For people without a religion, the census always draws up conversation. Mostly, it’s to do with the position of the “No Religion” box on the form or the implication in the question that one has a religion. However, many people and organisations such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland use the census to ask people to consider their faith and to think hard about whether they actually practice the religion they almost automatically tick the box in. The reasoning given is that the census data will be used to establish and identify various public sectors including schools, which, as we know, are currently almost monopolised by one particular faith.
However, I don’t think any of this is necessary. Public services shouldn’t be established based on the number of people who tick religion boxes. Unless 100% of people ticked one of these boxes, public service should cater equally to all of its citizens. Despite all the effort and pseudo-evangelism from well-meaning groups, ticking “no religion” should have no impact on whether we have faith-based schools in Ireland or not.
The only question that should be asked of the Irish people to ascertain whether we should be in a situation where 98% of schools are run by religious orders is not on the census. It is: Would you like Ireland to be a country under Catholic law or would you like Ireland to remain a secular republic? The problem in Ireland right now is that we want the latter with a pick ‘n’ mix of the former. It’s confusing for people like me because one can never be sure which Catholic laws people seem to like, (e.g. having Catholic schools, making sacraments in schools) and ignoring the ones they don’t like (going to church, allowing gay people to marry, cohabitation, contraception…well a whole lot more)
The census is likely to show around 80% of Irish people identifying as Roman Catholic and No Religion may hit 7-8%. If the data is used to change school structures, this alone would have an impact if we were still working of the ridiculous Pluralism and Patronage agenda, which simply further segregates young children.
In reality, Ireland should cater equally for every citizen, including its children. It shouldn’t simply tolerate minorities. It needs to fully include them. Religion is not only a lousy way to exclude children, it’s unethical by both secular and religious law.
Ticking anything other the Roman Catholic box in the census should have nothing to do with schools, not should the “No Religion” box. The country must simply provide schools that cater for all of its pupils.