State discrimination against religious views and bodies is becoming an issue. Recent reports indicate that Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) is set to withdraw public funding from the Boyle Family Life Centre, an ethos-based service provider of the Diocese of Elphin, which serves the practical needs of both the parish community and the wider community.
Many of the Centre’s services are currently funded by Tusla. Tusla is requiring that centres such as the Boyle Family Life Centre be incorporated as companies limited by guarantee in order to continue to receive funding. There is no objection to this requirement.
Controversy arises because Tusla has stated to the Diocese (in writing) that it would “conflict with the ethos” of Tusla’s programmes for an organisation funded by them to have a statement of denominational ethos written into its governance document. This in effect means that Tusla is only willing to partner with the Boyle Family Life Centre if it abandons its ethos.
This is a very worrying development in Irish public life. Nowhere has it been suggested that the Diocesan Centre does not do good work or is inefficient in some way. Rather Tusla’s problem with the Centre is its Catholic ethos. But it is unjust for a State agency to deny or withdraw funding from an organisation simply on the grounds that the organisation abides by a religious ethos. Withdrawing or denying funding in this way amounts to a State endorsed rejection of the idea that religious ethos is compatible with the common good. In effect, the State would be discriminating against religious associations, initiatives and personnel in favour of secular ones.
This would be the antithesis of pluralism. It would instead amount to a secular monism: the idea that only purely secular initiatives, or else religious bodies willing to compromise their ethos, are worthy of State support. Those who support this type of approach would do well to remember that the State is only able to fund projects on the basis of the taxes it collects from its citizens – many of whom are either religious or supportive of the role of religious associations and initiatives in the public life of the State.
In terms of the law, a decision by a State body to withdraw or deny funding to a Centre providing needed services simply on the grounds of that Centre’s religious ethos may be on unsecure legal ground. Tusla have yet to offer a full justification for their position against co-operating with ethos-based initiatives. It would make for very interesting reading.