Obama’s remarks about Catholic schools spark new fight with church

by
June 22, 2013

President Obama’s remarks on Catholic schools during his trip to Northern Ireland this week have sparked an unexpected uproar, with critics accusing him of diminishing religious education.

The backlash, which has grown steadily since Mr. Obama made the comments Monday, once again has put the commander in chief at odds with the Roman Catholic Church, which is fighting a provision in the president’s health care law that requires religious institutions to provide free birth control for their employees.

Mr. Obama made the comments during a speech in Belfast while addressing the removal of “peace lines” in Northern Ireland, physical barriers set up between neighborhoods — inevitably one almost entirely Catholic and other overwhelmingly Protestant — designed to calm sectarian tensions.

Children in Northern Ireland attend state schools that differ according to religion. In nearly all cases, a Catholic family and a Protestant one living next door will send their children to different schools.

“Issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it,” Mr. Obama said.

“If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear and resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation,” he said.

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