Religious discrimination in the hiring of Chaplains in ETB schools

Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland have jointly written to the Minister for Education about religious discrimination in the hiring of Chaplains in ETB schools.

The WRC found in a recent case that a Designated ETB Community College could not rely on Section 7 of the Equal Status Act to discriminate in admissions in favour of Church of Ireland students.

If ETB schools and colleges cannot rely on Section 7 of the Equal Status Act, then they cannot rely either on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act to discriminate on the ground of religion when employing chaplains.

The WRC Case

The school in the case gave preference to students who attended a particular Church of Ireland National School over Catholic students and students from other backgrounds. At the WRC the ETB attempted to rely on Section 7 of the Equal Status Act to legally sanction this discrimination. The WRC found that the school could not rely on Section 7 of the Equal Status Act as its Admission Policy stated it was multi-denominational and treated all religions and beliefs equally.

The WRC stated that:

“Based on the statements in the current Admission policy which describes the School Ethos and its values, including equality of treatment irrespective of religious faith, it is difficult to reconcile how giving preference to Church of Ireland students is consistent with that stated objective while at the same time it does admit and give preference to a particular religious denomination.

The admission’s policy of the College states that it provides religious education, is multi-denominational and also contains the very explicit statement that it does not discriminate based on religion. The School denies that it is discriminating, relying on section 7(3)(c) of the Act that it in fact does give preference to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values, it admits persons of a particular religious denomination in preference to others.

The stated School position in its admission policy not to give preference based on religion and at the same time relying on Section 7(3)(c) that it does give preference to one religious denomination in order to provide education in an environment that promotes certain religious values are irreconcilable.”

Implications for Chaplains

If ETB schools and colleges cannot rely on Section 7 of the Equal Status Act, then they cannot rely on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act either. Designated Community Colleges and Community Schools employ mainly Catholic Chaplains to assist Catholic parents with the faith formation of their children. This costs the State €10 million per year.

As per the Deeds of Trust for Community schools and the Model Agreement for Designated Community Colleges, Chaplains employed by the ETBs must be sanctioned by the relevant religious authority. In most cases it is the Catholic Church that the Chaplain must report to in relation to the faith formation of Catholic students in these ETB schools.

What we are looking for

We have asked the Minister remove this religious discrimination by opening up access to the position of Chaplain to all religions. Discriminating against minorities breaches Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, Article 44.2.3 of the Constitution and EU Directive 2000/78/EC.

We also raised two related matters.

Firstly, the needs of religious minorities in relation to training for the position of Chaplains, as that has been developed with mainly the Catholic Church in mind.

Secondly, the basis of funding for chaplains is Article 42.4 of the Constitution, which refers to both religious and moral formation. But Article 42.3.2 requires the State to ensure that all children receive a minimum level of moral (not religious) education. We would like to discuss how the State can provide this moral formation for children of nonreligious families who do not attend religious instruction or avail of chaplaincy services.

Atheist Ireland

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