Yesterday the Chief Schools Adjudicator ruled that the exclusion of a child whose mother (who incidentally is head of English at the school) was a convert to Judaism and not, therefore, ethnically Jewish, was â€œindirectâ€ discrimination. Importantly, however, the CSA also held that there was no race-relations implication in preferring Jewish students over non-Jewish students, finding instead that this was a matter of religion.
The question of â€˜indirect discriminationâ€™ in school admission policies may become germane in Ireland as schools (particularly at primary level) continue to be oversubscribed. Can a Catholic school, for example, not only prefer Catholic children to non-Catholic children in its admission policies but then prefer some Catholic children to others if the number of applicants still out-strips the number of available places? Would it be permissible to narrow down the field of applicants based on the frequency of a childâ€™s attendance at church services? Or based on whether their parents went to Catholic schools? Or based on whether their parents are Catholic? It is clear that the JFS admission criteria were not attempts to assess levels of genuineness of religious conviction or levels of religious conviction; Judaism is an ethnicity as well as a religion, the same is possibly not true of Catholicism (although see Oâ€™Toole, â€œEthnic Catholicism in Bostonâ€ (1992) New England Quarterly 117 for an alternative view). However questions of indirect discrimination may begin to arise in Ireland, and the JFS case suggests that s. 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act may not allow for such admission policies on the part of denominational schools.