Evangelical Christians, religious groups want secular education in Irish schools

(Photo: REUTERS / Cathal McNaughton)Signposts point the way to toilets, the hearing of Confessions and the location to collect Holy Water in the village of Knock, County Mayo, in this photo taken May 29, 2010. The reverence with which the Irish hold the Catholic Church had begun to fade even before the abuse scandals of recent years. As the economy boomed in the 1990s and 2000s, churches emptied. The abuse revelations have further undermined the Church's authority and fractured trust, alienating committed believers as senior clergy have remained in their posts. Parents, politicians, and even church leaders have begun to call for a rollback of clerical power. Why should our children have to follow a creed just to get an education, many ask.

The Evangelical Alliance Ireland has said that believers, and not the State, should fund their own schools

The EAI stance is similar to that held by a prominent atheist group and a leading Muslim academic in the predominantly Catholic country.

EAI executive director Nick Park said evangelical Christians feel alienated by State-funded schools that are usually run by the Catholic Church, which has by far the largest religious following in Ireland.

He mentioned Catholic practices such as the First Communion which can be a problem for evangelical parents.

"Should we allow our children to sit through religious activities which are contrary to our beliefs? Or should we ask that our children be exempted?" he said.

In Ireland - once considered the most Catholic country in the world - the Catholic Church runs more than 90 percent of public schools.

Increased prosperity in the 1990s along with cover ups by Catholic leaders of child abuse at schools in the 20th century have undermined church credibility and led to many Irish now shunning Catholicism.

The Irish Times reported that the position of EAI to call for a secular education system in Irish schools is similar to the one proposed by Atheist Ireland.

The Atheist Ireland group has also welcomed calls by Dr. Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin for a "revolution of inclusivity" in Irish schools and "an upheaval in Irish educational perspectives."

Selim is a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and along with the Mater Dei Institute, made the calls for secularization in his new book, Islam and Education in Ireland.

The group revealed that it looks forward to working with the Islamic Foundation of Ireland.

It aims "to promote a revolution of inclusivity, so that all children regardless of what their parents believe will have access to a neutral studying environment in accordance with human rights law and access to their local school without religious discrimination."

Polls show that if given a choice, three out of four parents say they would send their children to schools run by groups other than churches.

The most prominent substitute for church-run education is a multi-denominational model from Educate Together, a group with no church affiliation that operates 65 of Ireland's nearly 3,200 primary schools.

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