Home > Guest Contributions, Law, Culture and Religion, New Judgments and Cases to Watch > Guest Contribution: Daly Responds to Quinn on Lautsi and Parental Choice

Guest Contribution: Daly Responds to Quinn on Lautsi and Parental Choice

We are delighted to feature this short guest contribution from Eoin Daly, PhD student at the Law School at University College Cork. You can find out more about Eoin on the Guest Contributors page. Eoin has produced the following response to an article in the Irish Independent by David Quinn (left) entitled “The European Court of Human Rights is Part of an Agressive and Belligerent Drive towards secularism.” Rather than select quotations from Mr. Quinn’s article, we suggest that you read it in full before reading Eoin’s response.

Perhaps David Quinn should properly read the Lautsi decision and the associated jurisprudence before engaging in such strident commentary as he did in today’s Independent. The ECtHR’s recent ruling in APPEL-IRRGANG c. Allemagne, for example, suggests that persons do not have a right to be protected from exposure to religious beliefs as such in schools. In Lautsi, the court has merely found that the State may not provide public education through schools which privilege a particular religious viewpoint, in such a manner as does not respect the inevitable plurality of beliefs within a democratic society.

I frankly do not see how the imperative of “choice” requires that any particular belief be exalted or privileged within a publicly-funded school. If there is a “right” to the sort of “choice” Mr. Quinn relies on, how is it to be extended to all? Or does Mr. Quinn suggests that the exercise of this “right” is confined to what happen to be the most prevalent denominations in a particular state?

It is time that Mr. Quinn dispensed with this ill-placed “choice” rhetoric. He suggests, in today’s column and elsewhere, that while “choice” does not prevent the State from propagating beliefs systems contrary to beliefs of parents such as Ms Lautsi within schools, it somehow requires a positive imperative of support for the beliefs of other parents. This is manifestly ill-founded in common sense as well as any viable democratic theory. Clearly, the absence of interference with parents’ religious and moral education of their children must take priority over any positive assistance the State might give in helping parents to transmit these beliefs. The state cannot seek to buttress or exalt the choice of some to a greater extent than is necessary and in doing so, deny the legitimate choices of others.

Furthermore, Mr. Quinn disingenuously conflates secularism as non-denominational or non-confessional ethos, with secularism as a comprehensive philosophical doctrine in itself. A clear and necessary distinction exists between these. To argue otherwise is to suggest, bizarrely, that any refusal by the State to privilege any particular religious viewpoint in its public schools necessarily favours some sort of atheist or anti-religious doctrine.

To compound the above points it suffices, I believe, to imagine that one lived in a society where the beliefs one wished to transmit to one’s children were different from the beliefs of the majority, and were not sufficiently popular in one’s local area to warrant the establishment of a school. How, then, would Mr. Quinn translate the imperative of “choice”?

UPDATE: In related news, the Irish Times reports that the Department of Education has written to  “Dr Martin  [the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin] following a speech in which he said the church would be willing to withdraw its patronage from some Dublin schools. It has asked the archbishop to identify schools that might be suitable for divesting…”

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