Atheist Ireland recommendations to OSCE on ending religious discrimination in Ireland

OSCE-Warsaw-Sep-2016-860x450_cAtheist Ireland has now submitted our final recommendations to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) following our participation in the annual OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw last week. This is the largest human rights conference in Europe, and Atheist Ireland attends every year for the sessions related to freedom of conscience, thought, religion and belief. Our recommendations, listed here, are made to the ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights), the Irish State, the Polish State, and other OSCE States and Non-Governmental Organisations.

Overall Recommendations

1. Contribution of Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland to HDIM 2016 Session 11
2. Contribution of Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland to HDIM 2016 Session 12
3. Host an event to specifically combat discrimination against atheists
4. Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life
5. Dublin Declaration on Empowering Women Through Secularism
6. Relations of OSCE and States with the Holy See/Catholic Church

Recommendations related to Ireland

7. Constitutional amendments regarding freedom of religion or belief in Ireland
8. End religious discrimination in the Irish education system
9. Amend the Civil Registration Act in Ireland to treat atheists equally
10. Vindicate the reproductive rights of women in Ireland
11. Redress for historic abuse of women and children in Ireland
12. Implement conclusions of the UN Human Rights Committee

Recommendation related to Poland

13. Vindicate the reproductive rights of women in Poland

Supporting Documents

Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life
Dublin Declaration on Empowering Women Through Secularism
Schools Equality PACT – Patronage, Access, Curriculum, Teaching

1. Contribution of Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland to HDIM 2016 Session 11

Atheist Ireland supports the OSCE in specifically addressing discrimination and prejudice-motivated crime against Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions. We recommend that you also specifically address discrimination against atheists. We further recommend that you tackle prejudice-motived crime against ex-Muslim atheists, and against Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Atheist Ireland supports the new Ex-Muslims of Ireland group, one of whose members has already received an Islamist death threat for being an apostate. These are not idle threats. Recently in Scotland, a Sunni Muslim murdered an Ahmadi shopkeeper, because of his religious beliefs.

We recommend that genitally mutilating girls, and forcing women to wear specific clothing, be treated as prejudice-motivated crimes based on religion and gender.

We should tackle bigotry against Muslims, but we should not describe it as “Islamophobia’. That word is used to conflate bigotry against people, which is bad, with criticism of religion, which is good and necessary.

We recommend that the OSCE promotes the separation of the State from either religion or atheism, as the foundation of protecting everybody equally.

Atheist Ireland campaigns for this type of secularism with the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland. But The Irish State claims that it is constitutionally obliged (not merely permitted, but obliged) to allow religious discrimination, in order to buttress religion.

The chairs of both major UN Human Rights Committees have strongly criticised Ireland about this.

The President, judges and Prime Minister all have to swear religious oaths.

We have a law against blasphemy, which Islamic States cite at the United Nations to try to spread their laws against defamation of religion.

Nine different sets of United Nations and Council of Europe committees have concluded that Irish schools breach the human rights of atheist and minority faith children, families and teachers.

These include very fundamental human rights like freedom of religion and belief, freedom from discrimination, equality before the law, and no effective remedy.

2. Contribution of Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland to HDIM 2016 Session 12

We recommend that Ireland stops breaching the human rights of atheists, secularists and members of minority faiths.

This includes in publicly funded schools, run by the Catholic Church, that breach the human rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom from discrimination, equality before the law, and no effective remedy.

We make two recommendations to ensure that laws protect people from harm, and not ideas from criticism. You have rights, your beliefs do not.

One, Ireland should urgently hold a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy. Islamic states at the UN have cited the Irish law when trying to spread global laws against defamation of religion.

Two, OSCE States should reject the use of the propaganda term ‘Islamophobia’. This word is used to conflate bigotry against People, which is bad, with criticism of Religion, which is necessary and good.

We make two recommendations to stop religious beliefs from diminishing the human rights of women and minorities.

One, OSCE States should protect the right of all pregnant women to health and bodily autonomy. In particular, Ireland should repeal the religiously-motivated 8th Amendment to the Constitution, and Poland should not introduce its barbaric anti-abortion Bill. Just five minutes from this building, Polish citizens are holding black protests against this breach of human rights.

Two, OSCE States should oppose Sharia courts and tribunals that discriminate against women, as well gay people and dissident Muslims. There should be one secular law for all. Religious states promote religion. Atheist states promote atheism. We want secular states, that promote neither.

3. Host an event to specifically combat discrimination against atheists

OSCE/ODIHR to host an event specifically to quantify and combat discrimination against atheists, similar to the events held to specifically combat discrimination against Christians, Muslims and Jews. This is our sixth year making this request.

We also ask that we as representatives of atheist and secular advocacy be represented as main speakers at one of the sessions on freedom of religion or belief at HDIM 2017. We would like to address the HDIM about the unique alliance for secularism in Ireland between Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland, as three groups with very different world views who are all discriminated against on the ground of religion or belief.

4. Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life

OSCE/ODIHR and all states and NGOs to support the attached recommendations in the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion and Public Life, put together by atheist advocates internationally at a conference in Dublin in 2011.

5. Dublin Declaration on empowering Women Through Secularism

OSCE/ODIHR and all states and NGOs to support the attached recommendations in the Dublin Declaration on Empowering Women through Secularism, put together by atheist advocates internationally at a conference in Dublin in 2011.

6. Relations of OSCE and States with the Holy See/Catholic Church

OSCE/ODIHR and all states to treat the Vatican/Holy See/Catholic Church as an NGO religion, and not as a State, and the Holy See to choose not to undermine civic democracy by telling politicians to follow religious ethics instead of legislating for all citizens.

7. Constitutional amendments regarding freedom of region or belief in Ireland

OSCE/ODIHR and Ireland to support atheists having the same legal recognition that is given to religions in Ireland. The Constitution prevents only discrimination between religions, not between religions and nonreligious philosophical groups. Specifically, OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Ireland, and Ireland to urgently implement, the following constitutional changes:

7.1 Amend Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution, and repeal sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009, to remove the offence of blasphemy from Irish law.

7.2 Replace the obligatory religious oaths in Articles 12.8, 31.4 and 34.5 of the Constitution (for President, Judges and members of the Council of State including Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister), and the optional oaths and declarations in court, with single neutral declarations that reveal no information about the religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs of the oath-taker.

7.3 Amend Article 40.1 of the Constitution to guarantee equality to all and to proscribe discrimination (direct or indirect) in any area of law on non-exhaustive grounds, as
recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Constitutional Review Group.

7.4 If constitutional change is required to end religious discrimination in the education system, which the Irish State claims is the case, urgently hold a Religious Equality Referendum to bring about such constitutional change.

7.5 Repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, to enable the Oireachtas to legislate for the right to abortion.

8. End religious discrimination in the Irish education system

OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Ireland, and Ireland to urgently implement, the following legislative and/or constitutional changes wit regard to the education system.

8.1 Implement the recommendations in the attached Schools Equality PACT.

8.2 Amend or repeal Section 15 of the Education Act 1998, Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000, and Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act 1998, to oblige publicly funded schools to deliver educational services, including employment, state curriculum and enrolment, in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, and with no religious discrimination of any kind.

8.3 Replace the patronage system (in which most schools are publicly funded private schools, each with their own ethos) with an inclusive secular system, in which the foundation is State-run schools that are neutral between religions and atheism, and in which private ethos schools are an add-on alternative as opposed to being the basis of the school system.

8.4 As an interim measure for some families, and only as that, accelerate the divestment programme for schools and ensure the widest possible availability of multi and nondenominational schools. In areas where there is only one standalone school, enforce
divestment or change of ethos so that everybody in that area has access to a school with an ethos that is neutral between religions and atheism and does not discriminate based on religion.

8.5 Ensure that there are workable policies in place to accommodate children who have opted out of formal religious education. Ensure that such children are not subject to religion being integrated throughout the remainder of the curriculum, even in denominational schools.

8.6 Ensure that there is an effective complaints mechanism and an effective remedy, in practice and in law, to vindicate breaches of human rights in schools.

8.7 If constitutional change is required to enact any of these recommendations, the Government should urgently hold a Religious Equality Referendum to bring about such constitutional change.

9. Amend the Civil Registration Act in Ireland to treat atheists equally

OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Ireland, and Ireland to urgently implement, the following:

Amend the Civil Registration Act to treat religious and atheist groups equally, and to remove the effective State monopoly that the Act now provides for private entrepreneurs to sell secular ceremonies for profit after being nominated as solemnises by the Humanist Association of Ireland.

10. Vindicate the reproductive rights of women in Ireland

OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Ireland, and Ireland to urgently implement, the following:

Repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, to enable the Oireachtas to legislate for the right to abortion. Decriminalise abortion by repealing sections 22 and 23 of the Protection of life During Pregnancy Act 2013. Repeal the Abortion Information Act 1995. Provide a human rights compliant framework for abortion, in law and in practice.

11. Redress for historic abuse of women and children in Ireland

OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Ireland, and Ireland to urgently implement, the following:

Implement full and independent inquiries into symphysiotomy and Magdalen laundries, leading to prosecutions where wrongdoing is established. Adopt and implement a consistent approach, in line with international human rights law, to all inquiries into historical abuse.

12. Implement conclusions of the UN Human Rights Committee

OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Ireland, and Ireland to urgently implement, the following concluding observations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee from its examination in July 2014 of Ireland’s breaches of human rights of atheists and minority faiths under the ICCPR:

12.1 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.

12.2 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.

12.3 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.

12.4 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.

12.5 Abortion: The United Nations Human Rights Committee told Ireland that it should: Revise its legislation on abortion, including its Constitution, to provide for additional exceptions in cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother, or fatal foetal abnormality; Swiftly adopt the Guidance Document to clarify what constitutes a “real and substantive risk” to the life of the pregnant woman; and Consider making more information on crisis pregnancy options available through a variety of channels, and ensure that healthcare providers who provide information on safe abortion services abroad are not subject to criminal sanctions.

10.6 Majority Votes: During the UNHRC session, Ireland said the reason that it denies pregnant women their abortion rights under the Covenant was because they are expressing the will of the people as expressed through referendum. The UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland that this reason was totally unacceptable. It said that human rights cannot be denied by a majority vote in Parliament, and that the whole point of international human rights law is to avoid the tyranny of the majority. The Committee invited Ireland to withdraw that as a reason for not fulfilling its Convention duties, and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald did withdraw it.

13. Vindicate the reproductive rights of women in Poland

OSCE/ODIHR to reinforce to Poland, and Poland to urgently implement, the rejection of the current Bill to restrict abortion rights, and the implementation of a law to decriminalise abortion, and provide a human rights compliant framework for abortion, in law and in practice.

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