Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
John Hamill wants an apology from Táinaiste, Micheál Martin, and for Irish Defence Force Regulation to be changed.
John Hamill

Atheist who was discriminated against by Defence Forces asks Micheál Martin for an apology

John Hamill was discriminated against after he applied to be a chaplain with the Defence Forces and is asking the Táinaiste for an apology.

AN ATHEIST WHO was discriminated against by the Irish Defence Forces has written to the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin asking for an apology on behalf of the Department of Defence.

John Hamill, a former officer with Atheist Ireland, felt he was discriminated against after he applied to be a chaplain with the Defence Forces, without being of “monotheistic belief” (ie believing in one god).

He was not considered for the post and said that he wished to ensure that a post of chaplain was not filled in this way again.

He told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that he had written to the Defence Forces several times regarding the appointment of military chaplains and indicated his interest in the role.

In his correspondence, Hamill stated that the Defence Forces employed those of all faiths and none, but that Christianity was being ‘imposed’ on members.

He also noted that the Defence Forces was not a religious body, nor was it under the control of a religious body, so section 37 of the Employment Equality Act did not apply.

During the case, a witness for the Department of Defence argued a humanist chaplain could undo years of liaison work with religious fundamentalists in south Lebanon, including Hezbollah supporters. They attributed not considering Hamill for the position to this reasoning.

However, Hamill told The Journal that a humanist chaplain “made more sense” for non-Christians and atheists in the Defence Forces.

“Chaplains can only be appointed by bishops. I think that’s hugely disrespectful to our non-Christian members,” he said. 

The Chaplaincy Service in the Defence Forces says it provides “pastoral care, spiritual support and guidance to all members of the Defence Forces at home and on duty overseas”. 

In a ruling published this week, the WRC said Hamill was discriminated against, but he is not due to receive any compensation.

“In respect of redress, this is an access to employment case. Redress is for the effects of discrimination. I decide that an order for compensation is not warranted, in particular as the complainant submitted that his aim in taking the case was to ensure that this did not happen again,” the ruling states.

The WRC did, however, order the Department of Defence to review its chaplaincy appointments process, which currently only recruits from Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy, “to ensure that suitably qualified candidates can apply for military chaplaincy roles in order to reflect and foster the diversity of members of the Defence Forces”.

Hamill told The Journal: “The military say the only people who can be a chaplain in our military can be priests. It’s not an accident.”

He said not only does the regulation mean that non-Christians cannot become chaplains, but women cannot either.

During the WRC hearing, Fr McCay-Morrissey, a chaplain who had deployments in south Lebanon, said he was an ordained minister of a “world religion”, which helped develop relations with local families.

He said that a non-religious chaplain would not be in the same position to build up relationships with local religious leaders in Lebanon. However, he acknowledged the role played by humanist chaplains and said that he was not under an obligation to change people’s minds regarding their religious beliefs.

Fr McCay-Morrissey said he would “absolutely not” give the last rites to a fatally wounded soldier without knowing their beliefs first, nor would he convert them on their deathbed.

“I’m not in the business of trying to convert people to my way of thinking,” Fr McCay-Morrissey said, adding that Hamill was mistaken when he stated that canon law bound him to proselytise.

Hamill has written a letter to the Tánaiste, asking him for an apology and for regulations around military chaplains for atheists and minority religions in the Defence Forces be changed.

Hamill said the best way to imagine it was “with the shoe on the other foot” and added that it would be disrespectful if a Christian were to be asked to speak with an Imam about Allah, instead of a chaplain “of someone like mind”.

“I just don’t think that’s appropriate in a pluralist country… We’re no longer a monotone Catholic country,” Hamill added.

His letter is asking the Tánaiste to apologise to “all members of the Irish Defence Forces for the religious discrimination” within the organisation.

Cabinet requests

Hamill asked the Tánaiste in his letter to ensure that “Cabinet begins the process” of changing regulations so that military chaplaincy roles are fairly given, regardless of the beliefs of the applicant.

The letter reads: “Will you seek to ensure that no more atheist and minority faith citizens of Ireland are again the victims of such unlawful religious discrimination in the appointment of State-funded positions?

“I have been raising these issues with your Department since 2018, but unfortunately I have yet to receive any meaningful response to literally dozens of letters on the subject,” it continues, adding that during the same period, Roman Catholic bishops “have had no such difficulty in receiving prompt responses from your Department when they have sought to have priests appointed to State-funded military chaplain roles, without advertisement or tender”.

“Now that the behaviour of your Department in this regard has been found to constitute unlawful religious discrimination against me, perhaps it might be possible for you to answer my questions?

“Notwithstanding the refusal of your predecessor to engage with me in any way on this subject, I’m hopeful that you will be able to manage a person reply to a letter from a mere citizen like myself, even if I am not a Roman Catholic bishop.”

Hamill said that regulations must be changed to reflect the pluralist nature of the country today. 

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel