Atheist Ireland has asked political parties and candidates running in the General Election on 8th February to answer ten questions regarding secular issues. Here are the responses from Solidarity.
1. One Oath For All
Atheist Ireland: Will you support amending the Constitution to enable the President, Judges, and members of the Council of State (which includes Taoiseach and Tanaiste) to swear an oath of loyalty to the state and the Constitution, that has no references to either religious or nonreligious beliefs?
Solidarity: There should be no religious references in the constitution and no obligation for a religious-based oath for any office or taking part in court proceedings. Solidarity has introduced a Bill to make these amendments to the constitution and will reintroduce it in the next Dáil if elected. In the last Dáil our TDs strongly opposed the changes to the Dáil standing orders that obliged TDs to stand for prayer each morning if in the chamber.
2. Secular Education
Atheist Ireland: Will you support amending relevant laws to ensure that publicly-funded schools cannot discriminate on the ground of religion against students in access, and against teachers in employment, and by privileging one religion when appointing publicly-funded chaplains?
Solidarity: Solidarity are in favour of a full separation of church and state. Religion is a personal freedom and should not advantage or disadvantage anyone accessing public services such as education. Solidarity introduced the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill in 2015 to remove the exemption from employment equality legislation that religious ethos based schools had. There were changes made following this Bill, but the ability to discriminate on religious grounds remain. Solidarity introduced the Equal Participation in Schools Bill which would have ended religious grounds for school admissions and would have separated religion from the curriculum. Chaplains should not be funded by the State.
3. Alternative Classes to Religion
Atheist Ireland: Parents and students have the right, under the Constitution and Education Act, to attend any publicly-funded school without attending religious teaching. Will you support their right to do this without discrimination, and that they be given an alternative timetabled subject?
Solidarity: Yes, the right not to take part in religious teaching or worship is clear. There is no obligation on parents and pupils to give any reasons. There should be clear regulations applicable in all schools where opting out is straight forward and without question.
4. Data Protection in Schools
Atheist Ireland: Will you support the right of parents and students, under the data protection law, to not have to reveal their religious or philosophical convictions, directly or indirectly, when exercising their right to not attend religious teaching or worship in publicly-funded schools?
Solidarity: There’s a legal and constitutional right to opt out of any religious teaching in schools. However, there are no regulations to vindicate this right and make it a reality. Solidarity’s proposal in the Equal Participation in Schools Bill was to completely separate religion from the curriculum, for any religious teaching to be after core school hours and for the Minister to outline clear regulations on how the right not to participate will be vindicated in all schools. There should be alternative subjects available in all schools to religion, including an alternative to the NCCA Religious Education course. Our TDs strongly criticised the current government rowing back on basic reforms in this area in ETB schools.
5. Objective Sex Education
Atheist Ireland: Will you support amending the Education Act to ensure that students, in all publicly-funded schools, can exercise their right under the European Social Charter to objective sex education that is delivered objectively and not through a religious ethos?
Solidarity: Children and young people have a right to the best possible relationships and sex education regardless of what school they attend. The Education Act must change if a high-quality RSE curriculum is to be implemented as the law gives schools the ability to place ethos over curriculum and puts an obligation on the Minister and school boards to adhere to ethos. Solidarity introduced the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill in 2018 to do this. Since it passed the second stage in the Dail, Leo Varadkar has refused to give it a ‘money message’ and effectively vetoed the Bill. If re-elected our TDs will restore this Bill and continue to press this vital issue.
6. Secular Healthcare
Atheist Ireland: Will you support a publicly-funded healthcare system where decisions are based on human rights and the medical needs of patients, and not on religious ethics, in particular with regard to operation of the new National Maternity Hospital?
Solidarity: Yes. Solidarity is for the full separation of church and state. There should be no ex-officio seats on any hospital boards for religious office holders, as is the case in the National Maternity Hospital. Religious orders should not be able to influence healthcare through ownership of land. Patients and medical professionals should make decisions based on human rights and clinical need. We also need a single-tier well-funded public health service where there are not waiting lists and ongoing crises.
7. Assisted Dying
Atheist Ireland: Will you support the right of seriously ill people to get the best medical resources if they want to stay alive for as long as they can, and the right of terminally or seriously ill people to have the right to die peacefully when they choose if they want to?
8. Solemnising of Marriages
Atheist Ireland: Will you support amending the Civil Registration Act, so that bodies that can nominate solemnisers for marriages are treated equally under the law, instead of having different legal conditions for religious and secular bodies, and for different secular bodies?
Solidarity: Yes. Solidarity doesn’t think there should be restrictions on the freedoms of bodies that can nominate solemnisers simply because such a body is not religious based.
9. Prejudice-Motivated Crime
Atheist Ireland: Will you support legislation that tackles prejudice against groups through education, and tackles prejudice-motivated crime through the law, while protecting the right to freedom of expression, including about religion, based on human rights principles and standards?
Solidarity: There should be legislation that deals with hate crime against minority groups, which includes religious minority groups. Being critical of religion or religious teaching should not be considered hate crime.
10. Political Funding and Spending
Atheist Ireland: Will you support stronger regulation of political funding and spending, so that religious bodies have to comply on the same basis as secular bodies, and protect the democratic process from online disinformation and the undue influence of wealthy donors?
Solidarity: Yes. Funding of political parties and causes should be fully transparent and without interference from big business. Ireland has a long history of big business donations impacting on political decision making such as in planning. There should not be any differences in political spending regulation between religious and secular bodies. Engaging in political discourse and activity is a civil right that should not be curtailed by whether an organisation is secular or religious.
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