How Ireland privileges religious bodies over equality, diversity, and inclusion

In Ireland, organisations with religious privilege live in a bubble. They never have to change their ways, because they can get away with giving lip service to equality, diversity, and inclusion and get lauded for it.

The right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief protects those with philosophical convictions as well as those with religious convictions. Despite this atheists and secularists are still discriminated against.

We are not just the ‘nones’ or the ‘non religious’. These phrases define us in relation to religion, but the courts in Ireland as well as the European Court recognise that we have a right to our positive philosophical convictions.

Sometimes we feel this is where the problem starts in Ireland. How we are defined matters, as does how those definitions are put into practice.

Philosophical Convictions such as secularism are protected by Article 44 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the European Convention.

In the High Court in 2011, Justice Hogan stated that:

“35. There is thus no doubt at all but that parents have the constitutional right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views.”

“27. Along with the guarantee of free speech in Article 40.6.i, Article 44.2.1 guarantees freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion. Taken together, these constitutional provisions ensure that, subject to limited exceptions, all citizens have complete freedom of philosophical and religious thought, along with the freedom to speak their mind and to say what they please in all such matters….” (AB v Childrens Hospital Temple Street & CD & EF – January 2011)

Most organisations claim that they are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion. They will put this on their websites, claiming that they are welcoming to all religions and those with no religion. In many cases, this means nothing. These are just buzz words.

For example:

  • In a recent WRC case, the Department of Defence claimed that it was necessary to be a Catholic priest to take up employment as a Chaplain in the Defence forces.
  • Schools claim that they are inclusive, while some give preference to co-religionists and other put in their Admission policies that they will refuse access if they believe that your child will undermine their ethos.
  • Schools with a religious ethos (the vast majority) can refuse to hire a teacher if they don’t conform to its ethos and many teachers find they don’t get promotion if they are not actively promoting the religious ethos of their school.
  • Teachers in our schools are mainly Irish and white even though the student population comes from all different backgrounds.
  • A conscientious atheist cannot become President, a judge, Taoiseach, or take other high state positions, because we would have to swear a religious oath to a god we do not believe exists.
  • The Charities Act includes the advancement of religion but not atheism as a charitable purpose, and presumes that a gift for the advancement of religion is of public benefit.
  • The Civil Registration Act privileges religious bodies over nonreligious bodies, and privileges humanists over atheists.
  • Our parliamentarians start each day with a prayer which asks the Christian God to direct every action, word and work of theirs.

This is not equality, diversity, or inclusion no matter how it is whitewashed.

If you tell any of the above bodies that they are not inclusive, they will not accept it. But words alone mean nothing. It is the practical application of what these words mean on the ground that counts.

Our society has given privilege to religious bodies for years. Real equality, diversity, or inclusion challenge that privilege.

It is difficult to take privileges away from people who have known nothing else but that privilege. They might believe in diversity and inclusion, and they certainly give it lip service.

But when it comes to actually letting go of their privileged position, they will make up every excuse for how important it is for them to hold on to their position, and how well equipped they are for the position.

In Ireland, organisations with religious privilege live in a bubble. They never have to change their ways, because they can get away with giving lip service to equality, diversity, and inclusion and get lauded for it.

Atheist Ireland continues to challenge that privilege. We continue to work for an ethical, secular state that treats everybody equally, regardless of their religious or philosophical convictions.

You can help us to campaign on secular issues by joining Atheist Ireland as a member. 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.



Atheist Ireland