Sunday, April 6, 2014

Preserving Ethos Argument - Does It Hold Up?

"...it is not discrimination for a religious employer to act against a member of staff who is undermining their ethos." - David Quinn, March 9th, 2013 

A castle I rented. Seriously. It was cool. Irish Landmark Trust. Check it out.
Surrounding forest reclaiming a woodland walk. It was like location scouting for a Tomb Raider movie.
Mrs Shorts and I spent an enjoyable St Patrick's week in Cork. We rented a small castle, found a semi abandoned 18th century walled garden, toured ruins and visited Fota Island. We had lunch in Ballymaloe. We toured the Jameson distillery. When I returned to work I told colleagues about the time I spent with the woman I love, showed holiday pictures, and recommended castle rental.

I can do this in Ireland because I do not have a religious employer and my sexuality is not considered a threat to anyone's sincerely held beliefs. If Mrs Shorts was a Mr and I had chosen education as a career path I would likely have required a cover story. I could have avoided any discussions with colleagues, I suppose, or pretended I had travelled alone. But renting a romantic castle for solo use is a little suspicious so I may have had to pretend I spent the week at home. Photos, naturally, would have to be kept from social media. Perhaps I could invent a partner of approved gender and spin tales to fit. It would be awkward to explain why said partner could never attend work social events, but that is a price considered appropriate to protect the delicate sincerely held beliefs of some.


All teachers, are equal. But some are more equal than others. It's perfectly legal for a school with religious character to decide not to renew the contract of a member of staff if they learn that their sexuality or gender identity is something they find distasteful. Before 1973 women could be fired for marrying men. Today women can be fired for marrying women.

How is this defended?

"For too long we’ve lived the equalityist lie that human rights are just for humans when we should really have been recognising that ideas are humans too. In fact some ideas, like my ideas, are even more important than humans." - King of Iona (Parody account)

Some believe that the right to be open about the person you love must play second fiddle to the beliefs of one's employers, provided said beliefs are clothed in religious garb. Given the Irish school system is in near total religious control we have a country where straight teachers are at a significant advantage when it comes to legal protection. The argument from the Iona Institute et al follows predictable course:


  1. The majority of the country identify as Catholic
  2. Catholics must be educated in a Catholic ethos
  3. The Catholic Hierarchy is homophobic has sincerely held beliefs about homosexuality
  4. Allowing those who do not fit within the narrow paradigm of approved Catholic Hierarchy views to teach openly would put religious ideas on a lower footing than human employment rights.
  5. (4) would somehow be a bad thing
I've written on the ethos argument before. It's bunkum. (In summary, the same argument can be used for dedicated Manchester United supporter schools.) If a significant number of parents find the idea of a bisexual teacher or a teacher of colour threatening we should not give their ideas precedence over the rights of someone who has dedicated their career to educating children.

What's worse, the Iona Institute's ethos argument isn't even internally consistent. To quote from their Case for Catholic Schools:

The overriding reason for Catholic schools is, of course, to provide schools to the Catholic community that have as their aim assisting parents in passing on their faith to their children, in addition to providing an excellent all-round education.
This recognises that schools are first and foremost a response to the wishes of parents. It recognises that parents are the primary educators of their children and in this regard the State must be the servant, not the master. That is, rather than the State providing children with the education the State thinks is best for them, the State endeavours to enable parents to send their children to a school that best reflects the parents' own beliefs and ethos.
[emphasis mine]
 They (wisely) do not call for special privileging of the Catholic Hierarchy's views. Instead they call for a school that best reflects "the parents' own beliefs and ethos." I find this delicious, because as anyone who has ever met an Irish Catholic will know, the Iona Institute do not reflect their views.

What would such a school look like? First we need an idea of modern Irish Catholic thought. For that we should consult the 2012 Association of Catholic Priests survey. Some findings of note:

  • 87% of Irish Catholics want more married priests. Married Protestant priests can and do convert to Catholicism. Most Irish Catholics want marriage to be open to all priests.
  • 77% want women to be admitted to the priesthood.
  • 75% consider the Catholic Hierarchy's teaching on sexuality to be irrelevant to both themselves and their families.
  • Only 18% consider homosexuality to be immoral.
  • 63% want laypeople and priests to have greater involvement in choosing bishops.

A school that best reflects the beliefs and ethos of Irish Catholic parents. would ignore the Catholic Hierarchy's teaching on sexuality in general. It would not consider homosexuality to be immoral. It would call for married and female priests. And it would encourage this liberal Catholic viewpoint to be given greater voice in choosing bishops that represented their ethos. And given the powers in section 37, they could refuse to hire any teacher who did not share this ethos. In short, the schools that the Iona Institute call for would also be the stuff of their night terrors.

If they're honest and consistent not even the Iona Institute want special privileging of religious belief in employment law. So let's drop it.

A favour to ask: I'd like to improve my writing. If there's anything you think I should work on (length, clarity, clichés, readability, flow) I'd be grateful if you dropped me a comment. Thanks!

2 comments:

si do said...

Your argument appears to imply that there should be a degree of democracy, or shared Irish inter subjectivity, in deciding, what is right and wrong. Or for that matter appropriate behaviour.

Fortunately, we have God's word, and the guiding light that is the Iona Institute to lead us on the path of righteousness.

si do said...
This comment has been removed by the author.