Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Religious discrimination claim over college ‘Jesus’ email is rejected

 Ian KILROY | Master of Arts | Technological University Dublin - City  Campus, Dublin | TU Dublin | School of Media

A Dublin university lecturer and Buddhist priest has lost his discrimination claim over getting an email about Lent from the college’s chaplaincy service.

The email from the Technical University of Dublin (TU Dublin) chaplaincy service on the occasion of Lent had asked: “Who is Jesus?”

“This proselytising notice was unsolicited,” Ian Kilroy, a Buddhist priest and journalism instructor at the School of Media, had submitted.

He took a claim against his employer under the Equal Status Act, claiming the university was failing to make available amenities for religious minorities.

Discrimination was denied by TU Dublin, which said Mr Kilroy’s claims about Catholic control of the chaplaincy were “factually incorrect”.

Mr Kilroy told the Workplace Relations Commission in May that the university had five Christian chaplains and none from a minority religious background.

He said the €260,000-a-year chaplaincy service was subcontracted to the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, which “controls the chaplaincy, appoints chaplains and invoices TU Dublin for the services provided”.

Mr Kilroy said that the new campus at Grangegorman had a consecrated Catholic church at the centre of its student hub — but that students and staff of other faiths had “no such dedicated accommodation”.

“There is clear inequality in the provision of space, which seems to be illegal under equality legislation,” he said in his submission.

The “exclusively Christian” chaplaincy had led to “numerous instances of discrimination”, he said.

He said the most recent example before his complaint was an email on February 15th, 2021 from the chaplaincy service on the occasion of Lent asking: “Who is Jesus?”

“This proselytising notice was unsolicited,” he said.

He said the college’s chaplaincy was “exclusively Christian” and under the control of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin — which he said had not given its approval for a proposal from the Dublin City Interfaith Forum to provide minority faith services.

He said that there was a weekly Mass offered on campus and regular Christian services, including remembrance services for deceased staff, but none for Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist staff or students.

Mr Kilroy said the “grossly unequal and discriminatory” provision of goods and services led him to close the college’s Zen Society because of the “poor” accommodation shared by minority faiths.

He said there had been “tensions between faith traditions” including “anti-Buddhist remarks left in this shared space” and the vandalising of meditation cushions and religious materials there, including material being replaced with the Muslim Koran.

He said the Dublin City Interfaith Forum made a proposal to make minority faith services available, but this required the approval of the Archbishop of Dublin, which had not been forthcoming.

“There is something wrong when the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has to approve of, and controls, the provision of religious services to minority faiths in an institution,” he said.

Adjudicating officer Pat Brady wrote that Mr Kilroy had a “significant sense of grievance arising from how the respondent addresses the needs of those of his or other minority faiths” and gave numerous examples of concerns.

“There is provision for dialogue which appears to be well established in the university and the complainant has perhaps failed to develop a sufficiently thought-out strategy to avail of the opportunity to engage in that dialogue as effectively as he might,” he wrote.

Mary-Paula Guinness BL, who appeared for TU Dublin, instructed by Holmes Solicitors, argued that it actively listened to feedback and would engage to find acceptable solutions in the area.

The college’s position was that Catholic staff and students had “no dedicated accommodation on campus”, she said.

“St Laurence’s Church is a multi-purpose space that is bookable for any event,” she said.

The planning permission for the new campus had required that it remain in use as a church, she said, and there was usually one Mass a week offered there.

The college also provided “dedicated neutral spaces in each campus for reflection, prayer and moments of peace” with storage for any objects required, Ms Guinness said.

TU Dublin had put its pastoral care and chaplaincy service out to tender most recently in 2020, with the Archdiocese of Dublin the only entity to respond, it was submitted.

Ms Guinness argued that the Archdiocese had contracted support from the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, which “assists with providing multi-faith representation”.

She said Mr Kilroy “appears to be under the misunderstanding that TU Dublin has an arrangement with the Catholic Church only”.

“This is incorrect,” she said.

Ms Guinness also said Mr Kilroy’s claim that TU Dublin’s Pastoral Care and Chaplaincy service exclusively supported Christian traditions was also “factually incorrect”.

She said Diwali and Ramadan had also been observed and that Mr Kilroy himself had appeared in a video on the service’s social media marking the Buddhist holy day of Vesak in May 2022.

“It would be impossible and/or impracticable to mark every event,” she said.

Ms Guinness argued further that Mr Kilroy’s complaints regarding the closure of the Zen Society in 2017 and proposals around an “associate chaplaincy” fell outside the six-month statutory time frame for his complaint.

The college’s position was that as it did not ask its staff or students to identify their faith and that universal emails were sent regarding religious celebrations.

“Sending an email in relation to a faith to which the complainant does not adhere does not amount to discrimination,” she said.

The adjudicating officer said the complainant had made a “reasonable point” about the status of the Catholic church on campus, and that despite being designated a “multi-purpose” space, it had been built as a church and retained characteristics and iconography “which may be regarded as uncomfortable or insensitive for those of a non-Catholic, or non-Christian faith”.

“For others this will not matter, of course,” Mr Brady wrote.

He said that the “optics” of the close involvement of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin in the TU Dublin chaplaincy service were “unfortunate” but that “no specific act of discrimination could be discerned here”.

Mr Brady wrote that Mr Kilroy’s case was limited to the email of February 2021 about Lent activities, and that he agreed with the respondent that it was not a discriminatory act.

His reasoning was that there had been no less favourable treatment by means of an “act or omission” which put Mr Kilroy at a disadvantage compared to another.

He found that the use of a universal email list to distribute the notice was “not much different from a poster being displayed on the campus to the same effect”, but said there might be a case to provide for an option to unsubscribe to such notices.

Dismissing the claim, he wrote that the email had said to a “sense of general historic grievance about the treatment of [Mr Kilroy’s] faith” and that any issues he had would “receive a receptive ear if pursued”.