The former Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu says she did not discriminate against the prominent atheism campaigner John Hamill – and would not discriminate against any member of his group, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
“There’s a lot of my friends of a non-religious background, atheists, agnostics – one is even in Mr Hamill’s Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ... it’s not something I would discriminate against,” Councillor Chu told a Workplace Relations Commission equality hearing on Tuesday.
The row centres on a series of religious services live-streamed from the garden of the Mansion House in Dublin in December 2020 under the banner of the Dublin city Inter-Faith Forum called Rewind 2020, marking major religious festivals which had been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic that year.
Mr Hamill claims non-religious groups should have had a slot in the event series and that he was discriminated against on the basis of his non-religious beliefs as a representative group styling itself the Dublin city Inter-Non-Faith Forum.
This, he told the tribunal, comprised the Alliance of Former Muslims, The Church of Naturalism and his own group, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster – whose adherents also refer to themselves as “Pastafarian”.
In response to questioning on whether his group was a religion or not – with Dublin City Council’s lawyers saying he had changed his position down the years – Mr Hamill said he accepted “without challenge or caveat” a previous WRC ruling which found his organisation is not a religion for the purposes of equality legislation.
Mr Hamill’s complaint under the Equal Status Act 2000 against the office of former Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu is on the grounds of discrimination against him because of his non-religious beliefs, which is denied by the city council and by Ms Chu.
Its barrister argued that the Dublin city Inter-Faith Forum had organised the Rewind 2020 events in its own right and that if Mr Hamill believed himself to have been the subject of discrimination, he ought to take his complaint up with that group.
Counsel for the city, Claire Bruton BL, who appeared instructed by Dublin City Council in-house solicitor Edel Bradley, said Mr Hamill’s claim was “misconceived” in law as the Equal Status Act did not recognise discrimination against groups, only individual people.
She said the city management accepted the garden space in question was “not outside the provisions of the act”, however.
Ms Bruton urged the adjudicator to look at the matter in context of the pandemic and that the evidence put forward by the complainant side had not made it clear that the practices of the non-religious had been restricted in the same manner as those of faith.
In closing, the complainant said the city council had “no idea” about what significant events had been missed by the nonreligious during the pandemic – arguing that it was “the purest form of prejudice” that the city council was “making conclusions about people because of the groups they’re involved in”.
Ms Bruton said any question of prejudice on the part of the council was something she “refuted in the strongest of terms”.
The case adjourned for Mr Dolan to prepare his written decision, which he said he would deliver to the parties in due course.