The State cannot influence Catholic ethos in State-funded schools, so how can it do so in hospitals?
Fintan O’Toole writes today in the Irish Times about how the word ‘ethos’ is used in Irish schools to justify imposing arbitrary rules, based on the personal religious beliefs of those in authority.
He points out that in the 1882 Eileen Flynn case, the school principal defended her decision to dismiss a pregnant teacher because she had prayed to Christ, and she believed that Christ would have dismissed Eileen Flynn.
Three decades later, apparently, Christ has changed his mind about pregnant teachers. But He is still apparently telling school principals to impose other arbitrary discriminations against atheist and minority faith teachers, pupils, and parents.
Atheist Ireland has consistently raised this issue with the Taoiseach, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice. We have been told that the Government has no power to change the ethos of Catholic schools, or even to have it defined in writing.
And if that is what the Government believes to be the case, then how can they change the ethos of the Catholic body that will own the new National Maternity Hospital, and that will have a majority on its board?
To be specific, Deaglan O Briain, of the Equality Section of the Department of Justice, has forcefully told Atheist Ireland that the Government is constitutionally obliged to allow religious schools to give priority to their coreligionists, regardless of whether or not the State funds those schools, and that they cannot constitutionally go any further in removing the exemptions that State-funded schools with a religious ethos have from our equality laws.
He told us that the Government cannot insist that Catholic schools must change their ethos, or even insist that Catholic schools must write down their ethos in detail, in a way that enables parents to know where religion is integrated into the rest of the curriculum, because that would involve the Government interfering with the right of the Catholic Church to run its own affairs.
This means that parents cannot exercise their inalienable constitutional right to ensure that their children’s teaching is in conformity with their philosophical convictions, because they cannot know where in the curriculum the Catholic ethos will be integrated into subjects other than religion.
The central difficulty seems to be that the State sees Freedom of Religion as meaning protecting the rights of institutional religious bodies, at the expense of infringing on the right to freedom of religion and belief of individual citizens, whether they are accessing State-funded schools or State-funded hospitals.
Atheist Ireland is stepping up our campaign to separate Church and State. We are now training Constituency Coordinators around the country, so that we can inform the public and our public representatives about the need to respect equally everybody’s right to freedom of religion or belief. Please join Atheist Ireland and help to bring about a secular State for a pluralist people.