Amend Employment Equality Act, say Atheist Ireland and IHREC

The Department of Justice is reviewing the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Acts. Atheist Ireland made a Submission which you can find here. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also made a submission, which you can find here.

Atheist Ireland’s recommendations include:

“Amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and Equal Status Act 2000, which allow churches, schools and hospitals and training colleges to discriminate on the grounds of religion. This discrimination is not proportionate to its purpose of protecting freedom of religion.”

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s recommendations include:

“Section 37 on actions taken against employees to uphold ‘ethos’

The Commission acknowledges that the discriminatory potential of section 37 of the EEA was restricted by the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015. However, the Commission remains concerned that this provision may still not be sufficiently narrow to ensure it does not permit unlawful discrimination.

The exclusion of religious institutions from the application of section 37(1A), (1B) and (1C) does not appear to be in conformity with Article 4(2) of the Framework Employment Directive. Similarly, the exclusion of institutions which do not receive any public funding does not appear to be in conformity with the Framework Employment Directive as the CJEU has upheld that Article 4(2) applies to public and private organisations.

Furthermore, the provision could be narrowed further by the inclusion of a definition of ‘religious ethos’ and the provision of a precise list of relevant institutions that may rely on this section. A further requirement that any ‘undermining’ by an employee within the meaning of this provision must be ‘active and significant’ would limit reliance on this exemption to only where it is absolutely necessary.

  • The Commission recommends that section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts is amended to ensure it complies with the Framework Employment Directive.
  • The Commission recommends that section 37 should include a definition of ‘religious ethos’ and provide a precise list of relevant institutions that may rely on its provisions.
  • The Commission recommends the amendment of section 37(1) (b) so that, for the purposes of taking action under that section, an employer must demonstrate that the employee has engaged in ‘active and significant undermining’ of the institution’s ethos or religious belief.”

We hope that the Department will agree with these recommendations, and that the law will be changed to protect the right of atheist teachers, and teachers with other nonreligious philosophical convictions, to work in State-funded schools without discrimination.


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