Atheist Ireland meets INTO about religious discrimination against students and teachers
Atheist Ireland met the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation this week about religious discrimination in Irish schools against students and teachers, and how the INTO can help to counter that discrimination. We discussed the recent UNCRC Concluding Observations to Ireland about the rights of the child, and how Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act places moral, legal and constitutional dilemmas on teachers.
Following the meeting, Atheist Ireland sent the INTO our recent letter to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley on sex education and the guidelines and resources published by the Catholic Education Partnership, and a recent letter that we sent to the Attorney General regarding the right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.
UNCRC Concluding Observations to Ireland
With regard to the recent UNCRC Concluding Observations to Ireland about the rights of the child, Atheist Ireland made submissions to and spoke with the Committee in Geneva. During this process, we showed how the Irish State through the Department of Education:
- Incorrectly stated that they are divesting schools to non-denominational patrons,
- Is failing in its legal and constitutional obligations by not giving practical application to the
constitutional right to not attend religious education (Article 44.2.4),
- Is aware but does not address that the majority of schools are failing to adhere to Section 62.7.n of the Education (Admissions to Schools Act) 2018, by refusing to outline within their Admissions Policy arrangements for non-attendance at religious instruction,
- Is allowing outside bodies (mainly the Catholic Church) to interfere with evidence-based
sex education in school curricula and teacher training.
The UNCRC urged the Irish state to (i) remove all exceptions based on religious or ethos grounds to children attending any school; (ii) establish statutory guidelines to ensure children’s right not to attend religious classes; (iii) establish non- denominational schools as well as multi-denominational schools; (iv) integrate evidence-based sex education into mandatory school curricula and teacher training.
With regard to non-discrimination, the UNCRC concluded:
15. The Committee recommends that the State party: (d) Strengthen measures to eliminate discrimination against … children of minority faith or non-faith backgrounds … and, where appropriate, ensure their access to … education … and ensure regular and systematic monitoring and impact assessment of the measures taken.
With regard to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the UNCRC concluded:
21. The Committee urges the State party to guarantee the right of all children to practice freely their religion or belief, including by:
(a) Amending the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 and the Equal Status Acts to remove any exceptions to ensuring a child’s right to education in all primary and secondary schools based on religious or “ethos” grounds and to establish statutory guidelines to ensure children’s right not to attend religious classes;
(b) Developing a time-bound strategy, with adequate resources, for meeting its targets for increasing the availability of multi-denominational schools by 2030, and setting a target with a time-bound strategy and adequate resources for increasing the availability of non- denominational schools.
With regard to adolescent health, the UNCRC concluded:
33. The Committee welcomes the decriminalisation of abortion in 2018 and recommends that the State party:
(a) Ensure access of adolescent girls to age-appropriate reproductive health services, including free and safe abortion and post-abortion services;
(b) Integrate comprehensive, age-appropriate and evidence-based education on sexual and reproductive health into mandatory school curricula at all levels of education and in teacher training, and ensure that it includes education on gender equality, sexual diversity, sexual and reproductive health rights, responsible sexual behaviour and violence prevention;
Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act
We are aware of the increasing pressures and unfair workload put on teachers, in part due to our members including teachers from all three unions and non-union teachers. We are concerned at the moral, legal and constitutional dilemmas facing teachers as they try to juggle the rights of children and parents with the failure of the Irish state to respect these rights. In particular, teachers can face onerous consequences (including dismissal under S37) if they choose to respect children’s and parents’ moral, legal, and constitutional rights to not attend religious instruction.