News Roundup

America Names the World’s Worst Violators of Religious Freedom

The US State Department has released its 2017 list of governments “that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”. The list names Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’, while Pakistan was also placed on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom. In a press release accompanying the publication of the list, spokesperson Heather Nauert said in far too many places around the globe, people continue to be killed, persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. In particular, the State Department list named governments who have infringed upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion, worship in accordance with their beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the State Department’s list, with its Chairman Daniel Mark saying, “The designation of these countries is a key step in ensuring continued U.S. engagement in support of international religious freedom.  Although USCIRF agrees with the 10 countries on the State Department’s list, it does not go far enough.  Secretary Tillerson should have also designated the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.”


German Court rules that transsexual cannot be registered as mother of child

A transsexual who used sperm he had banked prior to his ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘female’ to have a baby with his female partner cannot be legally registered as a ‘mother’ of the child, Germany’s highest civil and criminal court ruled on Thursday.

The Federal Court of Justice said only the woman who gives birth can be considered the child’s legal mother. In its ruling, the Court said that although the rights and duties of a transsexual person depended on their new gender, the legal relationship with his or her children remained unchanged.

The ruling was a surprise because the Court has recently adopted a more liberal stance to gender identity issues. In November, Germany’s constitutional court ruled in favour of the introduction of a third gender category for people who do not identify as either male or female or are born with an ambiguous sexual anatomy.



Children’s Ombudsman attacks rights of minority-faith schools

The Ombudsman for Children says Government plans to allow schools of minority faith-communities to favour their own children in schools admission policies will end up discriminating against other children seeking access to the same schools. The Church of Ireland and other minority-faiths say they would have to turn away children of their own faith if they cannot admit them first.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton has announced plans to prohibit oversubscribed Catholic primary schools from giving enrolment priority to children of Catholic families, but will allow minority faiths, such as the Church of Ireland, to do so in order to protect their schools’ characteristic ethos.
Reacting to the Minister’s plans, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office warned that allowing minority faiths to use religion as a condition of entry means some children will end up being treated differently from other children. “This provision would create further discriminatory provisions between children of different religions and none,” the Ombudsman’s submission states. As a solution, the Ombudsman said that use of religion as a criteria for entry to schools should be abolished.
It is not clear how the Ombudsman’s position coheres with the Constitution’s recognition of equity, namely that, while all citizens are equal, the law shall “have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.”

Persecution of Christians worse than at any time in history, says report

In terms of the numbers involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact on people, the persecution of Christians is Report on Persecution – Aid to the Church in Need according to a new report from Aid to the Church in Need. The report, Persecuted & Forgotten?, documents Christians oppressed for their faith in 13 countries around the world in 2015-2017. It says that not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution with almost 100,000 being killed in the past two years alone.
The report lamented that there has been such “limited coverage” in the secular media of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians, especially when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality. The report explicitly called on governments to “use their influence to stand up for minorities, especially Christians” given the pervasive nature of persecution and evidence implicating regimes with whom the West has close trading and strategic links. The report concludes with an appeal that Christians no longer be “sacrificed on the altar of strategic expediency and economic advantage”.

Catholic groups ready to fight attack on admissions rights

Catholic Education bodies have launched a stinging critique of plans to end denominational schools’ right to offer priority to children of their own faith community in their admissions policies. The plan by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, would prohibit Catholic schools from giving priority to catholic children in enrolment where a school is oversubscribed, although it carves out an exception for minority faiths and denominations so that they may protect their schools’ characteristic ethos. In a submission to the Department of Education, the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association says Mr Bruton’s plan is part of a “secularisation agenda aimed mainly at the Catholic Church”. It states: “We note that such a process may also open the State to a multiplicity of civil suits by those parents who wish to retain a Catholic faith ethos of their children.” It also warned that such steps would conflict with the constitutional protections for parents and religious schools.
The Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools says the proposals will seriously undermine the role of Catholic schools and their ability to continue to promote a “living faith environment”. “In short, the present proposal appears to be part of a process of encroachment on parental rights, property rights and the capacity of faith schools to provide a faith-based education for those who opt for same,” it states.

FG proposes tax credit for parents employing childminders

A new proposal being pushed by two Fine Gael TDs would see parents receive a tax credit for employing garda-vetted child minders to care for their children in the home. Nothing is proposed for stay-at-home parents. A recent opinion poll in the Irish Daily Mail showed that two-thirds of voters believe the Government should give stay-at-home mothers at least the same financial support as parents who go out to work. The proposed scheme is being championed by Fine Gael TDs Kate O’Connell and Maria Bailey. They claim it would allow more parents to reenter the workforce. it is the first scheme to target childcare outside of institutional creche settings. According to the proposals, the childminder would have to be formally employed by the parents of the child and would receive the benefits of a worker, including minimum wage and PRSI contributions, instead of informal arrangements such as ‘cash in hand’. The proposals however include nothing for parents who forego employment in order to care for their children at home, or for informal arrangements involving grandparents or neighbours.

Zappone demands straight-repeal abortion referendum

Children’s Minister and long-time abortion campaigner Katherine Zappone has demanded that a referendum to entirely repeal the Eighth amendment must be put to the people. She also said she “expects” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to campaign in favour of a repeal vote, regardless of his personal views. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Ms Zappone insisted the Government has no right to ignore the recommendations of both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas abortion committee to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace it with widespread abortion legislation. “Both of those processes came with the view and desire the Eighth Amendment is gone and parliament is given the power to legislate. So I would expect a respect for that.”
On Mr Varadkar, she said she “expects” him to campaign for repeal no matter what his personal views may be. “If the leader of the Government is putting a choice to the people to repeal or obviously not to repeal, and if we as a Government decide to put to the people repeal of not repeal, I think it’s reasonable for the people to expect the leadership of the Taoiseach to campaign in relation to his own view on that,” she said. In the Brexit referendum of 2016 in the UK, Government Ministers were allowed to take individual positions.

‘Save crib’ petition at Beaumont Hospital gathers 1,000 signatures

Staff and patients at Beaumont hospital have reacted angrily to a de facto ban by management on cribs in the foyer and wards of the hospital. According to the Irish Times, a petition “to save the crib” with more than 1,000 signatures was being ignored. “A lot of elderly patients are very upset. The children visiting like to see it. The staff like to see it,” their source is reported as saying.

In addition, management is “telling staff who have set up cribs . . . in the wards to remove them”.

An official response by the hospital avoided the central allegation of the petition, that the cribs in the foyer and the wards had been banned, nor did it respond to the popular appeal to return the cribs to their usual places of prominence. Instead, the statement pointed to the existence of a crib in the hospital chapel. It also said, “the wider hospital community is multicultural and therefore multifaith”. Because of this, the hospital operates “on an interdenominational basis, with chaplaincy facilities shared among the accredited Churches assigned to the hospital, namely Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic,” the statement read.


UCG complained to Equality Tribunal over ‘religious discrimination’

A complaint of ‘religious discrimination’ has been made to the Equality Tribunal against University College Galway. The complaints allege that multiple incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation of Christian students at University College Galway (UCG) have been ignored or dismissed by the university.
Members of the UCG Christian Union say the harassment began in March 2013 when a large number of their pro-life flyers were defaced or torn down.
At the beginning of the following academic year, the Student Societies body changed regulations to ban any society with fewer than 100 members. This resulted in the disbandment of all religious groups at UCG including the Christian Union, the Legion of Mary, Taize, and Jewish and Islamic groups. Later that month, the Christian Union students initiated Equality Tribunal proceedings against NUI Galway, claiming a pattern of religious discrimination over the previous 18 months. The students are still awaiting a ruling from the Equality tribunal and on Monday of this week, they took their complaints public via the Burke Broadcast website.


Supreme Court to hear State’s appeal to deny rights of the unborn

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by the State concerning a significant High Court judgment which found the word “unborn” in the Constitution means an unborn child with a broad range of rights including and beyond the right to life. The State had argued that an unborn child enjoys only a right to life, and no other, and it appealed the judgment straight to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the appeal and, because the matter is so important, the whole 7 judge panel of the Court may hear the case. If the State is successful, it means the unborn child will have absolutely no statutory rights whatsoever, apart from the right to life. Then, if the 1983 amendment is repealed and not replaced with anything else, the unborn will be left with no rights at all.

The case stems from a legal dispute over a deportation order that involved a question about the rights of an unborn child. In the High Court Mr Justice Humphreys held “unborn” means an “unborn child” with rights extending beyond the right to life under Article 40.3.3 (the 1983 pro-life amendment to the Constitution). He also interpreted Article 42A of the Constitution, inserted as a result of the 2012 Children’s Referendum, as affording protections to all children “both before and after birth”. The unborn child, including of a parent facing deportation, enjoys “significant” rights and legal position at common law, by statute, and under the Constitution, “going well beyond the right to life alone”, the judge held. Many of those rights are “actually effective” rather than merely prospective, he said.