The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

In 2008 the UN Human Rights Committee raised concern regarding the right to freedom of conscience of secular parents and their children in the Irish education system. The Irish state ignored this concern and continues to disregard the human rights of secularists.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights guarantees the right to freedom of conscience. The UN has what they call General Comments which explain in detail specific human rights. General Comment 22 covers Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

General Comment 22:

“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.”

In Ireland secular parents cannot opt their children out of religion that is integrated into all subjects under the curriculum. The Irish state makes no provision for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives to ensure that the rights of minorities are protected and consequently secular parents and their children are denied the right to freedom of conscience.

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