Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

European Commission tells UK to change Equality Law

November 22nd, 2009 · 4 Comments · Equality, Religion

According to today’s Observer, the European Commission has told the UK Government that it must change a new Equality Law as the exemption proposed for Religious bodies contravenes ‘an EU directive prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.’

The law allowed religious groups to discriminate against gay employees “so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers”.

Where does this leave Section 37 (i) of the Employment Equality Act in Ireland?

Section 37 (i) of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, 2004 states:

A religious, educational or medical institution which is under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes or whose objectives include the provision of services in an environment which promotes certain religious values shall not be taken to discriminate against a person for the purposes of this Part or Part II if—

a)    it gives more favorable treatment, on the religion ground, to an employee or a prospective employee over that person where it is reasonable to do so in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution, or

b)    it takes action which is reasonably necessary to prevent an employee or a prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution.

Has the Commission examined the act? Whilst the section has yet to be interpreted by the Equality Tribunal or the courts, it is one of most contentious pieces of legislation amongst lesbians and gay men in Ireland. Especially amongst lgbt teachers.

And what of the religious groupings and their call for an amendment to Civil Partnership legislation to permit conscientious objection?


Ian in the comments has found the story saying that the European Commisison believes that the Employment Equality Act ethos opt-out by religious institutions is broad enough for the Commission to drop their objection.

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4 Comments so far

  • Stephen

    did we get an opt-out or a derogation from the directive? I have a feeling its ok and wouldnt be struck down by ECJ.

  • Ian

    I suspect Stephen is right – something happened about a year or two ago – the commission more or less agreed something like Irelands section 37 was ok or something like that will have to do some searching as a quick search can’t find it

  • Ian

    This story may or may not be relevant

    Irish Examiner

    Thursday 8 May 2008

    Religious bodies win right to hire based on ethos

    Schools and hospitals owned by religious bodies can fire or refuse to hire people if they believe they do not coincide with their ethos, the European Commission has confirmed.

    Under Irish legislation, religious bodies of any creed can discriminate against employees on the basis of their religion or behaviour.

    The teachers’ unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have long objected to this and have demanded the Government drop it from legislation, saying religious bodies are well protected.

    Unions had hoped that the commission warning in January that it was not compatible with EU anti-discrimination legislation would lead to a change in the law.

    But the commission has dropped its objection saying it was satisfied with government assurances that the grounds were not too broad.

    The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said it was surprised at the commission’s decision, as many of their members felt threatened by the law, including separated, gay and lesbian teachers, who fear they risk being sacked.

    John Carr, general secretary of the INTO, said some 95% of all primary schools in the state could use this provision in the act since religious bodies own them.

    ICTU equality officer David Joyce said they were very disappointed. They would continue to try to change the legislation, “but the commission backing down does not help?, he said.

    Mr Joyce wondered if it had anything to do with the Lisbon Treaty referendum following the Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s indication during his Dublin visit that the threatened action would be dropped.

    The commission accepted that it could be necessary to insist that a teacher or hospital professional should not undermine the religious ethos of the school or hospital or other institution employing them.

    However neither the commission nor the Government have defined what “ethos? means legally or what amounts to “undermining?.

    The commission has yet to decide whether Ireland’s discrimination/ employment legislation is in line with what they agreed to implement at EU level on a number of areas.

  • Maman Poulet

    Thanks for that Ian – will put link to this comment in the post.