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

Article 18 (Freedom of Conscience) protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion of belief.

On 14th July Ireland is due before the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. This UN Committee will ask the State what it is doing to protect the rights of minorities in Irish schools. In 2008 the Committee in its Concluding Observations raised concern about the religious integrated curriculum in denominational schools. They said that it breached the right to freedom of conscience of secular parents and their children.

The religious education policy of Church and State fails to take on board the fact that Article 18 of the ICCPR (Freedom of Conscience) protects atheists/secularists.

The UN General Comment on Article 18 – Freedom of Conscience states that:-

“2.       Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.”

“6.       The Committee is of the view that article 18.4 permits public school instruction in subjects such as the general history of religions and ethics if it is given in a neutral and objective way. The liberty of parents or legal guardians to ensure that their children receive a religious and moral education in conformity with their own convictions, set forth in article 18.4, is related to the guarantees of the freedom to teach a religion or belief stated in article 18.1. The Committee notes that public education that includes instruction in a particular religion or belief is inconsistent with article 18.4 unless provision is made for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives that would accommodate the wishes of parents and guardians.”

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

Irish Human Rights Commission recommends change to the Education Act 1998 to protect the rights of minorities.

The Irish Human Rights Commission in their Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee have recommended  that Section 15 of the Education Act 1998 be amended to provide for modifications to the integrated curriculum to ensure that the rights of minority faith or non-faith children are also recognised therein.

Ireland is due up before the UN Human Rights Committee of the 14th and 15th of July. The UN Committee have asked Ireland what is it doing to protect the human rights of minorities in the Irish Human Rights Commission. Continue reading

Posted in Education Act 1998, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Irish Human Rights Commission, Submissions, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Atheist Ireland to brief UN Human Rights Committee about Ireland’s failure to protect rights of Atheists and Secularists

This July Ireland will be examined by the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.  By ratifying this UN Treaty Ireland has guaranteed to protect the Human Rights guaranteed in the Treaty to all within its territory.

Atheist Ireland will be attending this session in Geneva, under the auspices of Atheist Alliance International. Atheist Alliance International has Special Consultative Status with the UN and we have registered at the UN under their name.

We have made a comprehensive Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee which is now available on the UN website.

In our Submission we highlight that in Ireland atheist/secularists suffer religious discrimination and are not equal before the law. We have pointed out that there is no effective remedy in Ireland to vindicate the rights guaranteed under the Covenant and we have highlighted the Louise O’Keeffe case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Other areas that we have raised are in our submission are:

  • The Irish Education system / non- Denominational Schools/ Complaints Mechanisms.
  • Religious Oaths in the Irish Constitution and Irish Laws.
  • The Irish Blasphemy Law.
  • New Discrimination in the Civil Registration Amendment Act.
  • Abortion and Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution.

We will have the opportunity in July to raise the above issues and point out to the UN Human Rights Committee the failure of the Irish State to protect the human rights of atheists/secularists in many areas of Irish life.

Posted in Complaints Mechanisms, Education Act 1998, Enrolment policies, European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Standards, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Religious Education, Submissions, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘Parental Choice’ in education is a euphemism for religious segregation

In a speech yesterday the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that pluralism is something we should welcome. He said that,  “The Catholic children of the Ireland of the future will live in a climate of pluralism and must learn not to fear pluralism but to be able proudly and confidently to live their faith in a pluralist culture, a faith which hopefully will be nourished to maturity in the Catholic school.  Young Christians need strong roots in their faith in order to flourish in a pluralist society.”

The educational philosophy of the Catholic Church is based on the state funding the segregation of children according to their parents’ religious convictions. Under Canon Law Catholic parents have a duty to choose a Catholic education for their children, and a right for this assistance to be furnished by civil society. In other words the Catholic Church believes that Catholic parents must send their children to Catholic schools, and that the state must fund this. The Catholic Church is afraid to leave the religious education of children in the hands of their parents as a significant portion of these so called Catholic parents don’t go to mass, don’t believe in transubstantiation, support marriage equality, contraception and divorce etc.

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

The state Religious Education course at second level

At the heart of the objections of atheists/secularists to the state Religious Education course at second level, is the meaning of the term ‘Religious Instruction’ in the Irish Constitution. The Supreme Court recognized that there is a difference between Religious Instruction and Religious Education but it never defined exactly what those terms meant.

The Education Act 1998 does not define these terms but despite this the State introduced a Religious Education course at second level which is now an exam subject. They claim that this course is inclusive, open to all religions and none and crucially not Religious Instruction. The State cannot introduce a Religious Instruction course under the State curriculum, as minorities would not be able to access that course, and the State curriculum should be inclusive.

The essence of the objections to the state Religious Education course is that it is in fact Religious Instruction and consequently the State is pursuing an aim of indoctrination by not respecting parents’ convictions. In order for the children of atheists/secularists to access this Religious Education course they must endure the disrespect of the state for their parents’ philosophical convictions.

Parents can still legally opt their children out of this state Religious Education course as the opt out clause in the Education Act 1998 (Section 30 – 2 (e)) refers to instruction that is against the conscience of parents. Many schools make this Religious Education course compulsory notwithstanding the fact that it is still legally possible to opt out of it. Opting their children out of this Religious Education course is a problem for parents but the main issue is that the state has introduced Religious Instruction as an exam subject.

With this article we will outline how this course fails to protect the human rights of atheists/secular parents and their children and how the state is pursuing an aim of indoctrination by not respecting their philosophical convictions. The Irish Constitution does not refer specifically to the rights of religious parents but protects all parents and their children. If the Irish Constitution does not oblige the state to respect the philosophical convictions of atheist/secular parents and their children then the state is in breach of all its international human rights obligations in relation to the rights of parents and children in education.

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Posted in Education Act 1998, European Convention on Human Rights, Human Rights Standards, Religious Education, Toledo Guiding Principles | 4 Comments

Why religious education must be neutral and objective, and how the Irish State is ignoring our human rights

Ireland is due to appear before the UN Human Rights Committee in July this year. The UN have asked Ireland to explain what it is doing to protect minorities in Irish schools and how many non-denominational schools has it established since 2008.

It seems that the Irish State is again going to ignore the human rights guaranteed under international treaties, and argue that the Constitution protects minorities, when it is clear that despite all the guarantees we still do not enjoy basic rights.

Opting out of religion in Irish schools is a theoretical illusion, and not operable in practice. This government are refusing to deal with the religious integrated curriculum, by saying that it is religious education and not religious instruction, which is not the relevant point.

This article explains that:
1. The UN expressed concerns in 2008
2. Since then nothing has changed
3. Schools have a constitutional obligation
4. What happens in practice
5. What the Supreme Court said in 1998
6. What the Catholic Church says
7. Why religious education must be neutral and objective
8. What the Irish government should do
9. What the Irish Government is doing
10. How the State is ignoring our human rights

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Posted in Articles, Education Act 1998, 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

How Ireland must comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Atheist Ireland has made the following written submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on Ireland’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

1. Overview

The key priorities and challenges facing Ireland in complying with the ICCPR are to comply with Articles 2 (nondiscrimination and right to an effective remedy) and 26 (equality before the law). Please remember that Article 26 covers all laws in Ireland, and it guarantees to all persons equal and effective legal protection against any religious discrimination.

This raises fundamental issues about how the Irish State fails to protect atheists and secularists (as well as religious minorities) with regard to the various religious exemptions in Irish laws. Please also remember that it is persons, not groups, that are guaranteed these rights.

Specific relevant rights are guaranteed under Article 18 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 19 (freedom of expression) and 6, 7 and 17 (life, treatment and privacy). Protecting these rights requires changes to the Irish Constitution and laws, including equality laws, the education system, religious oaths, the blasphemy law, the Civil Registration Act, and abortion law.

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