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Northern Ireland Humanists backs Bill to outlaw teacher religious discrimination

Northern Ireland Humanists has responded to a consultation on a Stormont Bill that seeks to outlaw religious discrimination in the recruitment of teachers. In its response, it has largely agreed with the proposals in the Fair Employment (School Teachers) Bill, stating that such discrimination must be abolished for both primary and secondary teachers.

However Northern Ireland Humanists, which campaigns for equal treatment of teachers regardless of religious background, noted that it is vitally important to ensure that schools are still able to employ a balanced proportion of Protestant, Catholic, non-religious, and minority religious staff.

Religious discrimination in the recruitment and promotion of teachers is currently permitted under an exemption to Northern ireland employment legislation. If the Bill passes, this exemption will be removed. Not only is the exemption an anachronism in an increasingly secular society, it is also deeply unpopular with teachers: in April 2021, the NASUWT teachers’ union voted ‘overwhelmingly’ at their annual conference to call for the removal of the exemption. The National Education Union (NEU) has also already had UK-wide policy against faith-based discrimination in teacher employment.

The private member’s bill was introduced by Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle, chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee, and despite not being an Executive bill it has been attracting wide support – including from the former first minister and DUP MLA Arlene Foster, and both UUP and Sinn Fein MLAs. Therefore it is hoped the Bill will make it all the way through the Assembly before dissolution prior to May’s elections.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We are pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to the consultation process for this important Bill. Religious discrimination for teachers is not only unfair, but also exacerbates the segregation already endemic in Northern Ireland’s school system. This Bill has the power to change that. Along with the passing of the Integrated Education Bill earlier this week, I feel a sense of gathering momentum to change things for the better in our schools in terms of tackling division.

‘We will be following the progress of the Bill with great interest as it moves on to committee stage, and will continue to ensure that the humanist perspective is heard loud and clear.’

 

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at boyd@humanists.uk or phone 07918 975795.

Download our response.

Visit the consultation page on the Assembly website.

Read our article on the Education Committee’s criticism of the exemption.

Read our article on the passing of the Integrated Education Bill. 

Read more about Northern Ireland Humanists.

Read more about our work on Education.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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