Religion and Belief in the Charities Amendment Bill
Atheist Ireland has made a submission about Religion and Belief in the Charities Amendment Bill to the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands.
We want the Oireachtas to amend the ‘Religion’ category to ‘Religion or Belief’, and include the same positive explicit rights and protection for people with nonreligious philosophical convictions as is included for religious people.
The Charities Act gives privilege to religious bodies over bodies that promote atheism, humanism and secularism on the basis of conscience. These are recognised as beliefs or philosophical convictions under human rights law. The Irish courts have said that Article 44 protects those with philosophical convictions.
This is religious discrimination, forbidden by the Constitution and not in accordance with Ireland’s human rights commitments. We ask that the Charities Act 2009, which includes the advancement of religion but not of beliefs, be amended to reflect this.
Our position is supported by the The Venice Commission, the EU Employment Equality Directive, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.
You can help us to campaign on this and other secular issues by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.
– Secular Sunday Editorial Team
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Atheist Ireland News
Religion and Belief in the Charities Amendment Bill
Atheist Ireland has made the following submission to the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands about Religion and Belief in the Charities Amendment Bill.
1. Introduction to Atheist Ireland
2. Our recommendation
3. Amend ‘Religion’ to ‘Religion or Belief’
4. The Constitution protects philosophical and religious thought
5. What the courts have said about Freedom of conscience
6. The Venice Commission
7. The EU Employment Equality Directive
8. The Charter of Fundamental Rights
9. The European Convention on Human Rights
10. The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights
1. Introduction to Atheist Ireland
Atheist Ireland is an Irish advocacy group. We promote atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism, and we promote an ethical, secular society where the State does not discriminate against or support or finance or give special treatment to any religion or belief.
Since being formed in late 2008, we have campaigned for a secular human rights based Irish Constitution, parliament, laws, and government, with particular emphasis on our education system which discriminates systemically on the ground of religion. We are part of the dialogue process between the Government and religious and nonreligious philosophical bodies. We led a successful decade-long campaign to remove the crime of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.
We base our policies on human rights standards. We have addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council and we take part in sessions of various UN Committees. We have successfully had human rights based recommendations made based on our submissions to these committees. We have also made submissions to the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
2. Our Recommendation
Amend the ‘Religion’ category to ‘Religion or Belief’, and include the same positive explicit rights and protection for people with nonreligious philosophical convictions as is included for religious people.
In the Venice Commission Guidelines for Legislative Reviews of Laws Affecting Religion or Belief it states that:
“3. Religion or belief — 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.”
3. Amend ‘Religion’ to ‘Religion or Belief’
Head 4: Amendment of section 3 of Act of 2009 proposes to insert ‘human rights’ as a category. We support this inclusion.
We believe the the category of ‘religion’ should also be amended to ‘religion or belief’.
This is the description used in human rights law. It recognises that the right to hold positive nonreligious philosophical convictions or worldviews, that are worthy of respect in a democratic society, is protected in the same way as the right to religion is.
Both the Irish Constitution and human rights law recognises and protects the right to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs of all. There is no hierarchy of rights here. The Constitution and human rights law treats religions and beliefs equally. Under the Constitution the state cannot discriminate between those who have a religion and those who have no religious beliefs.
The Charities Act gives privilege to religious bodies over bodies that promote atheism, humanism and secularism on the basis of conscience. Atheism, humanism and secularism are recognised as beliefs or philosophical convictions under human rights law. The Irish courts have said that Article 44 protects those with philosophical convictions.
This is religious discrimination, forbidden by the Constitution and not in accordance with Ireland’s human rights commitments. We ask that the Charities Act 2009, which includes the advancement of religion but not of beliefs, be amended to reflect this. Read more…
The State, not school boards, should directly protect the rights of minorities in schools
The term ethos/characteristic spirit is not defined in the Education Act 1998. It can and does mean different things to different Patron bodies, schools and teachers. The term ‘ethos’ is connected with the choice of parents in relation to the education of their children.
Because the majority of parents of people in Ireland are Catholic, the state has mainly funded Catholic schools, even though the constitution does not oblige them to do so. Article 42.4 says that the state should ‘endeavour’ to fund these schools. This is not an absolute obligation to fund them.
The result of funding mainly Catholic schools has meant that minorities have no choice but to attend their nearest publicly funded school which is nearly always a Catholic school.
Legal obligation to protect the rights of minorities
The Constitution obliges the state to protect the rights of minorities in publicly funded Catholic schools or indeed any type of school.
- Article 44.2.4 gives students the right to not attend any type of religious teaching that is against the conscience of parents. This is a condition of the funding of schools.
- Article 42.4 obliges the state to have ‘due regard’ for the rights of all parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children when funding schools.
The Education Act 1998 also obliges the state to protect the rights of minorities in schools.
- Section 15-2-(b) obliges Boards of Management of schools to uphold the ethos of the Patron while Section 15-2-(e) obliges them to respect all beliefs and ways of life in a democratic society.
- There is a contradiction between upholding the ethos of the Patron and respecting and promoting respect for the diversity of values and beliefs in a democratic society.
- Section 6(a) obliges all concerned with the implementation of the Act to give practical effect to the constitutional rights of all children.
The very purpose of these Sections of the Education Act 1998 was to ensure that Boards of Management strike a balance between the wishes of the majority of parents in the school as reflected in the ethos of the Patron of the school and minorities who have no choice but to attend the school.
When these Sections of the Education Act were being debated in the Seanad it was pointed out by Senator O’Toole that it was impossible for Boards of Management to balance upholding the ethos of the patron with respecting all beliefs in the schools.
The then Minister for Education Micheal Martin claimed that it could be done. He was clearly wrong as Board of Management never saw their role as balancing rights. They have not got the experience to do so and anyway there is no balancing of rights in relation to the right to not attend religious instruction, You can find that debate here
The White Paper on Education 1995
The White Paper on Education 1995 set out the principles underlying the purpose of the Board of Management in relation to these issues:
“A board, on behalf of the patrons/trustees/owners/governors, will be responsible for protecting and promoting the ethos of schools as reflected in the desires and choices made by parents for their children. A board will strike a balance between the rights, obligations and choices of a majority of parents and students who subscribe to the ethos of a school and those of a minority who may not subscribe to that ethos but who do not have the option, for practical reasons, to select a school which reflects their particular choices.”
In practice, Boards of Management do not see their role as balancing the rights of the majority in the school against the rights of minorities who do not subscribe to the ethos of that school. They only see their role in these matters as upholding the ethos of the Patron. This has meant teachers are on the coal face and left trying to deal with situations when that is not their role.
Balancing of rights
There is no balancing of rights needed in exercising the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction. Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution does not say ‘opt out’ or ‘not participate’, it states ‘not attend’. The framers of our Constitution put in place this right in relation to religious teaching and made it a condition of state funding.
Inclusive schools should recognise the rights of minorities, and ensure that they are not discriminated against while exercising their rights. Offering students another subject if they exercise their right to not attend religious instruction does not challenge the ethos of schools.
However, Boards of Management have chosen not to provide supervision for students that exercise their constitutional right to not attend religious teaching, notwithstanding the fact that it is a condition of the state funding of their school.
Just because the Catholic Church and the ETBs object to students getting another subject if they exercise their right to not attend religious instruction doesn’t mean that the majority of parents in the school object to this. Times have changed and the convictions of the majority of parents do not necessarily align with the ethos of the Patron body.
Many Catholic parents voted for same sex marriage and abortion on the basis of their conscience which did not align with that of religious patron bodies. Why does their convictions not take precedence over the ethos of the Patron and especially if they along with minorities make up a majority within a school? Read more…
Another year and another €10 million for Catholic chaplains in ETB schools
Back to school and back to €10 million for Chaplains. Mostly Catholic and some Church of Ireland chaplains cost the state approx €10 million per year.
Chaplains are paid to help mainly Catholic parents with the religious education and religious formation of their children outside of the religious instruction class that students can choose to not attend in ETB schools. In reality ETB schools are just like denominational schools and simply enrol students into religion classes.
Chaplains are paid the equivalent of a teacher’s salary and are entitled to a pension. According to the Supreme Court in 1998 (Campaign to Separate Church and State case) it was not feasible anymore to combine religious and academic education in Community and Comprehensive schools the way that a religious order may have done in the past.
However, parents still had a right to have religious education and formation, and the Chaplains are funded by the state to provide this formation in the general atmosphere of the school outside the religious instruction class. The Supreme Court said that Chaplains could not instruct a child in a religion other than its own without the permission of their parents.
When Atheist Ireland complains about the religious discrimination in the hiring of chaplains we are told that Chaplains are nice people and serve the whole school community. We are sure that Chaplains are very nice people but their very purpose is to help mainly catholic parents with the faith formation of their children. The position of Chaplains in ETB schools is discriminatory. To pretend otherwise simply supports and undermines the rights of minorities. Read online…
Calling concerned teachers
If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at email@example.com
List of Atheist Ireland Submissions
Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”
**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about gods‘ free (excluding postage and packaging). This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…
Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.
Lessons about Atheism
Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans
Be Good without Gods
Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of $37,550 to 1311 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.
Atheist Ireland’s ‘notme.ie‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1944 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here.
Petition on Schools Equality PACT
Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,113 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.
Tell us what you think
Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland
Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.
Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:
- You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
- You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
- You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
- You will have access to our members only Facebook group
- Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.
You can join Atheist Ireland here.
Thank you for your continued support
Atheist Ireland Committee
Opinion and Media
Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.
Blogs & Opinions
Patricia Burke Brogan, whose play exposed brutality of Magdalene laundries, has died aged 90
By Deirdre Falvey
Patricia Burke Brogan, playwright, poet, novelist, teacher and painter, has died aged 90. She was among the first people to draw large-scale attention to the shameful, brutal reality of the Magdalene laundries. Her 1992 play Eclipsed drew on her experiences as a 21-year-old novice with the Sisters of Mercy in Galway, working alongside residents in the former laundry at Forster Street in the city. Read more…
Iran sentences two LGBT activists to death – rights group
By David Gritten
Two LGBT activists have been sentenced to death in Iran, rights groups say.
A court in Urmia found Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani, 31, and Elham Choubdar, 24, guilty of “corruption on Earth”. Read more…
Scotland mental health consultation: NSS warns of religious harms
By The National Secular Society
Religious imposition in healthcare, education and public services can harm mental health, the National Secular Society has warned. The NSS highlighted how religious privilege may undermine the new five year strategy for Mental Health and Wellbeing in response to a consultation by the Scottish Government. Read more…
Government shelves Rights Removal Bill
By Humanists UK
Humanists UK has welcomed the news that a new ‘Bill of Rights’ – a proposed law that would have shredded human rights protections for ordinary people – is to be shelved. The legislation was due to have its second reading in the UK Parliament next week and, if implemented, would have rolled back a number of provisions within the Human Rights Act 1998 that enable ordinary citizens to challenge the state when their freedoms have been violated. For this reason it has been dubbed by many the ‘Rights Removal Bill’. Read more…
If you are a blogger or vlogger writing or talking about atheism, secularism, ethics, skepticism, human rights etc. and would like us to include your work here please email the link to email@example.com
Podcasts, Videos and Interviews
Do you host an Irish-based podcast on atheism, secularism, science, skepticism, human rights etc.? Let us know and we will link to it here.
News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement.