Secular Sunday #135 – Word on the Street

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UN Human Rights Committee tells Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths

The UN Human Rights Committee today told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths in the education system, employment, religious oaths and blasphemy law.

The UN report published today vindicates all of the complaints raised by Atheist Ireland when we briefed the Human Rights Committee in Geneva last week, and it makes several recommendations that were specifically suggested by Atheist Ireland.

The Committee was questioning Ireland about its duties under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Education System

The Human Rights Committee is concerned about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children.

It said Ireland should introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, and ensure that there are diverse school types and curriculum options available throughout the State party to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children.

Employment

The Human Rights Committee is concerned that under Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts, religious-owned institutions, including in the fields of education and health, can discriminate against employees or prospective employees to protect the religious ethos of the institution (arts.2, 18, 25 and 27).

It said Ireland should amend Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts in a way that bars all forms of discrimination in employment in the fields of education and health.

Religious Oaths

The Human Rights Committee is concerned at the slow pace of progress in amending the Constitutional provisions that oblige individuals wishing to take up senior public office positions such as President, members of the Council of State and members of the judiciary to take religious oaths.

It said that Ireland should amend articles 12, 31 and 34 of the Constitution that require religious oaths to take up senior public office positions, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993) concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public.

Blasphemy Law

The Human Rights Committee is concerned that that blasphemy continues to be an offence under article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution and section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009 (art. 19).

It said Ireland should consider removing the prohibition of blasphemy from the Constitution as recommended by the Constitutional Convention, and taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) concerning the incompatibility of blasphemy laws with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2 of the Covenant.

 

Posted in Atheism, Blasphemy, News, Politics, Religion, Secularism | 3 Responses

Secular Sunday #134 – Small Steps and Giant Leaps

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Irish government again defers to the “institutionalised belief system” that pervades Irish schools

Last Monday the UN Human Rights Committee asked Ireland, “with regard to denominational schools, does the State believe it is required to ensure a neutral teaching environment outside of the religious instruction classes”. It also asked if the State will remove Rule 68, which enforces a religious integrated curriculum. And the Chair of the UN Committee said that many of the human rights breaches in Ireland were connected to the institutionalised belief system that predominated in the State and that occasionally sought to dominate the State.

Ireland ratified the UN Covenant on Civil & Political rights in 1989. Every five years it has to appear before the UN to answer questions and explain what it is doing to protect the human rights guaranteed under this Covenant. In a previous examination in 2008 the UN had raised concern about the rights of secular parents and the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools. Despite the concern of the UN, nothing changed on the ground for secular parents and their children in the Irish education system and they continue to suffer an abuse of their human rights.

Both the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Forum on Patronage & Pluralism recommended that Rule 68, which sanctions the religious integrated curriculum, should be removed. The Religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools breaches the right to freedom of conscience of minorities who have no option but to attend the only school in a particular area. In the main these are schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

In their response to this question from the UN the government relied on the right, in the Irish Constitution and the Education Act 1998, for parents to opt their children out of religious instruction classes. The government did not respond to the specific question from the UN on whether they will remove Rule 68, and whether they believe that there is a right to a neutral education outside of religious instruction classes.

The government is trying to fudge the issue, because they are well aware that the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools breaches the human rights of secular parents and their children and religious minorities. It has become clear that this government does not intent to protect the human rights of minorities and will continue to breach their human rights. How can any school claim that it is inclusive while at the same time discriminating in access on religious grounds and operating a religious integrated curriculum.

In the recent report, on the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, the Dept of education stated that:

“Ireland has a good record in the arena of promoting and respecting human rights. It is important that we continue to live up to the high standards set in international conventions. Ireland will continue to be the subject of international criticism if it does not move to address the concerns raised by the Monitoring Committees of the international human rights treaties to which it is a party. Ireland is also obliged to protect the constitutional rights of all its citizens and to ensure that public policy evolves and develops to promote the protection of these rights.”

The proposed new legislation (School admissions Bill) will not protect the Human Rights of minorities in Irish schools. Religious discrimination in access to education will not be removed and there is no mechanism to enable students to opt out of a religious integrated curriculum.

The recent Report from the Dept of Education on the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism now speaks of amending Rule 68, not removing it which was the Recommendation of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The questions from the UN Human Rights Committee show that they are not taken in by the assurances of this government that they are protecting the human rights of minorities in the education system.

The response of this government to the UN Human Rights Committee shows clearly that this government like previous governments are unwilling to protect the human rights of secular parents and religious minorities in the Irish education system and they intend to defer to the “institutionalised belief system” that pervades the Irish education system.

We have an education system in this Republic that does not respect the right to freedom of conscience of ALL parents and their children in the education system and it is a system that undermines human rights. We also have another government that is going to do nothing about it.

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Irish Government again evades UN questions on oaths, blasphemy and religious discrimination in Irish schools

The UN Human Rights Committee has just published the Irish Government’s written response to the questions that they were asked in Geneva this week.

The Government gave no additional information on religious oaths or blasphemy, and it evaded several specific questions that the UN asked it about religious discrimination against atheists and minority faith families in the education system.

These questions included:

  • Why has the Government not yet changed the obligatory religious oaths for Judges, which was first raised by the UN as a breach of human rights in 1993?
  • Will the state also change the obligatory religious oaths for president and others as well as judges?
  • Why has the Irish Government not responded to the UN on its commitment to remove the Irish blasphemy law?
  • The UN previously asked Ireland to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of Ireland. Why has this not yet happened, with most new schools being multi denominational, not non-denominational?
  • Ireland said that there was no obstacle to non-denominational schools if there was sufficient demand in a local area. The UN asked how can insufficient demand be used to justify no provision of nondenominational schools?
  • The UN also asked, with regard to denominational schools, does the State believe it is required to ensure a neutral teaching environment outside of the religious instruction classes that children can be opted out of?
  • Specifically, the UN asked will the State remove Rule 68 of National Schools, which enforces an integrated religious curriculum?
  • The UN previously asked the State to provide information on steps being taken to ensure that the right of children of minority religions or non-faith are recognised in the Education Act 1998. The UN now asked how does the State explain the compatibility with Covenant obligations of private schools with near monopoly of providing a vital public service being allowed to openly discriminate against children on the basis of their parents religious convictions?
  • With regard to the new Admissions to Schools Bill, the UN asked are non-faith families still discriminated against in admission to schools under this Bill?
  • The Government is proposing a new Bill on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows religious schools to discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion. The UN asked how does this Bill protect atheist teachers, as distinct from LGBT teachers? This is the first time that this issue has been raised by the UN, and it was raised on the basis of the concerns expressed by Atheist Ireland in our briefing.

Atheist Ireland will be sending further information to the UN Human Rights Committee about the questions that Ireland has not answered. The UN Human Rights Committee will publish its concluding observations next Thursday.

For now, here is the text of the Government’s written response to the questions about education.

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Posted in Blasphemy, Education, News, Religion, Secularism, Submissions | 1 Response

UN asks Ireland about religious discrimination against atheists in education – Michael Nugent on 4FM

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has asked Ireland about religious discrimination against atheists in in the Irish education system. Atheist Ireland briefed the UN Commitee about this, before the meeting with the Irish Government in Geneva. Michael Nugent discussed this on 4FM Radio.

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Majority votes cannot deny human rights: UN questions to Ireland reflect Atheist Ireland briefing in Geneva

Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly, representing Atheist Ireland, briefed the UN Human Rights Committee this week in Geneva about religious discrimination in Ireland, particularly in the education system. The issues we raised in our briefing were directly reflected in many of the UN’s questions to the Irish State delegation, led by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Atheist Ireland raised secular issues alongside independent academic Alison Mawhinney, and other Irish advocacy groups also briefed the UN on their areas of concern. Atheist Alliance International officer M. Quavami Tehrani also participated, to compile information to help other atheist groups to plan for such UN interventions with regard to their own countries.

The overall tone of the UN’s questions was strongly critical of Ireland’s human rights record, and of Ireland’s failure to address human rights breaches that the UN has repeatedly brought to its attention. Ireland’s oral responses to the UN’s questions were incomplete and evasive, and will have to be supplemented by written responses within two days.

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Secular Sunday #133 – On the Ball

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Atheist Ireland to brief UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Monday

On Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, Atheist Ireland will brief the United Nations Human Rights Committee about Ireland’s failure to keep its obligations under an important human rights treaty: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Liberties.

On Monday and Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Committee will be quizzing the Irish State delegation, led by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, about what it has done about recommendations made when Ireland was last examined in 2008.

Ireland still has no non-denominational schools, and its proposals will not provide any. Primary schools are still publicly funded private bodies, almost all Christian, with no effective remedy to vindicate Covenant rights.

Schools can still demand Christian baptism certs for admission. If you get in, you still face an integrated religious curriculum which deprives you of access to a secular education. And if you want to opt out of religion classes, there are still no non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives to accommodate your wishes.

To become the President or a judge or a member of the Council of State in Ireland, an individual must swear a Christian oath. Ireland has consistently refused to follow the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee to amend its Constitution.

These are not isolated incidents. Ireland systemically breaches the Covenant rights of atheists and non-Christians, including in the blasphemy law, exemptions from equality law, and the new Civil Registration Act.

Atheist Ireland will be among several Irish NGOs attending the session, each with a focus on different areas of human rights. Atheist Ireland and independent academic Alison Mawhinney will be focusing on the State’s failure to respect the rights of atheists and minority faith citizens.

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Secular Sunday #132 – Deep and Safe

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