The proposed drafts of the ‘Equality Act, 2019’ and ‘Human Rights & Equality Commission Act, 2019’ do not resolve healthily the existing dichotomy between the right to equality and the protection of difference of persons and institutions, stated the Association of Independent Schools, ISA.
In a statement explaining its concerns, the ISA also noted how it seems that the proposed Equality Act leans heavily towards the right to equality without giving enough space to the protection of difference and the right of persons and institutions, public and private, to exhibit religious freedom or to construe their ethos on a values-based approach.
Unfortunately, this lessens the equality and liberty for some, while increasing it for others, said the Independent Schools Association.
The following are some of the concerns raised by ISA;
- No explicit reference to the European Convention of Human Rights. It also needs to be clarified that the proposed Equality Bill would be secondary to the European Convention of Human Rights so that in case of conflict, the European Convention of Human Rights could be evoked
- The right to conscientious objection is not present in the proposed Acts
- The jargon used namely ‘discrimination’ and ‘victim’ is very ambiguous and the victim is exonerated from bringing forth evidence to prove that s/he is being discriminated upon since the burden of proof is incumbent with the alleged discriminating person/institution. This goes against the normal legal praxis that a person/institution is innocent until proved guilty
- The Equality Bill seems to be equivocal in allowing organisations/entities to promote their ethos in their practices, curriculum, textbooks, guidance and services provided. In terms of Schools, this allowance is only applicable “provided that such requirement shall not interfere in the private life of the educator and outside that establishment.” This weakens the position of Schools seeking to operate within a particular ethos
- The Bill mentions that the display of religious symbols is only permissible when they are of cultural value and this cultural value is decided upon by a designated Commission. The ISA feels that this should be amended to state that the inclusion of religious symbols should not constitute a discriminatory practice
- The mention that there should be no discrimination in services offered to persons from different creeds, beliefs etc should be qualified. In the case of Schools, there is significant additional work in the registration process and at times in the integration of foreign in Schools and this warrants the additional fees that are, at times, requested from parents of foreign students
The ISA concluded its statement that it believes that its concerns need to be amended and has called for reference to the European Convention of Human Rights to be introduced. It also stated that as an association it is willing to explain further its concerns and proposals to the Parliament House Committee.