Secular Sunday #139 – The Return

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Secular Sunday 138 – Don’t panic.

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Secular Sunday #137 – Be gentle with me.

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How Irish law effectively prohibits non-denominational secular schools based on human rights

Irish law effectively prohibits non-denominational secular schools based on human rights, despite the Irish Government telling the UN Human Rights Committee last month that there are no obstacles to establishing such schools in Ireland.

The Government did outline two requirements to the UN, that the Government seemingly doesn’t consider to be obstacles. These are that there must be sufficient parental demand in an area for such a school, and that the requirements of being a Patron body must be met.

In reality, there are four obstacles to establishing non-denominational secular schools based on human rights in Ireland.

The first obstacle is the parental demand requirement, which breaches human rights law, because the right to a neutral education cannot be denied by local majority votes. The parental demand argument would mean that you could have your human rights vindicated if you live in one part of the country, but not if you live in another part, based on the preferences of your neighbours.

The second obstacle is that the requirements of being a Patron are such that it would be impossible in practice to provide secular non-denominational education consistently with them. Recognised schools are obliged to to promote the spiritual development of students, and to abide by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, which includes that a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.

The third obstacle is that the very nature of our education system involves the State ceding the running of schools to private bodies. This means that, even if the parental demand and Patron requirements were changed, there would be no guarantee that secular education would actually be provided, or that if it was provided that it would continue to be provided.

The fourth obstacle is that, even if such schools were provided by a Patron body, the Patron body would still be a private body and not an organ of the State. That means that there would be no effective remedy to vindicate the human rights of parents who are denied secular education for their children based on human rights law.

The State has made no proposals to remove any of these obstacles, and consequently the response of the government delegation to the UN Human Rights Committee was simply not true. In effect, the State’s argument is that you can set up a secular non-denominational school, if you meet requirements that you cannot actually meet.

The biggest obstacle is, of course, that this government, like previous governments, is simply not prepared to do anything to guarantee the human rights of minorities in the education system. Human Rights are the minimum standard required for the protection of the individual citizen and here in this Republic our standards are so low that we don’t guarantee these rights.

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Pictures of Atheist Ireland briefing the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva

Here are some pictures of Atheist Ireland and Alison Mawhinny, along with other Irish NGOs, briefing the UN Human Rights Committee at the formal and informal sessions in Geneva. Alison is an independent academic who worked with Atheist Ireland on Freedom of Religion issues.

The pictures are from the Centre for Civil and Political Rights in Geneva, which has reported that the review of Ireland provoked a rarely seen interest in the mainstream and social media, and contributed to the inclusion of major rights issues on the national agenda.

Geneva JD

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Children have a human right to a neutral studying environment, even in denominational schools

Last month Ireland appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR). Every five years the UN questions Ireland in relation to their human rights obligations under the Covenant.

In relation to the right to freedom of conscience and the right to be free from religious discrimination in the education system the UN asked Ireland the following questions:

“And going forward, how is the State Party planning to deal with the possibility and the demand for non-denominational education in the future? Is it considering a move away from the integrated curriculum provided by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools? Is it considering a significant rise in the number of schools transferred to public hands?”

“My follow-up question goes to the issue of denominational education, and I note the statement on improvements that are planned in the transparency of school admission policies. My two follow up questions in this regard are:
How does the Delegation explain the compatibility with the Covenant of a state of affairs that allows private schools, which have a near monopoly in Ireland on a vital public service, to openly discriminate in admission policies between children on the basis of their parents’ religious convictions?

I would appreciate, whether orally or in writing, the Delegation’s theory on this point, on this legal point. And whether the State believes or not that it is required to ensure a neutral studying environment in those schools, in denominational schools, outside the confines of religious instruction classes that can be opted out from?”

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Educate Together is undermining the duty of the Irish State to provide non-denominational schools

Educate Together has made two statements recently that undermine the duty of the Irish Government to provide secular education though new non-denominational schools, as required by the UN Human Rights Committee.

Educate Together is doing this by blurring the distinction between multi-denominational schools (which Educate Together schools are) and non-denominational schools (which the UN Human Rights Committee has told Ireland to provide access to).

Educate Together is creating the impression that, by providing more Educate Together schools, the UN’s requirements would be satisfied. This is not correct. There would still be no non-denominational schools.

Educate Together is also using the UN’s requirements to seek more funding for more Educate Together schools. But if this and only this happens, then there will be less money for non-denominational schools.

Clearly Educate Together schools are good for parents who want a multi-denominational education for their children. But they do not satisfy the requirement for non-denominational education that the UN has told Ireland to also provide.

Indeed, Educate Together cannot satisfy the requirements of the UN, because those requirements are aimed at the Irish State and not at Educate Together.

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The new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission should be mandated to monitor ICCPR rights

This is Yuval Shany of the UN Human Rights Committee, during the Committee’s questioning of Ireland in Geneva in July.

He is challenging the Irish State’s reasons for not mandating the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to monitor human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Starting with the new Human Rights Commission, I appreciate the clarifications provided by Mr Briain on the reasons underlying the decision not to invest the Human Rights and Equality Commission with an enforcement mandate that includes the Covenant as well as other international treaties.

I find however the explanation provided not fully convincing, and I will explain why.

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The Catholic belief system in Ireland and human rights abuses from child abuse to symphysiotomy

This is a powerful extract from the closing address of Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee, after the Committee’s questioning of Ireland in Geneva in July.

Then there remain the many social issues that have been raised by colleagues. The Magdalene laundries, the Mother and Baby homes, the child abuse, the symphysiotomy. It is quite a collection, and it is a collection that has carried on beyond any period that it is hard to imagine any State Party tolerating.

And I can’t prevent myself from observing that all of them are not disconnected from the institutional belief system that has predominated in the State Party, and which occasionally has sought to dominate the State Party.

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Irish Government accepts abortion rights cannot be denied by majority votes – video and transcript

This is the hugely significant exchange in Geneva in July, where the Irish Government formally accepted that the will of the Irish people as expressed in a referendum or parliamentary vote cannot be used to deny human rights, including on abortion.

The UN Human Rights Committee asked Ireland why it was in breach of the human right of pregnant women to an abortion in wider circumstances than allowed by Irish law.

The Irish State replied that Irish abortion law reflects the will of the Irish people, as allowed under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee said that that was a completely unacceptable reason for denying human rights, and that the very core of human rights law is a safeguard against the tyranny of the majority.

After a break in the session, the Irish Justice Minister Frances FitzGerald formally withdrew the remark and accepted that “the majority will does not and can not derogate from human rights obligations.”

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