The state has a positive obligation to respect the philosophical convictions of secular parents.
In Lautsi v Italy ((App No. 30814/06) 18th March 2011) the European Court found that secularism is a conviction within the meaning of Article 9 (the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article II of Protocol 1 (the right to education).
The Court stated that:-
“58. Secondly, the Court emphasises that the supporters of secularism are able to lay claim to views attaining the “level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” required for them to be considered “convictions” within the meaning of Articles 9 of the Convention and 2 of Protocol No. 1 (see Campbell and Cosans v. the United Kingdom, 25 February 1982, § 36, Series A no. 48). More precisely, their views must be regarded as “philosophical convictions”, within the meaning of the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, given that they are worthy of “respect ‘in a democratic society’”, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education. “
The right to education is guaranteed under the European Convention.
Article II of Protocol 1 (the right to education) states that:-
“No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical
In Ireland there is a widely held view that this human right means that the state is obliged to positively support parents in exercising their religious convictions in the education system. They fail to recognise that this Article refers to philosophical convictions as well and is not confined to religious convictions. The state is obliged to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of ALL parents.
It is also claimed, that this right to respect for parents convictions, must be balanced against the rights of others, because of the need to strike a balance between conflicting rights. This analysis is incorrect as the European Court has found that the right to respect is an absolute right, not to be balanced against the rights of others nor one that can be gradually achieved.
In the case of Campbell and Cosans v. The UK 25.2.1982, the European Court stated the following about the meaning of ‘philosophical convictions’ under Article II of Protocol 1.
“In its ordinary meaning the word “convictions”, taken on its own, is not synonymous with the words “opinions” and “ideas”, such as are utilised in Article 10 (art. 10) of the Convention, which guarantees freedom of expression; it is more akin to the term “beliefs” (in the French text: “convictions”) appearing in Article 9 (art. 9) – which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and denotes views that attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
As regards the adjective “philosophical”, it is not capable of exhaustive definition and little assistance as to its precise significance is to be gleaned from the travaux préparatoires. The Commission pointed out that the word “philosophy” bears numerous meanings: it is used to allude to a fully-fledged system of thought or, rather loosely, to views on more or less trivial matters. The Courts agrees with the Commission that neither of these two extremes can be adopted for the purposes of interpreting Article 2 (P1-2): the former would too narrowly restrict the scope of a right that is guaranteed to all parents and the latter might result in the inclusion of matters of insufficient weight or substance.
Having regard to the Convention as a whole, including Article 17 (art. 17), the expression “philosophical convictions” in the present context denotes, in the Court’s opinion, such convictions as are worthy of respect in a “democratic society” (see, most recently, the Young, James and Webster judgment of 13 August 1981, Series A no. 44, p. 25, par. 63) and are not incompatible with human dignity; in addition, they must not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education, the whole of Article 2 (P1-2) being dominated by its first sentence (see the above-mentioned Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen judgment, pp. 25-26, par. 52).
The applicants’ views relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, namely the integrity of the person, the propriety or otherwise of the infliction of corporal punishment and the exclusion of the distress which the risk of such punishment entails. They are views which satisfy each of the various criteria listed above; it is this that distinguishes them from opinions that might be held on other methods of discipline or on discipline in general.”
“This being so, the duty to respect parental convictions in this sphere cannot be overridden by the alleged necessity of striking a balance between the conflicting views involved, nor is the Government’s policy to move gradually towards the abolition of corporal punishment in itself sufficient to comply with this duty.”
Secular parents and their children have exactly the same human rights under the European Convention as religious parents. There is a positive obligation on the state under the European Convention to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of ALL parents. This binds them “in the exercise” of all the “functions” which they assume in relation to education and teaching. The state cannot absolve itself from responsibility for human rights violations by delegating its responsibilities to private bodies and institutions.
Since the Report from the Irish Human Rights Commission in May 2011, this government has done nothing to protect the human rights of secular parents and their children in publicly fund National schools.