Crucifixes in Classrooms: A Longstanding Issue
We have written here and here about the European Court of Human Rights’ recent decision in Lautsi v Italy, holding that the mandatory display of crucifixes in public school classrooms was a breach of Article 9 and Article 2, Protocol 1. It was therefore interesting to read in this morning’s Irish Times, by means of today’s reprinted historical story, that in Ireland display of the crucifix has long been a contentious issue. In the reprinted article from 1892 the controversy about whether or not schools run by the Christian Brothers could be funded by the state because of their display of the crucifix is reported:
A special meeting of Dublin city council was called in November 1892 to applaud the controversial decision of the National Education Board to remove restrictions which had prevented the Christian Brothers from receiving state grants for post-primary schools. Among the restrictions was a ban on religious emblems in schools, such as the display of crucifixes, and a “conscience clause” which was designed to allow all denominations to be educated together. The Christian Brothers had refused to adhere to the ban on religious emblems and, as a result, had been left out of the grant system. The High Sheriff of Dublin, Henry J Gill, proposed a motion complimenting the board on its decision and criticising a Church of Ireland deputation to the Lord Lieutenant which had opposed the decisions.
Of course, since 1922 and especially since 1937 one of the features of Irish education has been its deeply Catholic nature–most schools were (and in the case of primary school at least, still are) managed by the Roman Catholic Church, the integrated curriculum meant that most schools had a high level of religious instruction, and certainly people over 20 years of age (and maybe even younger) will have memories of primary school that are dominated by the saying of the Angelus, morning prayers, religious statues in the classroom, and being marched to Church to prepare for various religious ceremonies. Being Catholic was a large part of marking the fact that we, as a country, were Irish and not British. We always, however, supported pluralism in religion by means of funding non-Catholic–and primarily Protestant–schools although as Máiréad wrote here and here that support is now in jeopardy given the budgetary situation.
It is, however, interesting to see that far from being a sign of over zealous modern conceptions of liberty, or ‘rights gone mad’ (see David Quinn here and the response of Eoin Daly here), the Lautsi judgment is in fact rehearsing and dealing with long-standing themes of religious display and educational pluralism with which we in Ireland have long been familiar.