UN to monitor racial and religious discrimination in Irish schools

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination (CERD) will be monitoring Ireland’s record on this issue at meetings from 14 February to 11 March. The CERD sees a link between racial and religious discrimination. In its last report on Ireland, in 2005, the CERD asked Ireland to establish more nonreligious schools and to ensure that pupils are not discriminated against because of their religion or lack of religion. Atheist Ireland has sent this submission to CERD in advance of the meetings at which it will be examining Ireland’s record since then.


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Religious Schools in Ireland
3. The Equal Status Act 2000
4. UN Human Rights Committee
5. Right to Freedom of Conscience
6. Education Act 1998
7. Toledo Guiding Principles
8. Government Secrecy
9. Teacher Training
10. Other Issues

1. Introduction

1.1 Ireland is a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) monitors how the State parties implement the Convention. The CERD last considered how Ireland was implementing the Convention in August 2005. The CERD will next consider how Ireland is implementing the Convention in its session from 14 February to 11 March 2011. Atheist Ireland asks the CERD to consider the following in its deliberations.

1.2 Atheist Ireland is a nongovernmental advocacy organisation for atheism, reason and secularism. The Education Policy of Atheist Ireland is to seek “Secular Education based on Human Rights Law”. The vast majority of Irish schools are privately owned and managed. The Irish State absolves itself of the responsibility to educate and delegates that responsibility to private bodies and institutions. 97% of these schools are under religious patronage and it is therefore impossible for parents to access secular human rights based state education for their children where their rights under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination are guaranteed and protected.

1.3 In 2005 the Concluding Observations of the CERD about Ireland stated the following:-

“The Committee, noting that almost all primary schools are run by Catholic groups and that non-denominational or multi-denominational schools represent less than 1 per cent of the total number of primary education facilities, is concerned that existing laws and practice would favour Catholic pupils in the admission to Catholic schools in case of shortage of places, particularly in the light of the limited alternatives available (art. 5 (d) (vii) and 5 (e) (v).

The Committee, recognising the ‘intersectionality’; of racial and religious discrimination, encourages the State party to promote the establishment of non-denominational or multidenominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework so that no discrimination may take place as far as the admission pupils (of all religion) to schools is concerned”.

1.4 The Irish Government did not amend the existing legislative framework. In 2006 the Irish State responded to the CERD report, stating that Irish schools have a right to ensure that the religious education or ethos they provide is protected, and that schools are therefore exempted from certain requirements of the Equal Status Act 2000, but that a very high level of proof is required to allow a school to refuse a student on the basis of religion.

1.5 Contrary to the claims of the Irish State, no high level of proof is needed to enable Irish schools to discriminate on religious grounds. In 2008 in North County Dublin due to a shortage of school places an emergency school was opened. The children in this school were refused access to the local schools as they could not produce a Roman Catholic Baptismal Certificate. All of these children were immigrants. All the proof that is needed to refuse access to schools in the event of a shortage of places, is an inability to produce a Roman Catholic Baptismal Certificate. As the majority of schools in the Country are religious, minorities are not guaranteed a right of access to most of the established schools in the Country.

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2. Religious Schools in Ireland

2.1 The reason for this is that schools in Ireland are private as under the Irish Constitution the state ‘provide for’ education as opposed to ‘provide education’. In December 2008 in the Supreme Court Case Louise O’Keeffe v Leo Hickey, the Minister for Education and Science, Ireland and the Attorney General, Mr. Justice Hardiman stated the following: “In my view the Constitution specifically envisages, not indeed a delegation but a ceding of the actual running of schools to the interests represented by the Patron and the Manager.” The interests of religious bodies are to inculcate religious views and are therefore not the same as the rights guaranteed under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

2.2 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 religious and mostly Catholic.

2.3 Roman Catholic Church policy on education states the following: “The children of Catholic parents have first claim on admission to Catholic schools. Wherever possible, in keeping with their ethos, and providing that they have places and resources Catholic schools welcome children of other faiths or none”.

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3. The Equal Status Act 2000

3.1 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 which means that schools can give priority to co-religionists. Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 states: (3) An educational establishment does not discriminate under subsection (2) by reason only that—(c) where the establishment is a school providing primary or post-primary education to students and the objective of the school is to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values, it admits persons of a particular religious denomination in preference to others or it refuses to admit as a student a person who is not of that denomination and, in the case of a refusal, it is proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.

3.2 General recommendation XIX Racial segregation and apartheid (Art. 3) – (Forty-seventh session, 1995) states the following: “4. The Committee therefore affirms that a condition of racial segregation can also arise without any initiative or direct involvement by the public authorities. It invites States parties to monitor all trends which can give rise to racial segregation, to work for the eradication of any negative consequences that ensue, and to describe any such action in their periodic reports.”

3.3 The trend which gives rise to racial segregation in the Irish education system is Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 and the fact that the Irish State cedes control of education to the interests of private bodies and institutions.

3.4 In their Follow up Report to the Co-ordinator on the recommendations in the concluding observations on the initial and second national Report of Ireland, June 2006 the Government stated that Ireland is satisfied that the rights and protections afforded by domestic legislation, and in particular the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equal Status Act 2000, the prohibition of incitement to Hatred Act 1989 and the offences against the State Act 1939 are in substance those Rights and Protections afforded by the Convention and that accordingly in substance if not in form Irish citizens do enjoy the protection of the Convention. The Minister for Education takes a largely supervisory role in relation to schools, and takes no direct role in relation to how each school is managed and in particular it is left to each school which particular ethos or character it wishes to adopt and how this is reflected in the way the school is run.

3.5 It is now clear that the Equal Status Act 2000 does not protect minorities from religious discrimination in the Irish Education System. Due to the intersectionality of racial and religious discrimination this has led to the discrimination in the admission of pupils to schools which has led to racial segregation. The rights and protections afforded by the Convention are not guaranteed by the Irish State as they cede control of the education system to private bodies and institutions.

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4. UN Human Rights Committee

4.1 In 2008 the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) stated this about Ireland: “The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education (arts. 2, 18, 24, 26). The State party should increase its efforts to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of the State party, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.”

4.2 The UNHRC stated this in their concluding observations under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (CCPR.C.IRL.CO.3, para 22). The four Articles that the UNHRC cited are Article 2 (which concerns Freedom from Discrimination), Article 18 (Freedom of Conscience), Article 24 (Rights of the Child) and Article 26 (Equality before the Law). These basic human rights are denied to non-religious parents and their children as the Irish State has failed to protect those rights. 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.

4.3 The UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights has already raised concern with regard to a religious integrated curriculum in schools and the right freedom of conscience. The Irish State insists that all schools respect minorities. Not only do Denominational schools operate a religious integrated curriculum but at second level so do multi-denominational schools. The reason for this is that the Irish Constitution does not protect the right to freedom of conscience of minorities. The Irish State is not neutral with regard to religion because it fails to protect the right to freedom of conscience guaranteed under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

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5. Right to Freedom of Conscience

5.1 The Irish State does not recognise that parents have a right to a secular education for their children where their basic human rights are protected. Article 42.3 of the Irish Constitution states that “The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State.” Despite Article 42.3 of the Irish Constitution, parents seeking secular human rights based education for their children are obliged to send their children to schools in violation of their conscience and lawful preference as they simply have no place else to go.

5.2 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. 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.

5.3 There is a Constitutional right under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution to opt out of religious instruction and under Article 42.1 the State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family. The Department of Education has provided no further guidance other than Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 which states: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister – shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student.”

5.4 Parents that seek to opt their child out of religious instruction in 97% of schools in the state are responsible for the supervision of their children when the religious instruction class takes place. Religious instruction and formation is not just confined to the religious instruction class and is integrated into all subjects and into the daily life of the school. Rule 68 of the Rues for National Schools issued by the Dept of Education obliges Boards of Management to integrate religion into all subjects. Consequently if parents sought to exempt their child out of the religious instruction class, the elements of religious formation that is integrated into all subjects and the daily life of the school then they would need to take up residence outside the school gates in order to remove their child from the elements of the various subjects that are contrary to their conscience. On top of this there is sacramental preparation during the school day for Catholic religious ceremonies. The opt out clause in the Education Act 1998 is a theoretical illusion and not operable in practice.

5.5 Even when parents can opt their children out of religious instruction, the school does not have to respect their human rights. In 2011 in Leitrim a Dutch father told how his family had to remove their son from the local Roman Catholic school because he was being forced to recite Roman Catholic prayers against the expressed wishes of his parents. The school principal stated: “The mission statement of the school makes clear that a Catholic ethos is an integral part of the curriculum and day to day life of the school. This includes a short prayer at the beginning and end of the day”.

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6. Education Act 1998

6.1 Section 30 – 2 (e) of the Education Act 1998 does not and cannot protect the human rights of minorities. Nothing obliges Patrons and Boards of Management to guarantee the human rights of parents seeking a secular education based on human rights law, as the State does not recognise that a religious integrated curriculum violates the conscience of minorities and anyway it cedes control to the interests of Patron Bodies and Boards of Management. The curriculum in the 97% of schools in the country is not delivered in an objective and neutral manner. Section 15 – 2 (b) obliges Boards of Management to uphold the religious ethos of the Patron.

6.2 The Irish State in their Report to the CERD at 116 states that “Two Community National Schools opened in 2008, Scoil Choilm Community National School, Porterstown and Scoil Ghráinne in Phibblestown, both in Dublin. The new schools are interdenominational and fully inclusive. This offers an additional choice for parents”.

6.3 Atheist Ireland has raised concerns with regard to these Community National Schools as we do not believe that they will guarantee access for minorities to a ‘secular human rights based education’ as nothing will actually change on the ground.

6.4 In a Press Release on 13th December 2007, the then Minister for Education Mary Hanafin announced a new State Model of school called the Community National Schools. The Minister stated that: “ these schools would be responding to diverse needs of a changing society. The new State model of Community National school, under the patronage of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC), will be open to children of all religions and none. They will be interdenominational in character, aiming to provide for religious education and faith formation during the school day for each of the main faith groups represented. A general ethics programme will also be available for children whose parents opt for that and the schools will operate through an ethos of inclusiveness and respect for all beliefs, both religious and non-religious. The schools will operate under the management of an independent Board of Management. The VEC will be represented on the Board of Management, as Patron, and will provide practical management supports to the school.”

6.5 In 2009 the Government in their reply to the Concluding Observations of the UN under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights the Government stated that these new VEC Community schools will be interdenominational in nature (CCPR.C.IRL.CO.3.Add.1 para 50)

6.6 Interdenominational schools are known internationally as Christian Schools and are therefore religious schools. We cannot understand how more religious schools will cater for the wishes of those seeking a secular education for their children based on human rights law.

6.7 It was reported in the Irish Independent on Thursday November 13th 2008 that a statement from the Catholic Bishops said that Mr O’Keeffe, the then Minister for Education, had reaffirmed the policy on religious education in these new VEC Community schools as announced by the previous Minister for Education Mary Hanafin on December 13, 2007. “This announcement stated that the new schools would be “aiming to provide for religious education and faith formation during the school day for each of the main faith groups represented”. “Minister O’Keeffe gave an assurance that the commitment to provide religious instruction and faith formation during the school day on a denominational basis for the pupils whose parents request it stands.”

6.8 “On a denominational basis” for the Catholic Church means integrating religion into all subjects and not delivering the curriculum in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The Vatican stated in a Circular letter in 2009 the following: “The marginalization of religious education in schools is equivalent to assuming – at least in practice – an ideological position that can lead pupils into error or do them a disservice. Moreover, if religious education is limited to a presentation of the different religions, in a comparative and “neutral” way, it creates confusion or generates religious relativism or indifferentism. In this respect, Pope John Paul II explained: “The question of Catholic education includes […] religious education in the more general milieu of school, whether it be Catholic or State-run. The families of believers have the right to such education; they must have the guarantee that the State school – precisely because it is open to all – not only will not put their children’s faith in peril, but will rather complete their integral formation with appropriate religious education. This principle must be included within the concept of religious freedom and of the truly democratic State, which as such – that is, in obedience to its deepest and truest nature – puts itself at the service of the citizens, of all citizens, in respect for their rights and their religious convictions” (Speech to the Cardinals and collaborators of the Roman Curia, 28 June 1984, unofficial translation).”

6.9 In his opening remarks to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education on 14th February 2008, Mr. Kevin McCarthy, Director, Department of Education and Science stated that the Minister had publically announced her intention to devise a new model of primary school patronage which has the capacity to cater for the wishes of parents for denominational, multi-denominational and non-denominational education within the framework of a single patron model and a single board of management structure.

6.10 The question that remains to be answered by the Irish State is how they proposes to guarantee a secular human rights based education for parents and children who so wish in these VEC Primary Community Schools when they have given an assurance to the Catholic Church to provide religious instruction and faith formation on a denominational basis for the pupils whose parents request it?

6.11 As it stands now there is nothing in place that will guarantee secular human rights based education for those parents and children who so wish in these new VEC Community Schools as the State has given a commitment to the Catholic Church that denominational education will be available. There is nothing in the proposed Education (Amendment) Bill that would explain how the Minister proposes to get over this dilemma. The only conclusion here is that the welcome on offer in these new VEC Community Schools is not based on the principles of human rights and is based on what the Catholic Church and the State consider constitutes a welcome for those parents that seek secular education based on human rights for their children.

6.12 The State will still cede control to the interests of the Patron Body and Board of Management of these schools. The interests of the Co Dublin Vocational Education Committee does not mention human rights and they only aspire to develop an ethos characterised by equality, respect, justice and fair play for all.

6.13 Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools is still in place which obliges Board of Management to integrate religion into all subject and there is no intention of removing it. There are no new Statutory Guidelines planned with regard to opting out of Religious Instruction class.

6.14 In addition we are concerned about any multi-belief programme or ethics programme that is put in place in the new VEC Schools as it will not be based on the Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs in schools as the Holy See has rejected these principles.

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7. Toledo Guiding Principles

7.1 The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) have issued guidelines called the Toledo Guiding Principles that provide an overview of the human rights framework and legal issues to consider when developing curricula about religions in order to ensure that the freedom of thought, conscience and religion of all those touched by the process are respected.

7.2 Out of the 56 participating States in the OSCE the Catholic Church is the only one that has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles. Two United Nations experts and one from the Council of Europe contributed to this project.

7.3 It is Catholic Church teaching that any religious education course even religious education that is not denominational must be subject to the authority of the Church. “The Catholic religious instruction and education which are imparted in any schools whatsoever are subject to the authority of the Church […]. It is for the conference of bishops to issue general norms about this field of action and for the diocesan bishop to regulate and watch over it” (c. 804 §1 CIC; cf. also, c. 636 CCEO).” (Circular letter from the Vatican 2009)

“The nature and role of religious education in schools has become the object of debate. In some cases, it is now the object of new civil regulations, which tend to replace religious education with teaching about the religious phenomenon in a multi-denominational sense, or about religious ethics and culture – even in a way that contrasts with the choices and educational aims that parents and the Church intend for the formation of young people.” (Circular letter from the Vatican 2009)

7.4 It is not clear what exactly this will mean for the multi-belief course in the new VEC Primary Schools. If the multi-belief course if subject to the approval of the Catholic Church then according to their teaching it cannot be delivered in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

7.5 Instead of opting in to human rights based education that is neutral and objective, the intention with these new schools is to have religious education and faith formation during the school day when 97% of the schools in the state operate in this manner and are not in compliance with human rights as it is impossible to opt out.

7.6 As long as the State fail to accept that non-religious parents and children have a right to a secular education based on human rights and are prepared to guarantee and protect that right then nothing will change on the ground. The Government policy of plurality of patronage as far as possible will never achieve basic fundamental human rights.

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8. Government Secrecy

8.1 The Irish Government are keeping a secret exactly what they have agreed on Religious Education with the Catholic Church in these new Vec Community Schools.

8.2 On 20th October 2009 Roisin Shortall (Labour Party Deputy) asked the following question in the Dail (Irish Parliament) of the then Minister for Education. “Question 127: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the cost of the two pilot community national school projects to date; the reason the pilot project has been extended before the completion and publication of an evaluation report; if he will clarify the areas of the country expected to see the establishment of the additional pilot schools; the consultation processes with parents in these areas which have taken place; if he will provide a copy of the circular or Government memorandum which determined that the policy of faith formation classes would take place during the compulsory school day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37099/09]

8.3 The then Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe stated the following: “It is not my intention to release a copy of the Memorandum to Government in this instance, in accordance with the provisions governing confidentiality of Government papers contained in Section 1.5 ’Access to Records’ of the Cabinet Handbook produced by the Department of the Taoiseach.”

8.4 That vital information is still confidential and we do not know what the Irish State has agreed with the Catholic Church in the matter of Religious instruction/formation in these new VEC Schools.

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9. Teacher Training

9.1 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. These colleges are funded by the State and are not classed as private. The reality for minorities is that they must pretend to be Christian and Catholic in order to become a teacher.

9.2 Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, 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.

9.3 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 or as the Catholic Church put it: “6. Catholic schools are characterised by the institutional link they keep with the Church hierarchy, which guarantees that the instruction and education be grounded in the principles of the Catholic faith and imparted by teachers of right doctrine and probity of life  (cf. c. 803 CIC; cc. 632 e 639 CCEO).” (Circular letter from the Vatican 2009)

9.4 This section of the Employment Equality Legislation cannot be in conformity with the right to freedom of conscience under the Convention.

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10. Other Issues

10.1 We have focused in this document on the isssue of education as the CERD focused on this issue in its last report on Ireland’s implementation of the Convention. However, as CERD raised this issue on the basis of “recognising the ‘intersectionality’ of racial and religious discrimination”, we ask CERD to also look at two other questions of religious discrimination in Ireland that may intersect with racial discrimination.

10.2 Under the Irish Constitution, a person may not take the office of President, Judge, or member of the Council of State unless they swear a religious oath. This requirement is contrary to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Buscarini and Others v. San Marino, 1999. In 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee said Ireland should amend the constitutional provision requiring a religious oath from judges and to allow for a choice of a non-religious declaration.

10.3 Ireland has publicly funded religious hospitals that have a religious ethos and religious ethics committees. This can conflict with the rights of nonreligious patients on such issues as reproductive medicine and terminal illness.

10.4 We ask the CERD to consider whether these issues fall under the category of the intersectionality of racial and religious discrimination, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    naomi May 26, 2011

    presume you now know that there is an alternative to catholicism in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra as there was at the time of this article going to print. Instead of catholic curriculum education, students can choose to an ethics and education module which incorporates the historical and political context of the current system, philosophy with children, education philosophy, human rights education and the options of multi- and non- denominational education

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  2. Avatar
    Poppy March 13, 2012

    Yes, religion should be separate from school. I went to five different primary schools as a kid, all Catholic, no other choice. While I enjoyed my school years, we were never taught how the world was formed scientifically, just praised God for making it and we were thought Creationism instead of evolution. Appalling and it is still the same for my sons in primary school. So I have to educate myself and them the widely accepted scientific theory how the universe was formed and how the earth became habitable and how we, and other fauna and flora evolved. No wonder the Earth is slowly being made uninhabitable since a huge portion of the world don’t even understand the basics of how it works. It is an even more serious issue than this article, I feel it is about human survival on this planet. We can break what we don’t understand but we can’t fix what we don’t understand. How can we get these basics on the curriculum for primary schools?

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