Protect nonreligious beliefs, say Atheist Ireland and IHREC

The Department of Justice is reviewing the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Acts. Atheist Ireland made a Submission which you can find here. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also made a submission, which you can find here.

In the Venice Commission Guidelines for Legislative Reviews of Laws Affecting Religion or Belief it states that:

“International standards do not speak of religion in an isolated sense, but of “religion or belief.” The “belief” aspect typically pertains to deeply held conscientious beliefs that are fundamental about the human condition and the world. Thus atheism and agnosticism, for example, are generally held to be equally entitled to protection to religious beliefs. It is very common for legislation not to protect adequately (or to not refer at all) to rights of non-believers. Although not all beliefs are entitled to equal protection, legislation should be reviewed for discrimination against non-believers.”

Atheist Ireland’s recommendations include:

“Atheist Ireland recommends amending the category of ‘religion’ under the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act (and any other relevant Acts) to ‘religion or beliefs,’ and clarifying that beliefs include positive philosophical convictions that are not based on religion.

Currently these Acts refer only to ‘religion’ and not to ‘religion or belief.’ The definitions include “…or one has a religious belief, background or outlook and the other has not.”
This discrimination undermines the right to freedom of conscience, as those of us with nonreligious beliefs or philosophical convictions are not treated equally.

Those of us with beliefs or philosophical convictions are defined in relation to ‘religion,’ and specifically as not having a religion, which puts us in a subordinate position. We are deprived of an equal position and equal protection, as people with positive philosophical convictions of our own, alongside those in the category of ‘religion’.”

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s recommendations include:

“Religion or belief

Section 6(2) of the EEA provides, amongst other things, for the grounds covered by the Framework Employment Directive. However, the religion ground in section 6(2) (e) refers to ‘religious belief’ as opposed to ‘religion or belief’ as provided for in the Directive.

Religious belief is defined at section 2(1) of the EEA as including ‘religious background or outlook’. It would appear that the ground of ‘religion or belief’ has not been adequately transposed to include beliefs not based on a recognised religion.

  • The Commission recommends that the religion ground be amended to the ‘religion or belief’ ground to comply with EU law.”

We hope that the Department will agree with these recommendations, and that the law will be changed to protect the right of atheists and people with other nonreligious philosophical convictions.

Atheist Ireland