Dublin, Ireland, Dec 11, 2015 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A measure passed by the Irish legislature in the name of equality actually threatens the ability of religious institutions to function and maintain their identity, critics say.
Last week, the Irish Senate voted unanimously to repeal Section 37 of the state’s Employment Equality Act. Section 37 clarifies that it is not discrimination when religious organizations make employee decisions “to maintain the religious ethos of the institution” – for example, regarding hiring or employee behavior.
Ireland’s lower house has also passed the measure to repeal Section 37, and President Michael D. Higgins is expected to sign the amended equality law soon.
If he does so, religious, educational and medical institutions will be subject to greater challenges on the grounds of discrimination. The amended law would no longer offer protection to religious school and entities who make hiring decisions and maintain employee behavior requirements in alignment with their religious identity.
As a result, homosexual teachers and other professionals may be able to discuss their sexuality in the classroom or workplace – even if they work for a religious organization.
Ireland is predominantly Catholic, with 90 percent of state schools run by the Catholic Church. Many hospitals also have religious affiliations.
“The amended law is problematic and undermines what the Irish Supreme Court affirmed in 1996,” Alliance Defending Freedom international legal counsel Lorcán Price told CNA.
Price said that the court held that religious institutions were permitted “to form, maintain and protect their common religious ethos. This safeguard is no longer in place.”
“Under the amended law, it will be harder for religious institutions to protect their religious ethos against employees who undermine that ethos – in particular, where employees identify as LGBT. It will also be more difficult to defend legal cases in which they are accused of ‘discrimination’ for disciplinary action,” Price added.
The Department of Justice and Equality spearheaded efforts to amend the Employment Equality Act. The department was also responsible for laying out changes to be made upon the legalization of same-sex marriage, which occurred by popular vote earlier this year.
An official from the Department of Justice and Equality maintained that “(t)he amendment is important because it protects LGBTI teachers in state-funded schools and staff in other similarly-funded religiously-run institutions from arbitrary discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
“The amendment will end the chilling effect the current law has on such LGBTI employees and does not in any way reduce the protections available to any other group in society or interfere with freedom of religion,” the official told CNA.
But Price argues that the law will be misused and will only undermine religious organizations’ mission.
“For example, under the new amendment, a teacher at a Christian school can now openly talk about his homosexual relationship even though this is contrary to the school’s ethos. The question now arises, ‘Is the school able to take disciplinary action against the teacher’s behavior without being liable for unlawful discrimination?’” said Price.
“It is safe to assume that many schools will ignore employee breaches of conduct to avoid being sued for discrimination. This significantly undermines the ability of religious institutions to practice their ethos.”
In the past year, Ireland has introduced a number of other sexual orientation and identity policies. In September, the Gender Recognition Bill was passed to give transgender persons legal recognition without seeing a doctor or receiving medical treatment. Same-sex couples are also able to adopt children because of a bill passed in April.
“This latest policy is part of a concerted effort by the left-wing Labour Party in the Irish coalition government to undermine Catholic schools,” said Price. “This new law will have a chilling effect on all religious institutions.”