Views on Religious Inequality
Religious equality is becoming a bigger subject in the public domain every year. However, teachers of minority faiths and no faiths are rarely mentioned. How do the candidates think the INTO can support teachers who are effectively forced to work in conditions where they must hide their beliefs?
I have always been committed to the abolition of section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act. INTO policy is for its complete abolition and this is something that we should continue to highlight. Following the Marriage Equality Referendum, it was amended to protect LGBT people from discrimination and I absolutely welcome that. But there is no such thing as being nearly equal, we either have equality or we don’t. And as long as section 37.1 remains on the statute books in any form, some of our union members will be lawfully discriminated against in their place of work. That is wrong plain and simple.
As President, I would certainly highlight that issue. I believe that by doing so, it can empower other members to also speak out. And the more of us that speak out, the more of us that are confident to demand change, the more likely it is that change can be won.
At a minimum INTO should be ensuring that no teacher is disadvantaged at the recruitment stage by having to answer any questions about religious ethos. Provision should be made in denominational schools for teachers to opt out of teaching religious education if it goes against their beliefs and INTO should actively campaign for that. This is INTO policy, passed by Congress more than 20 years ago, and yet many teachers still feel unable to be true to their own beliefs and ethics. This is not good for either teachers or the children we teach. As teachers, we espouse honesty as being a core value and yet many teachers feel forced to live a lie.
The INTO has supported teachers of all faiths, minority faiths and those with no faith, for many years. We have won numerous equality cases when members suffered discrimination. As a young Branch officer, I myself was completely opposed to the introduction of Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act in 1998. In my view Section 37.1 of the Act needs to be repealed.
I was elected Vice-President of INTO on an equality platform last Easter. If elected President, I will do everything possible to highlight members’ concerns about Section 37(1) and will continue to campaign for its abolition. I also feel that the introduction of the Education about Religions, Beliefs and Ethics Curriculum (ERB) will help break down barriers.
The INTO has also been very much to the fore in the campaign for greater diversity of school type. Since our former General Secretary John Carr’s famous speech at the INTO Education Conference in Sligo nine years ago a number of non-denominational schools have been established. However I accept that the powers that be have been too slow particularly regarding the divestment of denominational schools in areas where parents required more choice.
INTO’s track record on equality is second to none. We are the only union who took an equality claim on behalf of new entrant teachers, we have been to the fore in the campaign to restore pay equality, we have an outstanding equality committee, we host regular equality conferences and we have won numerous equality cases. Our Separated Teachers and LGBT groups have done trojan work over the years. I have pursued an education/equality agenda as Vice-President and if elected, will continue to prioritise this agenda as President.