FF and FG’s new social contract must be based on equal freedom of religion and belief

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s proposed framework for government aims to create new, credible, quality-of-life measures of individual and societal wellbeing and progress.

They are correct to focus on economic recovery, healthcare, housing, education, climate action, young people, and global citizenship. They are also correct to prioritise underlying principles through a new social contract.

This new social contract should be based on treating everybody equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs, and without giving privilege to any religious or atheist organisations.

The pandemic has forced us to fundamentally reconsider many approaches to public life. As part of this, we should reconsider our understanding of freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief.

Also, they should base any new quality-of-life measures not on personal or political ideology, but on scientific data such as that produced by the World Values Survey.

Religious equality in the education system

The most important area in which a new social contract can help to bring about equal freedom of religion and belief is in the education system. This includes:

  • Establishing a secular State education system and ensuring, as raised by the UN Human Rights Committee, that nondenominational primary schools are widely available.
  • Ensuring that all schools convey all parts of the curriculum, including religious education, in an ‘objective, critical and pluralistic manner’, as ruled by the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Providing effective remedies for parents to vindicate, in practice and law, their human right to ensure that their children’s education is not counter to their convictions.
  • Respecting the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the State cannot absolve itself from responsibility for human rights violations by delegating its responsibilities to private bodies

Other areas where equality is needed

The new social contract should also address other areas where our constitution, laws and policies discriminate against atheists and religious minorities. These include:

  • Removing the requirement for the President, judges, and Council of State, including the Taoiseach and Tanaiste, to swear a religious oath, and replacing these with a single neutral declaration that reveals no information about the person’s religious beliefs.
  • Examining all existing and future laws to ensure that there is one law for all, based on rights and compassion and not religious doctrine.
  • Establishing a secular State healthcare system where decisions are based on compassion, human rights and the medical needs of patients, and not on religious ethics.
  • Amending the Employment Equality Act 1998 and Equal Status Act 2000, which allow churches, schools and hospitals and training colleges to discriminate on the grounds of religion.
  • Amending the Charities Act 2009, which includes the advancement of religion but not of atheism as a charitable purpose; and presumes that a gift for the advancement of religion is of public benefit.
  • Amending the Civil Registration Act 2004, so that religious and non-religious bodies are treated equally when nominating solemnisers.
  • Amending the Electoral Act to ensure that churches are subject to political funding regulations on the same basis as secular advocacy groups.

Conclusion

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s proposed framework for government says that we should be at the heart of Europe and it promotes global citizenship. But our constitution, laws and policies are not compatible with Article 9 of the European Convention or Article 18 of the ICCPR.

We live in a Republic that treats minorities as second class citizens and undermines their right to freedom of religion and belief. This religious discrimination is reflected in many areas of law and policy in Ireland and particularly in the education system.

The pandemic has forced us to fundamentally reconsider many approaches to public life. As part of this, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s proposed new social contract should be based on treating everybody equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs, and without giving privilege to any religious or atheist organisations.

Atheist Ireland