by Frank Schnittger
Wed Jul 18th, 2018 at 12:43:31 AM EST
The last fifty years in Ireland have been one long battle against the domination of many aspects of life by religious institutions, principally the Roman Catholic Church, whose "Special Position" in Irish life was formally recognised in the Irish Constitution until 1973.
Only this year has the ban on abortion inserted into our Constitution in 1983 been overturned. Before that, in 2015, the marriage equality referendum finally ended official discrimination against the LGBTQI community. Divorce only became legal in 1996 and contraception only became legal in very restricted circumstances in 1980 although access to contraceptives has been liberalised since.
The tide has turned and many religious now claim they are being oppressed by a new liberal secular orthodoxy. What they conveniently forget is the the Church still controls many Hospitals and nearly all schools in the Republic and demands that they implement "a Catholic Ethos". This can include a ban on medical procedures disapproved by the church and an insistence that only the baptised may attend Church run (but state funded) schools.
The latest outrage is an attempt by the Bishops to ensure that children who opt out of religious education should continue be made to sit at the back of their class and not be timetabled for other more useful subjects. Hence my letter to the Editor published by the Irish Times today:
Religious instruction in schools
Sir, - I read with interest that "Catholics bishops have called on the Minister for Education to withdraw a directive which allows students who opt out of religious instruction in State-run secondary schools to be timetabled for other subjects" (Education, July 17th).
Apparently it is far preferable that students who opt out of religious classes should continue to be made to sit at the back of the class to emphasise their secondary status. Heaven forbid they should be enabled to spend their time usefully being taught another subject like science or a European language!
Not content to have their schools funded by general taxpayers, the bishops seem to feel that those who refuse Catholic religious instruction should be made to feel as unwelcome and uncared for as possible.
It is high time that religious instruction be taken out of the State-funded school curriculum entirely, to be conducted after regular class hours for those who really want it.
It is not the function of our democratic, pluralistic and secular republic to fund and provide for the religious instruction of the adherents of any particular religious grouping. - Yours, etc,
Right wing religious activists like Breda O'Brien of the Iona Institute has used her Irish Times column to cast "pro-life" supporters as an oppressed minority and to warn that they have not given up the fight to re-introduce a ban on abortion in Ireland. I responded to that column by writing:
Breda - I have news for you... this is only the beginning. The next step is to wrest control of our schools and hospitals from the Catholic Church and your ilk so that women can have proper healthcare and children can have a proper education. None of your magical thinking and pious sanctimonious moral superiority. You've called two thirds of the nation baby killers. They will not forgive you lightly. Calling Varadker patronising takes the biscuit. You have been condescending to us for your adult lifetime. Perhaps you should move to Northern Ireland while there is still a home for bigots there. You have nothing to offer a compassionate, caring, progressive society except more bile and bitterness.
We really shouldn't be having this conversation in a modern European society in 2018, but regrettably it is still necessary. We still have quite a long way to go to overcome the attempt by religious fanatics to impose their views on everyone else while claiming to be an oppressed minority. I have nothing against a religious education for those who truly want it but I am not going to be party to an attempt (through my taxes) to impose it on all regardless of their wishes. When Pope Francis visits Ireland next month he is going to experience an Ireland very different to that which greeted Pope John Paul II in 1979.