HONG KONG, FEB. 3, 2010 (Zenit.org).- An appellate court in Hong Kong dismissed a challenge from the diocese to an education bill that the Church fears will undermine the Catholic school system.

The Court of Final Appeal handed down its decision today that it does not agree with the Church's claim that the education bill enacted in 2004 violated the Hong Kong Basic Law (the mini-constitution in Hong Kong), and stated that the bill in no way harms to the Church's right to run schools.

In 2004, the Hong Kong government enacted the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 that requires schools receiving public funding to separate the school's management committee (SMC) from the school's sponsoring body (SB).

The sponsoring body will only have a 60% stake in the management committee, and the other 40% will be composed of parents, alumni, teachers and community representatives.

In the case of Church-run schools, the sponsoring body (ie, the Catholic, Methodist or Anglican Church) will have reduced decision-making power in their own schools.

In December 2005, the Church submitted an application to the High Court for a judicial review of the constitutionality of the education bill and said that it violated the Hong Kong Basic Law that guarantees religious freedom.

Following a judicial review of the education bill, the High Court dismissed in 2006 the claim of the Church that the Ordinance infringed the Basic Law. In 2009, the Church appealed the High Court's decision.

The Diocese of Hong Kong noted its disappointment with today's decision in a statement issues after the ruling was handed down. The diocese said it needed time to study the judgment before taking any follow-up actions, but that in the meantime it will maintain its zeal and enthusiasm in providing a time-honored school education service for the community.

The Church, however, argued that the education bill seeks to undermine a school's sponsoring body, and warned that "if one day our schools are not able to operate in accordance with the vision and mission of the Catholic Church, they will lose their Catholic identity and will no longer be genuine Catholic schools."

The Diocese of Hong Kong runs some 320 schools.