The Republic of Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission has decided that an atheist child was discriminated against by his Catholic school when students were rewarded for attending a religious ceremony.
The commission, an independent, quasi-judicial forum, ruled that the Yellow Furze National School in County Meath had discriminated against an atheist student.
Early in the 2019 school year, the students had been promised a homework pass if they took part in the choir during a First Communion ceremony.
The boy’s mother complained, but the school defended its policy.
"Any student, regardless of his/her religion in our school who opted not to participate in this extracurricular event was not 'rewarded,'" the school said, according to the Irish Post last year.
The school added that children of any religion were able to participate in the choir, and that the claim of discrimination was thus “wholly unfounded.”
The commission said the school “does not appreciate this action had an adverse effect on students who are not of a Catholic faith,” the Irish Times reported.
His mother said that "on that day my son was the only child in the class who was not participating. He was also the only non-Catholic child in the class." She added that “he came out of school crying.”
“We are atheist and this is not a choice that is open to him,” she said.
The Irish Post reported in 2019 that the boy was one of two pupils in his class of 33 to receive homework instead of attending the choir ceremony.
According to the commission the boy’s parents were “deeply hurt and upset” by the school.
“We felt that the school had disregarded the fact that we have a different set of beliefs,” the mother told RTE News. “We felt that our child had been singled out and punished for not being a Catholic,” and she added that she hoped the ruling would “change things for children here who are not Catholic".
The mother has since enrolled her son in a different school.
The commission ordered the school to pay €5,000 and demanded the school review its policies so it complies with the Equal Status Acts. The school will also have to post a memo of its compliance in a noticeable location within the school.
The mother told RTE News she will return the €5,000 to the school, “because it will be our friends and our neighbors who will be funding it, through school fundraising. We have been vindicated, but we feel that it would be wrong to accept this money.”
Catholic schools in Ireland make up 90% of all primary schools in the country, the Irish Times reported. The ruling is likely to affect how other schools promote and organize religious events.