The right to hire people who will uphold the ethos of the organisation


The Iona Institute is having a think about what is “discrimination” and what is “a religious exemption.” 

There are currently calls to repeal Section 37 (1) of Ireland’s Employment Equality Act: the law’s opponents argue that it allows schools, hospitals and other organisations with a religious ethos to discriminate in their hiring against those whose lifestyles run counter to that ethos. The law’s defenders (the Iona Institute among them) usually respond that protecting the religious freedom of such organisations is essential.

But it strikes me that in both these cases there could be some confusion about what is actually meant by “discrimination” and “a religious exemption” on both sides. There seem to me to be two quite different things that those words could refer to, and most discussion of the issue seems to conflate them.

The first is a right to not hire people simply because they are a particular class of person (say if they’re gay or lesbian). This seems to me to be basically unconscionable – it has no rational basis, and denies the equal dignity of every person.

But I’m not at all sure that any significant number of religious organisations in Ireland actually want that right.

What religious organisations do want protected is the right to hire people who will uphold the ethos of the organisation. This is sometimes seen as a smokescreen for the prejudice described above, but in truth it’s completely different.

Take a faith school. Such a school should ask prospective teachers of any race, gender or sexual orientation the following question: “Can you, in good conscience, support and uphold the ethos of our school, which includes upholding Catholic teaching?” If they can do so, other concerns should be irrelevant.

Tricky, isn’t it. The trouble is with the word “school” and the word “teachers.”

If what they’re talking about is a real school and real teachers, then wanting to know if prospective teachers will uphold Catholic teaching really ought to be looking for the answer “no” – but they clearly are looking for a yes rather than a no. But in a real school with real teachers, “Catholic teachings” should be beside the point altogether. “Catholic teachings” should be confined to church. Health care should be secular – not atheist, just secular – and so should education.

Comments

  1. Chris J says

    The first is a right to not hire people simply because they are a particular class of person (say if they’re gay or lesbian). This seems to me to be basically unconscionable – it has no rational basis, and denies the equal dignity of every person.

    But I’m not at all sure that any significant number of religious organisations in Ireland actually want that right.

    What religious organisations do want protected is the right to hire people who will uphold the ethos of the organisation. This is sometimes seen as a smokescreen for the prejudice described above, but in truth it’s completely different.

    There’s at least one fatal mistake. This isn’t an “either/or” scenario. Oftentimes, religious organizations want both. They want both to hire people with similar religious beliefs (because religious organization) and to not hire people who they find “sinful,” since to them the latter is a violation of the former. It’s not a smokescreen, it’s the other side of the same coin.

    That’s why religious exemptions can’t work. You can’t mesh non-discrimination with religion if the religion demands discrimination, even if there might be a case where certain types of discrimination seem fine (like only hiring Catholics at a Catholic institute).

  2. Crimson Clupeidae says

    My business’ ethos is to only hire people who uphold the ideas of secular democratic ideals, equality and equanimity for all, regardless of race, gender, etc., easily affordable healthcare for all…..the list could go on.

    That would make it ok to not hire right wingers, evangelicals, etc., right? All I have to do is say that it’s my business’ ethos? Sweeeeet.

    There’s no way that could be abused……

  3. aziraphale says

    “But in a real school with real teachers, “Catholic teachings” should be beside the point altogether.”

    That may be putting it a bit strongly. For much of British history the only schools and universities were faith schools and universities. I would not want to argue that those were not real schools with real teachers, or that they did not provide an education.

    Sure, you and I think that education should be secular. But you’ll have a hard time persuading a majority of the Irish of that.

  4. says

    This seems to me to be basically unconscionable – it has no rational basis, and denies the equal dignity of every person.

    Emphasis mine. There’s a problem here. Religion doesn’t have a rational basis. If Ben Conroy (the author) is trying to distinguish between “discrimination” and “religious exemption” based on a rational basis, he’s not going to have much luck with that.

    The example he uses is an utter failure when put under examination. He’s trying to claim that not hiring someone who is gay or lesbian falls under the “discrimination” category, but it also falls under the “religious exemption” category as well, based on how it’s been defined as relating to “upholding the ethos.” If that “ethos” includes the idea that gay people should feel ashamed for being gay, it should be rather obvious that hiring a gay person that is not ashamed of being so clearly goes against “upholding the ethos.”

    But…I see that this is an “institute for religion and society,” so I guess I shouldn’t expect them to be thinking too deeply about this.

  5. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    For much of British history the only schools and universities were faith schools and universities. I would not want to argue that those were not real schools with real teachers, or that they did not provide an education.

    ..but it could- and should- be argued that the education they provided was less good because they were faith schools or universities and that the state should not support such schools or universities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>