Fight between teacher and school caretaker over Virgin Mary statue ends in court

01 September 2017

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A PHYSICAL confrontation between a teacher and a school caretaker over the positioning of a statue of the Virgin Mary left the caretaker shaken, and with an abrasion to his neck, the Irish Workplace Relations Commis­sion (WRC) has heard.

The computer-science teacher at the un­­named school (later identified as a regional central technical institute) is a humanist, the WRC heard, and objected to the placing of the statue on a traditional “Mary altar” by the caretaker at the school entrance.

None of the parties, including the school itself, were named in the proceedings.

The adjudicator in the case, Mr Enda Murphy, heard that the teacher removed the statue, which he alleged had caused him deep anxiety because of his beliefs, and refused to put it back on the altar; when the caretaker tried to recover it, the altercation occurred.

The teacher, who was claiming discrimina­tion, harassment, and victimisa­tion, was the only individual to object to the statue, which has been an annual feature at the school for 30 years.

He (the complainant) has been teaching at the school for more than 20 years, and said that he found the statue “unpalatable and offensive to him personally on the basis of his belief that the religious statue of the Virgin Mary is one associated with the repression of normal human sexuality”, the Commission’s report stated. The incident with the caretaker occurred when he sought to take the statue back from the alleged assailant.

Mr Murphy dismissed the discrimination claim. He said that he was satisfied that the presence of such religious symbols were not intended to impose Roman Catholic beliefs on the complainant personally, and said that his attempts to remove the statue served to undermine the religious ethos of the school.

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