INTO seeks to undermine religious freedom

The Deputy General Secretary of the INTO, Noel Ward, has called for Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act to be consigned to history, because it ‘legislates for discrimination’.

At the INTO annual congress yesterday, Mr Ward, INTO deputy general-secretary referring to an article written by a representative of the Iona Institute, asked how a school’s ethos could be undermined “in word or deed” as we assert.

The question is surprising to say the least. It should be obvious that the ethos of any organisation can be undermined when its employees act or speak in a manner contrary to its ethos.

For example, wouldn’t the ethos an environmentalist organisation be undermined if it employed someone who openly denied global warming?

Similarly, a school with a religious ethos can hardly be expected to employ the head of the local atheist society, or someone whose known lifestyle was contrary to the school’s belief in traditional sexual morality and marriage.

The purpose of Section 37 is to protect religious freedom and allow religious organisations not to employ individuals who would undermine their ethos in word and/or deed. Without this protection, the ethos of a religious organisation would quickly collapse.

The INTO thinks this is discrimination. It isn’t, or at least not in the usual sense of that word. Employers are permitted to vet potential employees on the basis of relevant factors. In the case of an organisation with a religious ethos, what is definitely relevant is whether an employee would undermine that ethos or not.

Section 37 is also in keeping with Article 44 of the Constitution which protects religious freedom.

In fact, when the constitutionality of Section 37 was tested and upheld in the Supreme Court in 1997, the then Attorney General (under the Fine Gael/Labour government) argued that the Employment Equality Act would have been unconstitutional without the inclusion of Section 37.

It appears from Mr Ward’s comments that neither he nor the INTO fully believe in religious freedom. The logic of their position is that Article 44 of Bunreacht na hEireann should go along with Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. This is extremely worrying, and disturbing.