Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 reads;
’37.-(1) A religious, educational or medical institution which is under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes or whose objectives include the provision of services in an environment which promotes certain religious values shall not be taken to discriminate against a person for the purposes of this Part or Part II if –
(a) it gives more favourable treatment, on the religion ground, to an employee or a prospective employee over that person where it is reasonable to do so in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution, or
(b) it takes action which is reasonably necessary to prevent an employee or prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution’.
This effectively means that religious run institutions, with schools being a prime example, are free to discriminate against employees and prospective employees due to their religious beliefs, marital status and/or sexuality because it wouldn’t be classed as discrimination in these cases but, instead, upholding the religious ethos of the institution.
While no case that alleges discrimination, on these grounds, has yet been brought the fact remains that it’s the law so if it were to happen it would be perfectly legal. And while it hasn’t happened, that doesn’t stop the threat and/or fear of it happening from affecting people’s lives. Sandra Irwin-Gowran of GLEN described it as a ‘chill factor’.
How many people work and live in fear of not getting a promotion or loosing their jobs altogether if their sexuality or marital status gets out? It’s all to easy to say that what you do in your private live doesn’t affect your ability to do your job so why do you need to shout about it?
Shouting about it isn’t what LGB teachers want, they simply want to be able to go about their working day without having to watch everything they say for fear that mentioning their partner at all might result in them being looked on unfavourably. The same can be said for staff members who are of a different religious belief (or none at all) to that of the institution they work for. It could equally apply to people who have children out of wedlock or are divorced.
Whether you agree with them or not, religious organisations are entitled to have their own beliefs but the issue here is that with 90% of our schools being run by Catholics and funded by the state we have a situation where the religious beliefs are placed into the law of the land. That doesn’t seem right to me…I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again religion and the law are two different things and should be treated that way.
To rectify this, Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power has published the The Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2012 seeking to ‘extend the general protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, or civil status in, in connection with, employment, vocational training and membership of certain bodies’.
With this amendment the threat/fear of dismissal as a result of sexuality, religious beliefs and/or civil status, in certain institutions, would be removed and everyone would have the same protection, from being discriminated against, under the law.
The cynic in me may want to question what prompted Senator Power to publish this bill now, especially since she admits that it’s ‘in line with a commitment in the Government’s own programme’. Honestly though, I’ll welcome the change in this law whatever quarter it comes from.
The fact remains that if, and when, this bill passes it’ll be another step toward equality for all the citizens of this country!