Forcing respect for 160+ beliefs is impractical, and undermines freedom of expression
The right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief is one of the foundations of a democratic society. We have listed in this article over 150 religions that are recognised in Ireland, and ten nonreligious philosophical convictions that Human Rights law gives the same status as religious beliefs.
Many people, especially in Ireland, only recognise the right to freedom of religion. The right to freedom of conscience and nonreligious belief are not given the same protection, and consequently there are issues around the protection of the right to freedom of expression and what it encompasses.
People with nonreligious beliefs have exactly the same rights as those with religious beliefs. They have the same right to express their beliefs and through satire if they wish.
The Council of Europe in its Handbook of Freedom of expression stated that:
“The right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief is connected with the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly. If you have a religion or belief then you have the right to express it and the right to freedom of assembly.”
RTE Guidelines oblige its programmers to respect beliefs. This does not set a fair balance between the competing interests of the individual who complains and of the community as a whole.
Given Irish history and culture, the obligation to respect religious beliefs comes from a time when Church and state were inseparable, and religious beliefs were reflected in our Constitution, laws and policy. They still are in many respects, especially in our education system.
Religious beliefs and political beliefs
The requirement to respect certain religious beliefs has political consequences. Religions seek to influence law and policy to ensure that their particular deeply held convictions are reflected in law and policy for everyone, even if you do not belong to that particular religion.
Political beliefs such as support for capitalism, socialism or nationalism are deeply held convictions held by many people. But RTE does not seek to ensure that political satire does not cause offence. Everyone can understand how such a policy would undermine freedom of expression.
There is no right for anyone not to be offended, even if such criticism may be perceived by some as hurting their religious feelings. Satire is given special protection by the European Court.
RTE should not have guidelines that require programmers to respect beliefs, as this undermines freedom of conscience and expression. It is impossible for any organisation to equally respect every belief in the country.
All beliefs should be challenged, and especially if they are harmful. Many aspects of Irish culture reflected Catholic Church teaching and were and are harmful to certain sections of society.
Catholic beliefs and other religious beliefs
It is the policy of the Catholic Church to evangelise culture. That is what Irish Catholicism has historically done. It is also the reason that RTE put in place such Guidelines. They are not based on pluralism and human rights, but on cultural Catholicism and an understanding that religious beliefs must be respected.
The requirement to respect beliefs and not cause undue offence is not as simple as it is made out to be. It might seem easy when you only deal with a couple of denominations of Christianity and a few minority faiths.
But if our National Broadcaster continues with this policy to respect beliefs, then they must also recognise the breadth of religions and beliefs in Ireland to ensure that they do not cause undue offence to any of them.
It is difficult to decide what is or is not ‘undue offence’ to any particular religion or belief as the various religious denominations can and do interpret and express their beliefs differently and so do beliefs/philosophical convictions that are not based on religion.
Also, the European Court has also afforded Article 9 protection to traditional practices which are objectively not part of the “core” precepts of an individual religion but which are heavily inspired by that religion and have deep cultural roots.
Religious beliefs and nonreligious beliefs
Atheist Ireland has put together the below list of religions and beliefs. The List of Religions comes mainly from the State Register of officially registered religious marriage solemnisers. We have calculated over 150 different religions and this is not a full list.
The nonreligious beliefs are recognised by the Council of Europe and the UN. Some of them may surprise you. They are not all liberal beliefs.
The basis of the discussion is not around liberal nonreligious beliefs versus conservative religious beliefs. It is whether the National Broadcaster should respect beliefs and not cause ‘undue offence’ to each and every religion and belief in the country, and how that can be achieved.
There is no doubt that this path can only mean that the right to freedon of expression will be curtailed by RTE and people will not be challenged to reflect on their beliefs and culture.
We look forward to hear how RTE plans to engage with every religion and belief in the country to ensure that they do not give ‘undue offence’ to each particular sincerely held belief.
Nonreligious Philosophical Convictions
Atheism, Humanism, Secularism, Pacifism, Veganism and opposition to the manipulation of products of animal origin or tested on animals, Philosophical objection to Corporal Punishment, Principled opposition to military service, Opposition to abortion, a doctor’s opinions on alternative medicine constituting a form of manifestation of medical philosophy, and the conviction that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman and rejection of homosexual unions.
Religions recognised in Ireland
Abundant Grace Christian Assembly, Abundant Life Christian Centre, Aisling Arann, All Nations Church, Amish Menonnonite Community, Antiochian Christian Orthodox Church, Arann Reformed Baptist Church, Armenian Orthodox Church, Arran Baptist Reformed Church, Assemblies of God, Ireland, Association of Independent Christian Churches, Babuil LM Society, Bantry Christian Fellowship, Baptist Churches, Bethel Christian Centre, Brannockstown Baptist Church, Bride Christian Fellowship Bridge Christian Community, Buddhist Community, Calvary Church Wexford, Calvary Ireland, Calvary Mission/Calvary Church Ballina, Campus of Life Church, Carlow Bible Church, Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, Celbridge Pentacostal Church, Celestial Church of Christ, Celtic Druid Temple, Celtic Soul Journeys’, Celtic Spirituality, Chinese Gospel Church of Dublin, Christ Ambassadors Christian Centre, Christ Apostolic Church of Christ International, Christ Glory Ministries, Christ Healing Evangelical Church Ireland, Christ Jesus Centre Church, Christian Assembly, Christian Brethren, Christian Celtic Church Christian Community Church, International Christian Fellowship Congregational Union of Ireland, Christian Friends Dublin, Church of Christ Christian Brethren, Church of Ireland Church of Jesus Christ of Latter – Day Saints, Church of the Nazarene Ireland, Clones Gospel Hall, Cootehill Christian Fellowship, Coptic Orthordox Church, Cork Church, Cork Full Gospel Fellowship, Cornerstone Christian Church, Dominion Chapel, Donnybrook Pentacostal Church, Dublin Vineyard Church, Dublin West Community Church, Dun Laoghaire Evangelical Church, Earth Spiritualist Foundation, Elim Ministries, Ennis Evangelical Church, Evangelical Catholic Church, Evangelical Ministry, Every Nation Church Dublin, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Federation of Christian Ministries, Firebrand Christian Church, First Six Principle Baptist Church of Ireland, Free Presbyterian Church, Frontline Family Church, Galway Christian Fellowship Ltd, Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Good News Christian Church, Gorey Christian Assembly, Gospel Hall Free Presbyterian Church, Gospel Hall Skibbereen, Grace Christian Fellowship, Grace Fellowship, Great Hope Gospel Ministries, Greek Orthodox Church, Healing Streams Christian Renewal Centre, Hillside Evangelical Church, Hope and Glory Christian Ministries, Indian Orthodox Church, Irishtown Gospel Hall, Islamic Community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish Community, Jewish Progressive Congregation King’s Family of Churches Knocklyon, Kingdom Dominion Christian Church ltd, Liberty Church, Life Renewal Ministries International, Lifegate Bible Baptist Church, Lighthouse Baptist Church, Limerick Christian Centre, Listowel Christian fellowship, Lurganearly Hall Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Church in Ireland, Mallow Street Christian Fellowship, Methodist Church in Ireland, Monaghan Gospel Hall, Mountain of Fire & Miracles Ministries Ireland, Mountain View Community Church, Mullingar Christian Fellowship, National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is of the Republic of Ireland Community, New Covenant Church, New Life International Ministries, Newbridge Bible Fellowship Church, Newcastle West Bible Fellowship, North Down Christian Fellowship Church, One Spirit Interfaith foundation, One World Ministers Oratory Society, Order of Marian Apostles, Pagan Federation Ireland, Pagan Life Rites (Ireland), Plumline Ministries, Power House International Outreach,Power of Resurrection Ministries, Rathmines Gospel Hall, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Reformed Catholic Church, Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Riverside Gospel Hall, Roman Catholic Church, Romanian Orthodox Church in Ireland, Saol na Croi Fellowship Limited, Seventh – day Adventist Church, Shanganagh Bible Church, Shankill Bible Church, Society of Pius X, Solid Rock Church, Soul Winning Pentecostal Ministries, South City Church, South Hill Evangelical Church, Spiritualist Union of Ireland, Temple of Eiriu Celtic Tradition, Top Chapel (Tower of Power International Ministries), Tralee Christian Fellowship Church, Tramore Bible Church, Transfiguration Christian Centre, Trinity Church Network, Unitarian Church, United Methodist Church, Universal Life Church, Victory Christian Centre, Victory Christian Fellowship, Victory Outreach Church, Vineyard Church, Waterford Christian Assembly, Word of Victory Church, World Christianship Ministries, World Mission Agency Ltd, World Outreach Christian Centre, Worldwide Church of God Dublin.