This Wednesday 9 April, Irish Senators will discuss a Bill that aims to amend Section 37 of the Irish Employment Equality Act. This is the Section that allows religious institutions, including schools and hospitals, an exemption to discriminate against employees to protect the religious ethos of their institution.
This is a link to the Bill.
Atheist Ireland has sent the following briefing document to all Senators. We are also asking you to please contact one or more Senators today, and to ask them to read our document and to amend the law to effectively remove all unjustified religious discrimination from the Act.
This is a link to email addresses of all Senators. Please email today any Senators that you feel might be supportive.
Atheist Ireland has previously made a written submission to the Equality Authority on this issue. This includes a joint submission that we made along with the National Secular Society UK to the European Commission in which we argued that the Act contravenes the European Equality Directive 2000/78.
The Bill that the Senators will be debating on Wednesday essentially amends Section 37 as follows:
- Subsection 1(a) allows religious bodies, educational or medical institutions to discriminate on the ground of religion or belief, where it is reasonable to do so in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution (i.e. maintains the status quo).
- Then Subsection 1(b) places further specified restrictions on such institutions where they are maintained or assisted by recurring grants provided out of public funds (i.e. cannot also be discrimination on another ground; religion or belief is required having regard to the institution’s ethos; and action must be justified by a legitimate aim and proportionate means).
The Bill therefore starts with the most conservative implementation possible of the European Equality Directive 2000/78. The State avails of an option that it may allow certain limited discrimination to continue. It then seems to follow the restrictions on such discrimination that are outlined in the Directive, but does so in a way that still discriminates disproportionately against atheists. Also, in a sleight-of-hand, it only applies the new inadequate restrictions to State-funded bodies, and allows other bodies to continue to discriminate on the basis of the existing law (which contravenes the Directive).
Atheist Ireland argues that the State should move each of these subsections a step closer to equality. State-funded institutions should not be allowed to discriminate at all. Non-State-funded institutions should be allowed very limited exemptions to allow, for example, religions to employ clerics who share their beliefs, but this should not apply to primarily secular jobs such as teacher or doctor.
This is the briefing document that we have sent all Senators.