The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has rejected calls for the deletion of Section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Act, which allows religious employers to hire staff in accordance with their ethos. They instead recommended that Section 37 be amended.
In a submission made to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, the IHREC (which includes the former Equality Authority) said that deleting Section 37 (1) “could constitute a violation of the rights of employers and employees to religious freedom. Such a right exists within European and Irish Constitutional law.”
The Commission also suggested that to maintain the legislation as it is could lead to uncertainty with regard to the law's interpretation, and that Section 37 (1) may not be compatible with EU law in its current form. However, the European Commission previously withdrew an action on equality grounds against Section 37.
They also rejected the idea of creating an express provision for religious freedom in the Employment Equality Act, saying that this “would create a hierarchy of rights within the Employment Equality Acts and could put rights such as equal treatment on grounds of sexual orientation, the right to religious freedom or the right to gender equality in conflict with each other.”
The Commission instead recommended amending the legislation to better define the concept of “religious ethos”, and to allow discrimination on the ground of religion or belief only by an organisation “with an ethos founded on religion or belief, where adherence to a particular religious belief is a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement” or where “there is active and significant undermining in the workplace during the course of employment to the core tenets of the religious belief.”
They said that this would have to be balanced against employees' rights not to be discriminated against on other grounds.