Atheist Ireland Submission to the United Nations – Universal Periodic Review

Atheist Ireland respectfully submits its comments regarding Ireland for consideration by the Human Rights Council under its Universal Periodic Reveiw at its 12th Session on 6th Oct 2011.

Submission for UPR Ireland

2011 Atheist Ireland

Submission to the United Nations

Universal Periodic Review

Twelfth Session of the Working Group on the UPR

Human Rights Council

6th October 2011

March 2011

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Atheist Ireland is an Irish advocacy group which aims to build a rational, ethical and secular society. The key points that AI wishes to focus on are:

–        The Right to Freedom of Conscience

–        The Right to Equality before the law.

–        The Right to be free from Discrimination

–        The Right to an effective remedy.

–        The Rights of the Child

–        The Right to Freedom of Expression

I. BACKGROUND AND FRAMEWORK

1. Atheist Ireland respectfully submits its comments regarding Ireland for consideration by the Human Rights Council under its Universal Periodic Review at its twelfth session on 6th October 2011.

2. Atheist Ireland is an Irish advocacy group. We promote atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism, and we promote an ethical, secular society where the State does not support or finance or give special treatment to any religion. You can read details of our policies on our website at http://atheist.ie.

3. Since being formed in late 2008, we have campaigned against the Irish blasphemy law, campaigned for a secular Irish Constitution and a secular Irish education system, lobbied political parties and candidates on secular policies during the recent general election, and are campaigning for accurate answers to the religion question in the forthcoming Irish census.

4. Our education policy is based on the right to be educated without being indoctrinated with religion, based on international human rights law. We have made submissions on this issue to the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. These are available on our campaign website http://teachdontpreach.ie.

5. Atheist Ireland is a member of Atheist Alliance International, an umbrella organisation of groups and individuals in the United States and around the world committed to promoting and defending reason and the atheist worldview. We will be hosting a World Atheist Convention in Dublin on 3-5 June 2011. We have also attended a meeting of the religious and nonreligious dialogue process with the Presidents of the European Parliament, commission and Council.

II. PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ON THE GROUND.

A. Cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

6. The Irish Government cut the budgets of the Irish Human Rights Commission (32%), the Equality Authority (43%) and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, (NCCRI) (100%). The NCCRI has now closed. These bodies defend human rights and their work has been effectively undermined. The cuts imposed were disproportionate to those of other areas that were taken into consideration. These cuts have serious implications for people on the ground that suffer discrimination and the abuse of their human rights as they have nowhere else to take their complaints.

7. The Irish State maintains that the rights afforded under the various UN Conventions are guaranteed under the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 when this is not the case. According to the Act every organ of the state must perform its functions in a manner compatible with the European Convention. However in order to seek an effective remedy under the Act it is expected that a complainant should ask the courts to interpret statues in a Convention compliant manner and, if that was not possible, to make a declaration of incompatibility. A declaration of incompatibility is not obligatory on the State. There is no legal aid for these matters and the prohibitive cost of legal action against the state is a major deterrent and consequently there is no effective remedy in Ireland to secure the human rights under the European Convention and the various UN Conventions. None of the UN treaties has been incorporated into Ireland’s domestic legal framework.

8. Equality is protected under Article 40.1 of the Irish Constitution however it is inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination[i].

9. There is no human rights programme for public and civil servants. There is a need for the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Irish schools and teacher training colleges.  There is also a need to promote Human Rights in general throughout society and cutting the budget of the Human Rights Commission will do nothing to support and promote human rights.

10. Recommendations

Incorporate all UN Treaties into Irish law.

Restore the funding of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission.

Promote the understanding of Human Rights in the public and civil service, teacher training colleges and schools.

B.  IMPLEMENTATION OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS.

–        The Right to Freedom of Conscience

–        The Right to Equality before the law.

–        The Right to be free from Discrimination

–     The Right to Freedom of Expression

11. Article 12 – Section 8 of the Irish Constitution requires the President on taking office to take a religious oath. There is no option of taking a declaration.

Recommendation

A commitment to a Constitutional Referendum to amend Article 12 – Section 8 of the Irish Constitution.

12.  Article 31 Section 4 of the Irish Constitution requires Members of the Council of State to take a religious oath. There is no option of taking a declaration.

Recommendation

A commitment to a Constitutional referendum to amend Article 31 – Section 4 of the Irish Constitution.

13. Article 34 – Section 5 of the Irish Constitution requires Judges on appointment to office to take a religious oath. There is no option of taking a declaration.

Recommendation

A commitment to a Constitutional referendum to amend Article 34 – Section 5 of the Irish Constitution.

14. Part V of the Defamation Act 2009 establishes a criminal offence which includes a prohibition of publishing or uttering blasphemous matter[ii].

Recommendation

Remove Part V of the Defamation Act 2009

15. Education

–        The Right to Freedom of Conscience

–        The Right to Equality before the law.

–        The Right to be free from Discrimination

–        The Right to an Effective Remedy

–        The Rights of the Child.

16. In Ireland 97% of primary schools are private religious schools as under the Irish Constitution the state ‘provides for’ education as opposed to ‘provide education’.  There is no parallel system of non-denominational state schools.

17. Irish schools are not considered ‘organs of the state’ within the meaning of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003[iii]. Therefore the Irish courts are not obliged to interpret rights in a manner consistent with the European Convention or any judgement at the European Court of Human Rights[iv]. As the various UN treaties are not incorporated into our domestic legal framework it is therefore impossible to access the right to an effective remedy.

18. It is clear from the Government submissions to the UN and Council of Europe over the years under the various Conventions that the Irish State inaccurately maintains that our education system protects the individual human rights of all parents and children when this is simply not the case. The State does not accept any responsibility for the protection of the human rights of all parents in the education system under the various Conventions that Ireland has ratified as they have ceded control to the interests of Patron bodies and Boards of Management. The interests of 97% of Irish primary schools are to inculcate religious views and are therefore not the same as the rights guaranteed under the various UN Conventions.

19.  Access to schools.

In order for private religious schools to protect their ethos the Irish State has put in place Section 7- 3 – (c) of the Equal Status Act 2000[v] which means that schools can give priority to co-religionists. Religious schools now operate two admissions policies, one for co-religionists and a second one for minorities who have no choice but to seek access to religious schools as 97% of the schools in the country are Christian.  Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 denies the non-religious a guaranteed right of access without discrimination to 97% of schools in the state. It is simply not an option for the majority of parents to educate their children at home and they are left with a choice between a religious education for their children or no education at all. In areas where there is a shortage of places Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status causes children to be refused access to schools and coerces parents into getting their children Baptised into the Catholic religion in order to gain access to the local school[vi].

20. Question

Why does the Irish State not protect minorities from religious discrimination while accessing an education for their children?

21. Recommendation.

Remove Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act which permits discrimination on the grounds of religion.

22. The Integrated Curriculum.

Section 15 – 2 (b) of the Education Act 1998[vii] obliges schools to uphold the religious ethos of the patron. As 97% of schools in the state are religious and Christian they are obliged by law to integrate religion into all subjects and into the general milieu of the school (prayers, religious services etc). There is sacramental preparation during the school day for Christian religious ceremonies[viii]. The practice of the integrated curriculum in 97% of schools in the state cannot protect the right to freedom of conscience of religious minorities and non-religious parents who do not wish their children to be exposed to doctrinal religious formation that is integrated into the very fabric of the school.

23. Question:

How can the Irish State guarantee the human rights of non-religious parents when they cannot opt out their child from religion that is integrated into all subjects under the state curriculum?

24. Recommendation

Remove Section 15 – 2 (b) of the Education Act 1998 and Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools which obliges Boards of Management to integrate religion into all subjects.

25. The operation of the opt out clause

Non-Religious parents have no choice but to send their children to Christian schools. If they seek to opt their child out of religious formation they are responsible for the supervision of their children when this education takes place. Parents will not readily seek to opt their children out of religion because of the burden it will create for them and they do not want their children to feel left out and isolated. As religion is not just confined to the religious instruction class and is integrated into all subjects and into the daily life of the school parents cannot to exempt their child out of this as it would cause too much of a burden. In the Irish education system the opt out clause is a theoretical illusion and not operable in practice[ix].

26. Question:

How can the Irish State guarantee the right to Freedom of Conscience to non-religious parents who cannot opt out their children from religious formation?

27. Recommendation

Open up non-Denominational state schools throughout the country and take responsibility for the protection of the human rights of minorities in the education system.

28. Teacher Training.

There are five teacher-training colleges in Ireland and all of them are Christian. In these colleges all students have no choice but to learn and take exams in Christian doctrine in order to take up a position as a teacher. As 97% of the schools in the country are denominational, minorities simply have no choice but to attend one of the colleges if they wish to become a teacher. Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act[x], provides for an exemption from equality for religious, educational or medical institutions under the control of a religious body. The exemption permits a religious body to discriminate on grounds of religion regarding its employees and prospective employees. This legislation permits religious bodies to take any action which is “reasonably necessary” to prevent an employee from undermining its ethos. This part of the Act is wide-ranging and not limited to discrimination on the grounds of religion. This part of the Act can be applied to a teacher who does not conduct his/her private life in accordance with the teaching of a particular religion.

29. Recommendation.

Remove Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act and open up non-denominational teacher training colleges.


APPENDIX

[i] E/C. 12/1/Add.77 – 5th June 2002, para 16.

[ii] http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2009/en/act/pub/0031/index.html

[iii] http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2003/en/act/pub/0020/index.html

[iv] Mawhinney, Freedom of Religion in the Irish Primary school system: A failure to protect Human Rights? P.398

“In the absence of constitutional and education legislative provisions guaranteeing freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the context of the integrated curriculum, it might be presumed that the recent European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 (ECHRA) could be employed to offer protection for such a Convention right.77 However, constitutional jurisprudence and recent disputes involving matters of ethos in schools suggest that this protection may not be forthcoming. First, the provisions of the Act are subject to the overriding authority of the Constitution, which remains the supreme law of the country. To date, denominational school bodies have been excluded from certain rights obligations found in the Constitution when the courts have considered it ‘necessary to make distinctions in order to give life and reality to the constitutional guarantee of the free profession and practice of religion’.78 For instance, in McGrath and O’Ruairc v Trustees of Maynooth College,79 it was held that the prohibition of discrimination under Art 44.2.3 of the Constitution was confined to the state and not extended to institutions receiving public funding. The autonomy of religious bodies is additionally safeguarded by Art 44.2.5 of the Constitution, which protects the right of denominations to control their own affairs, including the running of educational establishments and the enforcement of its own regulations.

80 A second reason to doubt the capacity of the ECHRA to protect the rights of minority-belief individuals in denominational schools lies in the applicability provision of the Act. The Act is applicable only to those bodies defined as ‘organs of the state’.

81 As yet, the courts have not been asked to consider this definition. For present purposes, the question arises as to whether privately owned and managed, state funded, denominational schools would be classified as ‘organs of the state’. In its initial report to the Economic, Social and Cultural Committee in 1997, the government stated that ‘Overall responsibility for education in Ireland lies with the Minister for Education who is a member of the Irish Government and responsible to the National Parliament’.”

[v] http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2000/en/act/pub/0008/index.html

[vi] CERD/C/IRL/CO/3-4 10th March 2011 para 26.

[vii] http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1998/en/act/pub/0051/index.html

[viii] Mawhinney, Freedom of Religion in the Irish Primary school system: A failure to protect Human Rights? P.391, The Integrated Curriculum.

“Schools also reported that the ethos of the school was promoted through religious symbols on walls, altars in classrooms, grace before meals, prayers at the start and end of the day, visits to churches, visits from clergy and the staging of Nativity plays and carol singing at Christmas time. The majority of school policy documents, submitted with completed questionnaires, were explicit in stating the extent of the permeation of the school ethos in school life: a ‘Christian Spirit will inform all the activities of the school’; a ‘Christian environment is offered’ by the school; and, in explaining the extent of school links with local parishes, ‘this, for example, is shown by the fact that the pupils attend services in the local church and the Rector visits the school on a regular basis in his role as Chaplain’. These reports are in keeping with statements by religious authorities which have been consistent in explicitly asserting the importance of the school ethos to the life of their schools. For xample, in February 2005, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin re-emphasised the need for a Catholic school to ‘have a defined ethos which should be verifiable in all its aspects’.

57 He noted that ‘a Catholic ethos must be the integrating factor for all aspects of the life of the Catholic school’ and that a Catholic school must ‘place at the centre of its mission the passing on of the message of Jesus Christ, his truth and his love, from generation to generation, as a factor of liberation, integration and hope in the young person’s life’. The parents interviewed confirmed that an integrated curriculum is practised throughout the school day:

‘It actually turned out in reality that religion is not a subject that they do for a half-hour. It’s constantly brought up again and again like prayers here and there, colouring in pictures, say of the nativity.’‘It was 24 /7!’”

[ix] CCPR/C/IRL/CO/3  22nd July 2008 para 22.

[x] http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1998/en/act/pub/0021/index.html

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