’t like cakes or sweets and therefore would not participate. This doesn’t mean that these children don’t have interests in other fields where they can succeed. It’s the same here. This is a Catholic school, thus it’s normal for it to promote religious events. And it’s worth mentioning that the rewarded students were not given extra grades or exam pass, they were only given a homework pass. In a normal situation, a student would have homework to do, so students who didn’t participate were pursuing a normal school life, no more no less. They weren’t “punished”, nothing was taken away from them, but I understand that a child might feel sad about this. Nevertheless, this is not a discrimination (it has become the privileged victimizing word nowadays). In addition, this child is certainly not the first atheist student in this school, and it’s clearly not the first religious event promoted by the school. If I were to be in a Muslim school, and students who fasted during Ramadan were rewarded, I wouldn’t label it discriminatory, because it’s the school’s identity. Even though maybe I would have used a different way to promote this event (like giving some little valuable Catholic gifts), what has been done here is definitely not an unfair treatment. I believe the true problem is the growing demand for secularizing Catholic schools, which is disrespectful towards their identity. This can be seen in the mother’s refusal to accept the money (for a commendable reason at first sight), hoping that the ruling itself will have an impact (hinting that her aim was not confined to this very situation). The usual tactic of aiming at people’s feelings is widely used here, when she alleges that the school does not seem to accept that they have a different set of beliefs, or that it punishes them for not being Catholics. With this, she can definitely bring the case on her side (it has shown its effectiveness in countless other cases). This is a pretty sad reality.

  2. This shows the idiocy of the parents and at last a school that is Catholic. We now have a situation where children in Catholic families who practice and attend Mass are now subject to bullying by children like this pupil. Teachers have noticed this and was covered at a governmental inquiry. But of course it won’t come to anything except that these children are following the way of the Master and their parents should rejoice. It it was associated with the rainbow brigade you would see the bullied dealt with immediately!!! Nevertheless, to those who suffer, rejoice your names are in theBook of Life👼

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