Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan does not have a photographic memory of atheists

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said yesterday that she was particularly motivated to protect LGBT teachers from discrimination, when some LGBT teachers were afraid to have their photographs taken with the President for fear that action would be taken against them in their schools.

But last February, at a meeting with Atheist Ireland, an atheist student and an atheist teacher had to stand out of a similar photograph, this time with Minister O’Sullivan herself and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, for that very same reason. That photo is published above.

Minister O’Sullivan rightly said yesterday of the LGBT teachers who had to stand out of the photograph with the President: “In a republic, no citizen should be made to feel this way because of their identity, and this legislation will finally put this situation right.”

Yet she is now supporting a Bill that will remove these fears from LGBT teachers, but will retain the right of religious schools to discriminate against atheist teachers, including the teacher who had to stand out of a photograph with her and the Taoiseach just a few months ago.

This Bill will not, as she suggests, “finally put this situation right” for atheist teachers. It will make things worse, by reinforcing and further institutionalising the right to discriminate against atheists, as long as you don’t also discriminate against people on other grounds.

Your child is a Category Two boy

At the meeting with Atheist Ireland, Minister O’Sullivan also apologised to an atheist parent because he had been told by a school Principal that his child was “a Category Two boy,” who would only be considered for a place in the school if there was room after all of the Catholics were accommodated.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also told the parent that no child was a Category Two child.

Yet both the Minister and the Taoiseach are also supporting another Bill, the Admission to Schools Bill, that will retain the right of publicly-funded schools (the vast majority of which are run by Catholic bishops) to give preference to Catholics under the euphemism of “lawful oversubscription criteria”.

This is part of a pattern whereby this Government is amending laws that discriminate against atheists, but doing so in a way that retains the right to discriminate against atheists, as long as you don’t abuse that right by trying to use it to also discriminate against others.

This approach breaches the fundamental human rights of atheists to freedom of belief, equality before the law, and freedom from discrimination.

Yesterday’s Labour Party Press Release

Here is what Minister O’Sullivan said yesterday about the Section 37 Bill, which is currently being debated in the Oireachtas:

“Shortly after my appointment as Minister, I made clear that I would not stand for continuing discrimination against LGBT people, single parents or divorced people who work as teachers.

In particular, I was struck by the fact that some teachers, having been invited to Aras an Uachtaráin to be recognised by the President for their campaigning work, were afraid to have their photos taken for fear that action would be taken against them in their schools.

In a republic, no citizen should be made to feel this way because of their identity, and this legislation will finally put this situation right.”

In the same press release, the Labour Party seems to have forgotten the pledge in the Programme for Government to protect non-faith and minority faith teachers along with publicly out LGBT teachers, despite the Labour Party claiming political ownership of that particular Government commitment.

The Labour Party is now selectively recasting this as a pledge to protect teachers “on the basis of their sexual orientation or family status,” without any indication that this is a different commitment to the one in the Programme for Government.

The Bill to amend Section 37.1 will next be debated, at Report stage, next Thursday in the Seanad. Please contact your local politicians before then, and ask them to ensure that this Bill is amended in such a way as to bar all forms of discrimination in employment in schools and hospitals.

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