An editorial in the New York Times has criticized the Catholic Church’s control of 97 percent of Ireland’s state-financed primary schools and the still-legal practice of placing non-believers at the bottom of admissions waiting lists.  

“With schools allowed to give preference to Catholics, other families are forced to have their children baptized in the church, linger on school waiting lists or search for scarce alternatives. Only 74 of the nation’s 3,200 primary schools are run by Educate Together, the main multidenominational alternative, whose Dublin schools are swamped with four applications for every available space,” says the editorial.

Politicians and rights groups are calling for a change to a law that allows the religious schools to reject nonbelievers if it is essential to “maintain the ethos of the school.” A campaign to end the religious discrimination is gaining momentum ahead of the upcoming general elections.

“The public is fast realizing this is an intolerable situation in a country with an increasing immigrant population of non-Catholics and a rising generation of younger nonpracticing Catholics. A poll last month measured almost 85 percent public approval for changing the law so it no longer tolerates religious bias against schoolchildren.”

The New York Times continues: “There is a citizens’ petition to repeal the law and a legal challenge is planned by Education Equality, an advocacy group. The bias clause has been challenged by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has taken a position against it, too.

“Church officials are at odds, with some urging a slow evolution toward a more open-door policy in the schools. Clearly the current policy is at odds with a modern Ireland. The most encouraging force in the debate is the Irish public’s realization that their nation can no longer afford shameful religious bias to remain in the law.”