How Irish law effectively prohibits non-denominational secular schools based on human rights

Irish law effectively prohibits non-denominational secular schools based on human rights, despite the Irish Government telling the UN Human Rights Committee last month that there are no obstacles to establishing such schools in Ireland.

The Government did outline two requirements to the UN, that the Government seemingly doesn’t consider to be obstacles. These are that there must be sufficient parental demand in an area for such a school, and that the requirements of being a Patron body must be met.

In reality, there are four obstacles to establishing non-denominational secular schools based on human rights in Ireland.

The first obstacle is the parental demand requirement, which breaches human rights law, because the right to a neutral education cannot be denied by local majority votes. The parental demand argument would mean that you could have your human rights vindicated if you live in one part of the country, but not if you live in another part, based on the preferences of your neighbours.

The second obstacle is that the requirements of being a Patron are such that it would be impossible in practice to provide secular non-denominational education consistently with them. Recognised schools are obliged to to promote the spiritual development of students, and to abide by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, which includes that a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.

The third obstacle is that the very nature of our education system involves the State ceding the running of schools to private bodies. This means that, even if the parental demand and Patron requirements were changed, there would be no guarantee that secular education would actually be provided, or that if it was provided that it would continue to be provided.

The fourth obstacle is that, even if such schools were provided by a Patron body, the Patron body would still be a private body and not an organ of the State. That means that there would be no effective remedy to vindicate the human rights of parents who are denied secular education for their children based on human rights law.

The State has made no proposals to remove any of these obstacles, and consequently the response of the government delegation to the UN Human Rights Committee was simply not true. In effect, the State’s argument is that you can set up a secular non-denominational school, if you meet requirements that you cannot actually meet.

The biggest obstacle is, of course, that this government, like previous governments, is simply not prepared to do anything to guarantee the human rights of minorities in the education system. Human Rights are the minimum standard required for the protection of the individual citizen and here in this Republic our standards are so low that we don’t guarantee these rights.

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Posted in Articles, Education Act 1998, ETB (VEC's), European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, National School Rules, New VEC Community National Schools, Religious Education, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Children have a human right to a neutral studying environment, even in denominational schools

Last month Ireland appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR). Every five years the UN questions Ireland in relation to their human rights obligations under the Covenant.

In relation to the right to freedom of conscience and the right to be free from religious discrimination in the education system the UN asked Ireland the following questions:

“And going forward, how is the State Party planning to deal with the possibility and the demand for non-denominational education in the future? Is it considering a move away from the integrated curriculum provided by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools? Is it considering a significant rise in the number of schools transferred to public hands?”

“My follow-up question goes to the issue of denominational education, and I note the statement on improvements that are planned in the transparency of school admission policies. My two follow up questions in this regard are:
How does the Delegation explain the compatibility with the Covenant of a state of affairs that allows private schools, which have a near monopoly in Ireland on a vital public service, to openly discriminate in admission policies between children on the basis of their parents’ religious convictions?

I would appreciate, whether orally or in writing, the Delegation’s theory on this point, on this legal point. And whether the State believes or not that it is required to ensure a neutral studying environment in those schools, in denominational schools, outside the confines of religious instruction classes that can be opted out from?”

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Posted in Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, National School Rules, Religious Education, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Educate Together is undermining the duty of the Irish State to provide non-denominational schools

Educate Together has made two statements recently that undermine the duty of the Irish Government to provide secular education though new non-denominational schools, as required by the UN Human Rights Committee.

Educate Together is doing this by blurring the distinction between multi-denominational schools (which Educate Together schools are) and non-denominational schools (which the UN Human Rights Committee has told Ireland to provide access to).

Educate Together is creating the impression that, by providing more Educate Together schools, the UN’s requirements would be satisfied. This is not correct. There would still be no non-denominational schools.

Educate Together is also using the UN’s requirements to seek more funding for more Educate Together schools. But if this and only this happens, then there will be less money for non-denominational schools.

Clearly Educate Together schools are good for parents who want a multi-denominational education for their children. But they do not satisfy the requirement for non-denominational education that the UN has told Ireland to also provide.

Indeed, Educate Together cannot satisfy the requirements of the UN, because those requirements are aimed at the Irish State and not at Educate Together.

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Posted in Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission | 2 Comments

The new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission should be mandated to monitor ICCPR rights

This is Yuval Shany of the UN Human Rights Committee, during the Committee’s questioning of Ireland in Geneva in July.

He is challenging the Irish State’s reasons for not mandating the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to monitor human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Starting with the new Human Rights Commission, I appreciate the clarifications provided by Mr Briain on the reasons underlying the decision not to invest the Human Rights and Equality Commission with an enforcement mandate that includes the Covenant as well as other international treaties.

I find however the explanation provided not fully convincing, and I will explain why.

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Posted in Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

UN asks Ireland about religious discrimination in Irish schools – video and transcript

The UN Human Rights Committee has told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths in the education system, reflecting concerns raised by Atheist Ireland at the questioning session in Geneva. The Committee concluded:

The Human Rights Committee is concerned about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children.

Ireland should introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, and ensure that there are diverse school types and curriculum options available throughout the State party to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children.

Here are the questions that the Committee asked Ireland about religious discrimination in schools, in the session in Geneva that led to the above recommendation.

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Posted in Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, Religious Education | Leave a comment

UN asks Ireland about discrimination against atheist teachers – video and transcript

The UN Human Rights Committee has told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faith teachers and health workers, reflecting concerns raised by Atheist Ireland at the questioning session in Geneva. The Committee concluded:

The Human Rights Committee is concerned that under Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts, religious-owned institutions, including in the fields of education and health, can discriminate against employees or prospective employees to protect the religious ethos of the institution (arts.2, 18, 25 and 27).

Ireland should amend Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts in a way that bars all forms of discrimination in employment in the fields of education and health.

Here are the questions that the Committee asked Ireland about this discrimination, in the session in Geneva that led to the above recommendation.

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Posted in Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, National School Rules, Religious Education, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

UN Human Rights Committee tells Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths

The UN Human Rights Committee today told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths in the education system, employment, religious oaths and blasphemy law.

The UN report published today vindicates all of the complaints raised by Atheist Ireland when we briefed the Human Rights Committee in Geneva last week, and it makes several recommendations that were specifically suggested by Atheist Ireland.

The Committee was questioning Ireland about its duties under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Education System

The Human Rights Committee is concerned about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children.

It said Ireland should introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, and ensure that there are diverse school types and curriculum options available throughout the State party to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children.

Employment

The Human Rights Committee is concerned that under Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts, religious-owned institutions, including in the fields of education and health, can discriminate against employees or prospective employees to protect the religious ethos of the institution (arts.2, 18, 25 and 27).

It said Ireland should amend Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts in a way that bars all forms of discrimination in employment in the fields of education and health.

Religious Oaths

The Human Rights Committee is concerned at the slow pace of progress in amending the Constitutional provisions that oblige individuals wishing to take up senior public office positions such as President, members of the Council of State and members of the judiciary to take religious oaths.

It said that Ireland should amend articles 12, 31 and 34 of the Constitution that require religious oaths to take up senior public office positions, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993) concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public.

Blasphemy Law

The Human Rights Committee is concerned that that blasphemy continues to be an offence under article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution and section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009 (art. 19).

It said Ireland should consider removing the prohibition of blasphemy from the Constitution as recommended by the Constitutional Convention, and taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) concerning the incompatibility of blasphemy laws with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2 of the Covenant.

Posted in Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, National School Rules, Religious Education | Leave a comment

Irish government again defers to the “institutionalised belief system” that pervades Irish schools.

Last Monday the UN Human Rights Committee asked Ireland, “with regard to denominational schools, does the State believe it is required to ensure a neutral teaching environment outside of the religious instruction classes”. It also asked if the State will   remove Rule 68, which enforces a religious integrated curriculum. And the Chair of the UN Committee said that many of the human rights breaches in Ireland were connected to the institutionalised belief system that predominated in the State and that occasionally sought to dominate the State.

Ireland ratified the UN Covenant on Civil & Political rights in 1989. Every five years it has to appear before the UN to answer questions and explain what it is doing to protect the human rights guaranteed under this Covenant.  In a previous examination in 2008 the UN had raised concern about the rights of secular parents and the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools. Despite the concern of the UN, nothing changed on the ground for secular parents and their children in the Irish education system and they continue to suffer an abuse of their human rights.

Both the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Forum on Patronage & Pluralism recommended that Rule 68, which sanctions the religious integrated curriculum, should be removed. The Religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools breaches the right to freedom of conscience of minorities who have no option but to attend the only school in a particular area. In the main these are schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

In their response to this question from the UN the government relied on the right, in the Irish Constitution and the Education Act 1998, for parents to opt their children out of religious instruction classes. The government did not respond to the specific question from the UN on whether they will remove Rule 68, and whether they believe that there is a right to a neutral education outside of religious instruction classes.

The government is trying to fudge the issue, because they are well aware that the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools breaches the human rights of secular parents and their children and religious minorities.  It has become clear that this government does not intent to protect the human rights of minorities and will continue to breach their human rights. How can any school claim that it is inclusive while at the same time discriminating in access on religious grounds and operating a religious integrated curriculum.

In the recent report, on the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism,  the Dept of education  stated that:

“Ireland has a good record in the arena of promoting and respecting human rights. It is important that we continue to live up to the high standards set in international conventions. Ireland will continue to be the subject of international criticism if it does not move to address the concerns raised by the Monitoring Committees of the international human rights treaties to which it is a party. Ireland is also obliged to protect the constitutional rights of all its citizens and to ensure that public policy evolves and develops to promote the protection of these rights.”

The proposed new legislation (School admissions Bill) will not protect the Human Rights of minorities in Irish schools. Religious discrimination in access to education will not be removed and there is no mechanism to enable students to opt out of a religious integrated curriculum.

The recent Report from the Dept of Education on the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism now speaks of amending Rule 68, not removing it which was the Recommendation of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The questions from the UN Human Rights Committee show that they are not taken in by the assurances of this government that they are protecting the human rights of minorities in the education system.

The response of this government to the UN Human Rights Committee shows clearly that this government like previous governments are unwilling to protect the human rights of secular parents and religious minorities in the Irish education system and they intend to defer to the “institutionalised belief system” that pervades the Irish education system.

We have an education system in this Republic that does not respect the right to freedom of conscience of ALL parents and their children in the education system and it is a system that undermines human rights. We also have another government that is going to do nothing about it.

Posted in Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, National School Rules, Religious Education | Leave a comment

Irish Government again evades UN questions on oaths, blasphemy and religious discrimination in Irish schools

The UN Human Rights Committee has just published the Irish Government’s written response to the questions that they were asked in Geneva this week.

The Government gave no additional information on religious oaths or blasphemy, and it evaded several specific questions that the UN asked it about religious discrimination against atheists and minority faith families in the education system.

These questions included:

  • Why has the Government not yet changed the obligatory religious oaths for Judges, which was first raised by the UN as a breach of human rights in 1993?
  • Will the state also change the obligatory religious oaths for president and others as well as judges?
  • Why has the Irish Government not responded to the UN on its commitment to remove the Irish blasphemy law?
  • The UN previously asked Ireland to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of Ireland. Why has this has not yet happened, with most new schools being multi denominational, not non-denominational.
  • Ireland said that there was no obstacle to non-denominational schools if there was sufficient demand in a local area. The UN asked how can insufficient demand be used to justify no provision of nondenominational schools?
  • The UN also asked, with regard to denominational schools, does the State believe it is required to ensure a neutral teaching environment outside of the religious instruction classes that children can be opted out of?
  • Specifically, the UN asked will the State remove Rule 68 of National Schools, which enforces an integrated religious curriculum?
  • The UN previously asked the State to provide information on steps being taken to ensure that the right of children of minority religions or non-faith are recognised in the Education Act 1998. The UN now asked how does the State explain the compatibility with Covenant obligations of private schools with near monopoly of providing a vital public service being allowed to openly discriminate against children on the basis of their parents religious convictions?
  • With regard to the new Admissions to Schools Bill, the UN asked are non-faith families still discriminated against in admission to schools under this Bill?
  • The Government is proposing a new Bill on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows religious schools to discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion. The UN asked how does this Bill protect atheist teachers, as distinct from LGBT teachers? This is the first time that this issue has been raised by the UN, and it was raised on the basis of the concerns expressed by Atheist Ireland in our briefing.

Atheist Ireland will be sending further information to the UN Human Rights Committee about the questions that Ireland has not answered. The UN Human Rights Committee will publish its concluding observations next Thursday.

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Posted in Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Constitution, Irish Human Rights Commission, Religious Education | Leave a comment

Majority votes cannot deny human rights: UN questions to Ireland reflect Atheist Ireland briefing in Geneva

Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly, representing Atheist Ireland, briefed the UN Human Rights Committee this week in Geneva about religious discrimination in Ireland, particularly in the education system. The issues we raised in our briefing were directly reflected in many of the UN’s questions to the Irish State delegation, led by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Atheist Ireland raised secular issues alongside independent academic Alison Mawhinney, and other Irish advocacy groups also briefed the UN on their areas of concern. Atheist Alliance International officer M. Quavami Tehrani also participated, to compile information to help other atheist groups to plan for such UN interventions with regard to their own countries.

The overall tone of the UN’s questions was strongly critical of Ireland’s human rights record, and of Ireland’s failure to address human rights breaches that the UN has repeatedly brought to its attention. Ireland’s oral responses to the UN’s questions were incomplete and evasive, and will have to be supplemented by written responses within two days.

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Posted in Enrolment policies, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Human Rights Commission, Submissions, Uncategorized | Leave a comment