Democracy? Not in my schoolyard!

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am


The Catholic Church, under the former leadership of the intransigent Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, has been badly misled. It tried to sue the government to resist introducing much-needed reform in aided schools and is now getting its just deserts. Not only did it lose its marathon case in the highest court last October, the same court has now ordered it to pay all costs.

The church forced the case - and subsequently the costs claim - through the courts of first instance, appeal and final appeal, losing at every turn, with ally and democracy icon Martin Lee Chu-ming serving as counsel. Lee argued that the 2004 amendments to education laws were unconstitutional. The changes require aided schools to set up school boards - or incorporated management committees - in which 40 per cent of members must be school parents, teachers and community representatives.

The highest court found the amendments did not threaten freedom of religion and that the schools' ability to control and appoint 100 per cent of board members was not a constitutional right under the Basic law. How ironic that the government was fighting for greater teacher and parent representation while democracy's dynamic duo - Lee and Zen - were arguing that unless the church's schools retained 100 per cent control, the schools would risk losing their religious character and mission.

Parents who disagree with the Catholic religion simply should not send their children to its schools.

So far, non-Christian religious schools like those under Buddhist, Taoist and Islamic sponsors have adopted the reform, and none has reported experiencing the destructive scenario of which the Catholic and Anglican churches have warned. The two churches are now stalling, saying they need time to negotiate with the government. But as Zen has retired, it's time for the Catholic Church to take a more sensible, conciliatory stance.