People act in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons. When it comes to actions that cause suffering, the basis of the person's justification doesn't matter - all we are interested in is making it clear the action is not acceptable. When religious ideas of morality and blasphemy are institutionalized, inequality results as other religions are overlooked or even indirectly proscribed. Neil Kressel in his book on religious extremism lists "the enshrinement of religion in the fundamental rules of the state" as one of religion's most dangerous attributes (out of three)1 . Many countries grant that laws that protect religious belief also protect non-belief - the UK has had such secularist law since 20062, and in late 2016 the USA also adopted this stance3. "Secularism" is the idea that in order to treat people fairly, all special religious rights should be abolished as democracies should not legislate on beliefs, but on actions (regardless of religion). Therefore, it is rarely required to mention specific religions in law, or to exempt them from law.
It is very telling that while society's morals change over time, religion's acceptance of new ideas (from human rights and equality to animal and environmental care) often lags behind by several generations. This hasn't always been the case; once upon a time, in general, moral thinkers were religious reflectives. Bryan Wilson, the esteemed sociologist of religion, records that instead of shaping the morals of secular society, religion in the West now slowly follows4.
An effect of this lag is that religions and sects that are stricter and more resistant to change their moral stances, find themselves increasingly at odds with society at large. This is particularly true in the realm of human rights; most campaigners are engaged much of the time in struggles against religious groups, religious lobbies, and religious activists who are opposed to various aspects of human rights. Typical battles occur over gender equality, tolerance of sexuality and the immorality of prejudice, abortion rights and women's rights, animal welfare - not to mention other topics such as science education. Newer religions fare better as they are founded on more modern morals.
The law is based on a rational application of rules designed, in Western Democracies, to allow the greatest amount of freedom without allowing people to infringe on the rights of others5. Many religious beliefs conflict with this. It is not a government's job to declare which beliefs are right, so a government must mediate between those who sometimes wish to restrict other's freedoms (such as some Christians wanting strict Sunday-trading laws, or some Muslims wanting to restrict freedom of speech and dress), and those who do not subscribe to such beliefs. If the government submits to one religious belief, it often means others are outlawed. In general, the government must create as little religion-specific law as possible. Sometimes religious beliefs will conflict with these wider laws.
An article in The Economist highlights some of the diverse exceptions and religious-specific legislation currently enshrined in law in the West:
“Sikhs in British Columbia can ride motorcycles without helmets; some are campaigning for the right not to wear hard hats on building sites. Muslims and Jews slaughter animals in ways that others might consider cruel; Catholic doctors and nurses refuse to have anything to do with abortion or euthanasia. [...] America's Amish community, fundamentalists who eschew technology, has generally managed to get around the law with respect to social security, child labour and education. [...] In Britain, for example, religious courts or beth din used by Orthodox Jews have been recognised by statute - and in 2002, divorce law was adjusted in a way that acknowledged the role of these bodies. (If a Jewish husband refuses to seek a religious divorce - thus denying his wife the chance to remarry in a synagogue - a civil judge can now delay the secular divorce). [...]
In southern Europe, says Marco Ventura, a religious law professor at the University of Siena, Catholics are now more worried about the perceived advance of Islam than about maintaining old entitlements for their faith. "Their dilemma is whether the rights which their faith enjoys can be justified when new ones, like Islam, are appearing in Europe." Some of Italy's Muslims, meanwhile, have been demanding "secularism" in the sense of diluting the Roman Catholic culture of the state, which is epitomised by crucifixes in courtrooms, classrooms and hospitals.”
A principal example is blasphemy laws. The Muslim Quran states that the punishment for blasphemy is death; yet, their definitions of blasphemy are so wide that to enforce such superstitions as law would infringe the freedom of many others. The murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, and the attempts on Salmon Rushdie's life are two prime examples (not forgetting the dozens of murders per month that fail to make the headlines7). Muslims are sometimes led by their religion to commit illegal acts. Likewise with religions that implore adherents to use certain drugs which are illegal in some countries, or religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) that recommend strict, but barbaric, food preparation methods that fall foul of any reasonable law against animal cruelty. The stricter the beliefs, the more chance there is, as time progresses, that their dogmas will contradict the slowly expanding legal realms of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The result of all these ancient superstitions mixing with modern freedoms is that religious people either have to overrule aspects of their traditional (intolerant) beliefs, as Western Christians have largely done, or, have to sometimes go against the legal grain of the developed world. This may explain the higher rate of criminal and antisocial activities by religious people, encompassing the growing numbers of Christian fundamentalists caught committing crimes against abortion and sexual health clinics and biological scientists.
Sometimes religious requirements can amount to abuse, for example when beliefs lead to parents denying their children important medical care. Religious beliefs should only be given a limited amount of consideration when faced with the irrefutable and practical facts of the world. Aside from children, minorities and religious dissenters can often be at risk from religious group norms. "Further difficulties can arise in the relationship between the protection of religious interests and the principal of non-discrimination on grounds of gender" [European Commission, 2006]. Implied in this is the very restrictive behaviour of some religions towards women, most famously being Christians who cite St Paul's anti-woman 'laws' and Muslims who base wider restrictions of women on Islamic tradition. It is not as simple as granting religious communities the right to govern themselves, as minorities within these communities still need the force of the law to protect them against discrimination and oppression.
Fair secularism demands that when it comes to religious laws, people can mostly be free to voluntarily follow their own religion. But many organised religious groups are not happy with individual belief, or even in a religious community governing itself. They want the wider society to conform to their own beliefs and dogmas. In the USA, powerful groups battle to make sure others follow their own rules. Battles in the courts and in society continually reverberate from state to state, stemming from Christian grassroots organisations fighting against public education (especially astronomy and evolutionary biology) and against abortion rights and contraception access, amongst many other issues. This continued through the 1960s and 1970s and seems since then to be getting worse. The courts are to-and-froing between sometimes enforcing unbiased secularisation, and at other times re-instating medieval church-state enforced Christianity. Fundamentalists have succeeded in banning books; including "such classics as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter , William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and books by Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, and John Steinbeck, all of which have been seen as promoting the 'religion' of secular humanism by questioning faith in God or portraying religion negatively". Quoted from "Fundamentalism" by Malise Ruthven (2007) p11-18 which provides a good summary of the religious right in the USA.
There are three options:
Traditional Establishment: Pick one form of religion and keep it institutionalized.
Libertarian Grants: Adopt special religious rights and exemptions for all religions.
Secularism: Abolish all special religious rights.
2.1. Traditional Establishment: Should we pick one religion and institutionalize it at the expense of all others, and at least be consistent with our discrimination? How would we know which religion to pick? What version of that religion would we pick when all major denominations have large internal variants, opposed on many major areas of morals? The choice would be arbitrary and not based on morals or truth, but on a pragmatic census of which sect has most influence and power. Most modern governments have emerged from a history of established religion: modern governments are attempting to be more secular, but are often at odds with remnants of strong institutions of conservative religious power.
Picking one form of a religion over all others is clearly not acceptable in a world where governments do not force civilians to believe in particular philosophies or theologies. Where freedom is the norm, it seems antidotal to grant extra rights to those who believe in certain things. Instead, government discrimination should be based on logical causes-and-consequences regardless of the religion (or lack-of-religion) of the citizens who are affected by legislation.
2.2. Libertarian Grants: Should we attempt to include special clauses for all religions in order to give them full rights to follow their religions? Firstly, this ends up with fewer rights to those who are not religious. Secondly, religious people come up with all kinds of requirements on behavior. It is generally not possible for ordered, mature society to allow religious people to adhere to all their religious rules. Granting special religious rights to members of certain religions whilst not granting the right to everyone is unjust. This kind of religious discrimination has two solutions, religious exemptions for all or total abolishment of religious rights.
We could allow all religious followers to do what they wish according to the wants of their religion. So, Satanists can make Human sacrifices, veiled Muslims can avoid security procedures, Christians can refuse to employ (or serve) gay people, and any insane cult can enforce its own morals on the rest of the world. The result would be social anarchy, destruction, pain and misery. We'd be catapulted back into the dark ages when superstition and religious barbarianism rules supreme. This path is clearly a backwards step.
2.3. Secularism: We can drop the special benefits for religious beliefs. So, it is immoral to discriminate against gays on account of their sexuality. Therefore it is immoral even if you are a Christian: your religious beliefs do not protect you from having to uphold societal morals. This overall abolishing of special religious rights promotes equality, an overall sensible and tolerant society where religious beliefs are not capable of undermining morality. Any rights granted to specific members of a specific religion should either be granted to all citizens (if they are acceptable rights), or, not granted at all (if they are unacceptable). In either case, referring to particular religions is superfluous.
Clearly governments should always tread the path of secularisation, which protects society as a whole from unacceptable religious behavior and preserves equality and fairness to the maximum extent, albeit at the expense of satisfying those who want exemptions for religious reasons (or any other reason). Permissiveness towards religious behavior or insane behavior is a slippery slope back to the time before the rule of law. In reality, as you'd expect in Western commercialist countries, the government normally buckles under political pressure. So, Christian Cathedrals are allowed to sound their loud bells early on Sunday morning. But, Satanists (and everyone else) are not allowed to play equally loud black metal music because it 'disturbs the peace'. This is because the Christians have more powerful political lobby groups, and isn't the result of either democracy or reason. This is the way of pragmatic democracy, but is not the best, or most democratic, solution.
There are many aspects of Sharia that the West cannot legislate for. For example, many of the statements of Islamic Law on divorce, marriage, repudiations and inheritance treat women unfairly and inequally. In Islam, for each part of an inheritance given to a daughter, two parts must be given to a son8. This cannot be law in the West, as it is against the moral values of equality where by default, all siblings are treated equally regardless of gender. Despite this, people are free to make their own wills and grant assets to whoever they want. So the simple way around this is to voluntarily follow Sharia, and not rely on the State to enforce it. Those who do not wish to follow Sharia, therefore, cannot be forced to do so by law (which in a free world, is what you would expect). This gives maximum freedom, and it is indeed the way things are in the West. This is the case with many of the 'conflicts' between Sharia and the law. Another example is the period of widowhood: In Islamic law, there is a time limit on how quickly you can remarry. Muslims are completely free to adhere to this, as long as they stick to their own beliefs. Some suspect that the real issue is that male Islamic judges have no legal power to prevent women from remarrying. In the West, this protects the legal rights of women, but if women wish to follow these rules they still can. This is freedom of religion: you can't force people to follow religious rules that they don't want to follow but you can voluntarily follow your own religion, as long as you don't infringe on the rights of other people. Ergo, there is little requirement for the creation of Islam-specific laws by the State.”
Of the Union's 27 states, according to Wikipedia, only five have an official state religion. Cyprus (Cypriot Orthodox Church), Denmark (Danish National Church), Greece (Church of Greece), Malta (Roman Catholic Church) and England (Church of England)9. Some states have close relationships with various religious bodies that are not enshrined in law.
European Law institutionalizes equality of religion, gender and sexuality (TEU Articles 6, 49), and Europe's democracies enshrine many other individual human rights, which for the most part are given priority over religious authority in order to stem human rights abuses. Rights include freedom of religion and freedom from religion (UK: Equality Act, 2006, section 44, Europe: EC, 2006, p30). This means people have the right to whatever beliefs they want, and to call themselves whatever religion they want whereas historically apostasy and heresy have been punishable crimes. Thus, human rights in Europe has limited traditional religion. Religions in Europe are not free to discriminate against each other; anti-discrimination laws mean that employers cannot enforce any particular workplace religion10 and are sometimes forced to accommodate a persons' religious beliefs as long as it is practical to do so (this is especially the case in some countries such as the UK), and in others many private and local agreements allow some religious people special privileges at work. But the overall attitude is that, due to the multiple religions that make up the European Union, Law cannot impose religious rules. The ethos that brings most tolerance and equality, therefore, is strict secularism. This goes to its extreme in countries like France, where, according to the EU Monitoring Center, "religion is very rarely taken into consideration within companies' diversity initiatives and the majority of the population would seem to adhere to the idea that religion belongs to the private sphere of life"11.
When it comes to religion, the following values and customs are pertinent to keep in mind, in Europe:
There are secularising trends towards some of the following areas of tolerance, in a multi-faith Europe:
These values ensure that official culture does not indirectly discriminate against anyone by enforcing one brand of faith over another, and ensures people are free to pursue their own religions at will, but, not at the expense of other people's freedoms.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations), article 18, and the EU's Charter of Human Rights (article 9) state that everyone has freedom of religion and belief. This means you can't punish people for apostasy or heresy or any other element of thought crime. CHR article 9 gives the exception that rights can be curbed for the protection of the fundamental rights of others. On human rights and religion, European Law is most clear when it comes to the employer/employee relationship (which also covers public services):
“The Employment Equality Directive introduced in 2000 requires all Member States to protect against discrimination on grounds of religion and belief in employment, occupation and vocational training. [...] The complexity of [it] comes from the fact that while Europe is committed to upholding religious freedom, it is equally committed to equality and other fundamental freedoms. At times these rights are complementary, [but] in other respects, the rights are in tension, with religious groups failing to recognise equality rights or the right of those outside the religious group.”
European Commission (2006)13
A second complication is to do with what is called reasonable accommodation. This means: if a worker makes a specific request to hir employer that has something to do with hir beliefs, hir employer has to consider it. A denial must, if it is to be legal, be for clear practical purposes and not merely theoretical ones. So an employer cannot reason that "if loads of Sikhs joined my company, how could I continue to operate if I let them have this?", as this is a theoretical problem. It would be a real problem if specific persons on the roster would be made unhappy at the granting of a specific request.
“Employees whose requests that a work uniform be adapted to accommodate religious practice are refused would suffer indirect discrimination. The employer's requirement that staff wear the uniform would put religious members of staff at a particular disadvantage, and the requirement would need to be justified.”
European Commission (2006)
UK Law: Beliefs are probably only defensible under the Employment Equality Directive in the UK, if they have a certain level of "cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance"14. Thus, it is the case that the person making the complaint of discrimination must prove their level of commitment to their beliefs, and the employer must prove why he cannot accommodate the specific request. The exact details of how such cases will be worked out is not yet clear.
In the first section of Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006, section 44 states in very clear terms that non-belief is protected in the same way as belief, and that the non-religious are protected in the same way that religionists are.
Problems that are discussed in the European Commission document "Religion and Belief Discrimination in Employment - the EU law" (2006) include the problems that by upholding some religious rights, you can infringe on other rights. For example, German Sunday trading laws that protect Christian's ideas that Sunday is a 'day of rest', conflict with Jews who, having originally been the authors of the Hebrew scriptures know instead that Saturday (the Sabbath) is the day of rest. As a result, if Jews rest on a Saturday and shops are closed on a Sunday, they in practice cannot shop or use various other services at the weekends. Here it is impossible that national government can accommodate either group. In reality, the secular conclusion is that the government should not take into account the specific requests of either group. Along these lines, most religion-specific legislation would be utterly impractical if it was applied to all religions.
With airport security and Muslim veils, the occasional Muslim demand that women wear a full veil that should never be removed anywhere but the home, conflicts with the basic requirements of security ID checks. Airports have attempted to satisfy reasonable accommodation by offering private rooms with female staff, but hardline Muslims do not accept this either. In such cases, there is no legal way for such Muslims to pass security checks. This is not discrimination, it is simply true that Muslim beliefs create impractical problems for certain aspects of modern life, and it is inappropriate to imply that this is somehow the fault of security procedure.
The historical dominance of Christianity power in England led to the full institutionalizing of Christianity. Christianity is the 'established religion' of the UK. Although much of this is reversed - public offices are no longer restricted to members of Catholic or Protestant denominations, some oddities do still remain. For example "the Church of England is required by law to display a complete, accessible Bible in all its places of worship"16. There is no similar law placing requirements on Mosques or Synagogues. Such an outdated law is nowadays considered improper: the state has no right to interfere in such a way. Most of the time the legal entanglement of Church and State involve the former having disproportionate or improper influence on the latter. Bishops still sit in the House of Lords (the UK's second chamber of government) - "Britain is the only country left in the democratic world that allows clerics to sit in its legislature as of right"17. Although there is a long-lasting "disestablishment" movement in the UK, the public do not know enough about religion to be roused to either oppose or support it. The government tends not to devote much time to actively dismantling such apparatus because even though it is an democratic embarrassment, the public themselves don't often notice.
In a 2012 poll conducted by YouGov and BSAS, 81% of the British stated that religion is a private matter, and should be separate from politics (only 6% thought otherwise), and 71% said that religious leaders should not influence the government. Only 7% think that Britain would be a better place if more religious leaders held public office. Battles between Christian powers and democratic propriety have a long history.”
The Act of Settlement of 1701 enshrines various inequalities into law (amongst other (beneficial) changes to the Constitution). It (1) prevents potential successors to the throne from marrying Roman Catholics, (2) gives male heirs preference of succession, (3) prevents Catholics (or anyone married to a Catholic) from sitting on the throne and (4) forces the Sovereign to "swear to maintain the Church of England (and after 1707, the Church of Scotland)"18. This prejudice is surely at odds with any notion of human rights or democracy, and itself falls foul of equality laws, and as such the UK Government has attempted to scrap it. The latest attempt in 2011 was abandoned after opposition from the Church of England.19. The Church then, takes a power-games approach to Law rather than a moral approach, and for this their claim to be moral guardians is clearly misrepresentational. Such religion-based prejudiced ought to be sternly removed and the Church ignored.
The UK's second chamber of government is called the House of Lords. 26 Anglican Bishops and Archbishops exercise an anachronistic right to sit in this legislative body where they are known as the Lords Spiritual. These particular Bishops have in recent generations played a persistent, active, aggressive and decisive role in battling against anti-discrimination measures against gays in the present time, and against blacks, slaves and women, in older times.20
“Even though their church can claim the active adherence of less than 5% of citizens [the] "lords spiritual" still have clout [...] in February, [the] government backed away from a confrontation over the question of whom churches should employ - and in particular, which posts can be barred to gays. The government's hopes were fairly modest. It was not questioning the right of religious bodies to follow their own beliefs when hiring priests or imams, it merely wanted to clarify that, in recruiting for non-religious jobs (accountants, for example), churches must obey the law and refrain from discrimination against gays. But pursuing even this cautious aim was deemed unwise at a time when many religious leaders, including the Pope Benedict, were opposed.”
The vast majority of the UK are not Christian and yet the Bishops continue to sit in the Lords, representing the interests of their own dwindled Church. Archbishops, when they retire, are routinely given life peership in the House of Lords. It is an embarrassment for democracy that they continue to sit there, but it is a hallmark of the way Church and State became symbiotic in history. It may have done in an age where most people were Christian and human rights didn't exist. Now democracy caters for all beliefs, non-discrimination and human rights are defined internationally, and Brits are no longer Christian, it will not do that the Bishops continue to sit in the House of Lords. Britain is the only democratic country left in the world that grants clerics the right to sit in its legislature22. Indeed, the Labour government (and the Church itself) have both tabled for continued disestablishment in recent years.
In 2010 March results of a poll revealed that seven in ten Christians in Britain believed it is wrong that Bishops sit in the House of Lords. A lobbying group called Power2010 organised voters to send 50,000 letters to Church of England bishops, asking them to back reform, and the campaign was supported by "a wide range of Christian and non-religious groups, including Ekklesia, the Student Christian Movement, and the British Humanist Association.
Sessions in the House of Lords start with a period of prayer. In 2008 Lord Rana requested a multi-faith opening, and shortly afterwards five peers all requested that they be scrapped altogether, or replaced with a simple period of silence, which is the practice in N. Ireland. This sensible request eliminates an anachronistic procedure that was only ever fair as long as everyone was Christian - or at least, theist. A spokesperson for the Church of England opposed the amendment.23
The emergence of hard secularism might seem to be fair to all but some historical factors can still lead to accidental inequality. For example, because Cathedrals happen to be old, many of them are listed buildings and receive state funding. A series of grants from English Heritage goes back to 1991, in 2008 28 Cathedrals were granted £2.1 million24. Even while Christian congregations shrink, growing Muslim mosques receive no state-involved funds on that scale because their buildings are new. A Christian heritage has therefore led to benefits that are no longer given to new religions. Such elements of perceivable inequality must be battled over on a case-by-case basis, the most important lesson is to take the potential for accidental inequality into account. Most awareness-raising on this will be done by civil protest and lobby groups.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, warns that "religious campaigners are trying relentlessly to reverse hard-won equality rights or [to] give religious employees carte blanche to exempt themselves from the laws and regulations that apply to everyone else". The point of equality laws is that they protect all people. There's no point encoding the morality of tolerance into law if you then exclude Christians because they happen to be a member of a religion that frequently discriminates against gays. The moral case is made and discrimination on grounds of sexuality is now illegal as well as wrong.
In the UK many of these claims are funded and managed by (1) the Christian Institute and (2) by the Christian Legal Centre behind which is lawyer Andrea Minichiello Williams (related to Christian Concern). Many cases are dismissed quickly and receive little attention, for example:
"The case of the family court judge in Sheffield who didn't want to deal with gay couples was thrown out" (2009).
Unfortunately some out-of-court settlements have gone in favour of Christian prejudice. For example:
Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service didn't fight against "a case brought against them by a Catholic firefighter who refused to provide fire safety literature to gay people. Instead of seeing the case through, the Council settled out of court". If they had fought it, they would have won.
Tolerance, equality and human rights prevent the immoral abuse of unpopular minorities, but, when it comes to homosexuality, Christian institutions are conducting a world-wide battle to make themselves exempt from the growing tide of democratic fairness towards those of all sexualities. The Catholic Church itself is the most powerful campaigner for anti-gay discrimination. In response to the long stream of failed cases in Europe, a Vatican Radio broadcast the Vatican's foreign minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti saying that "everyone in Europe should have the right to object to issues they find immoral"25. The problem is, if your idea of "immoral" means removing the free and equal rights of others, then, such dogmas will, and should, remain firmly illegal. The Catholic Church is going to have to get used to a world that no longer adheres to its prejudiced dogmas.
In 2003 March two Sefton Council workers refused to take part in adoptions for gay parents, because they say it is against their Christian beliefs. As it is part of their job to perform this civil function, they have been fairly enough been threatened with dismissal for not doing their job. The Christian Institute fought for the two Christians' cause "based on Christian principles".
"However, during the consultation on the Employment Directive [...] the Christian Institute - and other faith groups - fought for the right to sack non-Christian workers who didn't support the "ethos" of faith-based organisations that employed them. Now, it seems they think it is OK for Christian employees to undermine the ethos of secular employers and get away with it".26
The Christian Institute wants employers to be able to sack people for not having the same beliefs as themselves, Christians, but also wants Christians to be able to remain in companies despite having religious beliefs that undermine the job the employees are supposed to do. The Christian Institute is not fighting for morals, but supporting sectarianism and discrimination based on religion, and therefore undermining the stability of equal and democratic society.
You simply can't discriminate against gays, even if you do believe they're "immoral". It is illegal to discriminate, even if you do so out of religious conviction. If employers such as Sefton Council bend to the wishes of those who wish to discriminate, then, those employers are encouraging illegal (and hurtful) behaviour.
National Secular Society's Terry Sanderson summarizes the Christian Institute's story-making, and the fact that some national newspapers report these attention-grabbing distortions. Newspapers include the Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and the Daily Mail (2009 Feb 20).
Registrars in Town Halls arrange marriages. They are government employees whose wages are paid for by the public, via taxes. They must therefore, treat everyone equally and without prejudice or discrimination, because they perform a service as a part of a democracy. Lillian Ladele felt that such lofty ideals were below her but lost her legal case after refusing to officiate for same-sex civil partnerships since 2005 Dec. Her battle against homosexuality caused additional complaints from her work colleagues, and by 2007 the office atmosphere was described as "deteriorated", at which point disciplinary action was brought against her. She took it to the Employment Tribunal and ironically claimed that she was being directly discriminated against and it was taken to an appeal court: "Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who refused to conduct same-sex Civil Partnerships on religious grounds, has been refused leave to appeal against the decision of an Employment Tribunal that she did not suffer religious discrimination at work. She has also been ordered to pay costs". Her case was funded by the UK evangelical political lobbying organisation The Christian Institute.The National Secular Society report that "Islington was also battling against considerable odds. These cases are being fought with huge determination and massive funds from evangelical Christian groups".
In 2009 the UK Court of Appeal upheld the ruling that she had not been subject to religious discrimination and BHA's Andrew Copson said "As the judgment made clear, in a modern liberal democracy, there can be no “opt out” for those who say they are unable to do their jobs because they wish to discriminate, even when that desire to discriminate derives from a religious belief. This judgment is extremely welcome"27. She then appealed yet again, now to the Supreme Court, but was refused on 2010 Mar 04. But it wasn't the end of the story! Lillian Ladele contined to fight, and the case eventually went to the European Court of Human Rights, where, on the 15th of Jan 2013, they also found that anti-gay bigotry was not excused in the public sector, not even by domineering Christians. She reinforced her irrational and prejudiced opinions with constant references to her belief in Christian beliefs, and the press have widely reported it as "Christian persecution".28
The Christian Institute's news article on the loss of the Ladele case said "Five judges rejected her claim, but two believed that she had suffered discrimination because of her Christian beliefs about marriage" which is a skewed perspective; she was not discriminated against because of her beliefs, but because of her behaviour. She was rightly fired because she was refusing to do her job. If her religious beliefs mean she puts herself under additional limits as to who she can treat equally, then, she should not choose to do a public-facing, public-sector job.
Gary McFarlane was employed by Relate to give counselling in sex and relationship issues. His strict Bible-based Christian beliefs were widely known especially that he sternly believed that he could never engage in any action that appeared to support homosexuality. However in 2007 he assured his employer that he would be able to, as Relate's charter states, treat people equally and fairly. He saw two lesbian couples with no problem, but in 2008 it became apparent he had serious issues with male homosexuals, and he was suspended. He stated his views had never changed, and that he still held he could never support homosexuals. He appealed, and then, supported by the Christian Legal Centre29, lodged a complaint with the Employment Tribunal, ironically, claiming that he suffered from direct discrimination because he wasn't allowed to discriminate. He lost the case, and the panel noted in particular how it is not practical to filter away homosexual clients from seeing him in confidence. It is quite easy to imagine that patients may have homosexual concerns that are not raised until they are already sat with Gary McFarlane, and that therefore he cannot be relied upon for counselling.
Catholic Care is a charity ran by the Diocese of Leeds. It stood alongside 12 other Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales that refused to place children with homosexual parents32, pretending that this was for religious reasons. Same-sex parents have proven to be as good parents, if not better, than typical heterosexual parents. Public services, or services that are counted as charitable (and therefore tax exempt), must abide by national and European human rights law, which is designed to fight discrimination and prejudice. The laws were effected in 2007. The Catholic adoption agencies faced a choice between helping children (who benefit more the quicker they are placed into homes) or sticking to their prejudices. For the sake of the children, several of these adoption agencies cut their ties with the Catholic Church and changed their policies32. But some battled on against modern equality, seeking instead to hold back human rights laws by seeking exemptions from them.
The Catholic Care's case was thrown out on 2011 Apr 26. Some arguments documented by the Judge are revealing. The charity, being defended chiefly by the RC Bishop Arthur Roche, threatens to close (doing even greater social harm) if it cannot continue to discriminate against homosexuals (Charity Commission 2011).33 This revealed that doctrine is more important than egalitarianism as a motive. Once it was known that Catholic Care's stance is not about children's welfare, then the entire charity was thrown into disrepute.
Legislation on clothing and religious symbols in secular democracies should be based around the principal of maximum freedom, and no compulsion. This means, you can't force people to abide by other people's religious rules, and, people should be as free as possible to wear whatever they want. Therefore, people are free to voluntarily follow whatever religious codes their religion insists upon. This allows maximum freedom of religion. But there are limitations: some religious rules cause real-life limitationson what an adherent can do. If a religion stipulates that hard hats cannot be worn, then, that person should not try to do a job that requires access to hard-had areas. If you can't uncover your face, then, you shouldn't try to bypass security checks that require identification to be checked. It is not reasonable to expect rules to be modified to accommodate the strange codes of the world's various religions. It is not discriminatory to enforce dress codes (as long as there is a reason for them). Conversely, it is biased to create religion-specific legislation to allow certain people to bypass laws that everyone else has to follow.”
Nadia Eweida had her case supported and funded by the Christian Legal Center (click for more).
“Nadia Eweida, the woman who sued BA because she claimed they had discriminated against her after she wore a cross over her uniform, also lost her case. Far from being a victim, Ms Eweida was described by the Employment Tribunal as a nightmare employee who made unreasonable demands, unfounded accusations and was insulting to her colleagues when they didn't share her religious beliefs.”
Nadia Eweida is a dedicated Coptic Christian from Egypt who worked for British Airways (BA), where a strict uniform allows no jewellery or accessories to be visible. Religious symbols have to be beneath the uniform if possible - if not possible, then, they can make exceptions (Sikhs for example may wear a BA-coloured turban). This rule and method of exception of course applies to all people, of all religions. However, in 2006 Nadia Eweida decided she wanted to wear a Christian cross that was visible, despite it being perfectly possible to wear a discrete one. She fought a series of battles with her line managers and a series of sensationalist news paper articles appeared about it, all of them from Eweida's point of view, claiming that BA was persecuting Christians. In early 2007, BA backed down and decided to allow Christians and Jews to wear visible symbols. However, Eweida fought to reclaim lost pay on occasions when she had been sent home for not following the dress code, a punishment which was standard practise. It went to the Employment Tribunal and then Employment Appeal Tribunal, which rejected the case as the cross was not a mandatory part of her religion, and, Christians were not being put at a disadvantage by being made to follow the same rules as all other employees. In 2010 she was still fighting, and the Court of Appeal also rejected her case. In addition, it brought out the fact that "British Airways had offered to move the applicant without loss of pay to work involving no public contact, but the applicant had chosen to reject this offer and instead to stay away from work and claim her pay as compensation". In other words she refused to wear the cross discretely and refused to accept a non-uniformed position. The problem was with Eweida herself, not with the clothing rules, and not with BA which tried to accommodate her. She took the fight to the Supreme Court, which refused the case. However, she got lucky with the European Court of Human Rights, where, on the 15th of Jan 2013, they found that as BA had since changed its clothing regulations to allow crosses, it clearly wasn't important enough to have warranted those codes in the first place. Unfortunately, the ECHR ruled in her favour by 5 votes to 2, and have awarded her €32,000 plus interest. Despite the facts, sensationalist and ill-informed coverage in the press has reported it simply as a case of an innocent Christian who just wanted to wear a cross.31.
Shirley Chaplin had her case supported and funded by the Christian Legal Center (click for more).
All medical staff know that loose jewellery cannot be worn in clinical situations. Christian Chaplin had worn her cross on a necklace continually since 1971, she says, but a new nurse's uniform at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, a State hospital, meant it was visible and loose. She was requested to take off her necklace, but she refused. Later the Employment Tribunal would see the health and safety documentation and evidence that it is a hygiene and safety risk - hence why no one else is allowed to wear them either. Other Christian nurses had complied when asked to remove jewellery and Sikhs and Muslim nurses and doctors have also been asked to remove religious paraphernalia from their clothes, which they had all done. Chaplin, however, refused, even though there is no religious requirement for her to wear necklaces, crosses or jewellery, as a Christian.
She was moved to a non-nursing position because her attitude meant she could not safely see patients, and she complained to the Employment Tribunal in 2009 complaining of discrimination (apparently unaware that other people had also had to comply with the universal clothing regulations). The case was rejected as patient's health and safety were more important than jewellery, no matter the reason for wanting to wear it. She took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, where, on the 15th of Jan 2013, they unanimously rejected her claims of discrimination, especially given the steps the hospital had taken to try to accommodate her irrationality. Not only did they move her to a position where the necklace was not a problem, but they "suggested that she could secure her cross and chain to the lanyard which held her identity badge. All staff were required to wear an identity badge clipped to a pocket or on a lanyard. However, they were also required to remove the badge and lanyard when performing close clinical duties", however, Chaplin rejected this solution because she would have to sometimes remove it.31
If a person has aspects of their behaviour (including choice of attire and accessories) that contradict the safety of others, it is of course correct that their employer can move them away from patients (or customers) or fire them. A nurse should have known better as the risks of jewellery are widely known, and, the evidence behind the dress codes were brought out very early in the 4-year debate. Is showing off your religion really more important than doing the right thing?
If someone wishes to kill an animal for food, but refuses to follow modern techniques designed to reduce the pain of the animal then it is right that their practise should be outlawed. Modern stunning techniques grant all the benefits of clean killing, with no pain or pollutants. It doesn't matter why some people want to pursue older barbarian practices, their reasons could be due to religion, insanity or stupidity. These modern practices were not available to the authors of the Hebrew texts, so these people think they also do not have to abide by moral inhibitions on some behaviour. It would be a step backwards in order to accommodate religious barbarity, but if it is deemed acceptable then rights should be granted to everyone: no reference to religion need be included in legislation.
“World religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism all embody a traditional and sometimes bizarre set of animal sacrifice rituals in their holy texts. These practices, despite being borderline barbaric and not in keeping with modern ideas of animal welfare, are still in use today by religious communities all over the world, including in the most modern countries. Although it might seem reasonable in the West to allow butchers to sell halal food, at the core of this familiar label is weird ritualistic behaviour that belongs in the dark ages. The ideals of pluralism have blinded us to the stark reality that some religious practices are simply unacceptable. Animal rights campaigners have joined forces with moral activists to try and curb religious ritual slaughter of animals. The general public associate blood rituals involving animals with Satanism, not realizing that they were all invented and are still practiced by mainstream religions - and that Satanism does not involve animal sacrifice. We compare scriptures below and look at some of the gory and shocking rituals that God directly asks people to do in the Jewish Scriptures / Old Testament. As modern governments continue to legislate against cruelty to animals, we will find that it is the world's mainstream religions' adherents who retreat to shady basements and hidden locations to perform secret rituals to kill animals, rather than Satanists or Pagans.”
Crucifixes have been displayed in every Italian classroom since 1924, by rote of law. The following dispute highlights all the issues we are addressing on this page:
“An Italian court in October 2003 ordered the headmaster of a primary school in the town of Ofena to remove the Christian crucifix (a statuette of Christ nailed to a cross) from the wall of a kindergarten in which a 6-year-old Muslim boy was enrolled. The court order came after a 2-year dispute between school authorities and the pupil's father, who was the president of the Italian Muslim Union. Initially the headmaster had agreed to remove the crucifix in that particular classroom. But after a host of complaints from other parents, the crucifix was reinstated. The headmaster then complied with the father's request that the school also display a verse from the Islamic holy book, the Quran: "There is no God but Allah." However, the verse was removed by other parents. [...] Exhibiting a crucifix in schools and public buildings had been required by royal decrees in 1924 and 1928, a ruling reconfirmed in 1984 in an agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian government. [...]
A junior district judge, Mario Montanaro, found in Smith's favor and ordered the state kindergarten in Ofena to remove crucifixes from classrooms. Judge Montanaro stated that Italy was in the process of cultural transformation and that the nation's constitution required that belief systems other than Catholicism be respected. He called the display of crucifixes in classrooms "anachronistic".
Leading officials in the Catholic Church strongly objected.”
"Religion in schools: controversies around the world"
R. Murray Thomas (2006)34
Even if the situation was resolved and both religious symbols were displayed in the classroom, the cause of the problem would not be solved. A third, fourth and fifth religious display may need to be added to cater for various adherents' children, and some of them would offend others. The whole approach is flawed: There should be no endorsement of any religion in such a public place as a school, and there should be no official sanction of religion anywhere near suggestible children either. To officially endorse a display from one religion automatically signals that other religions are inferior: Some children may not have parents to speak out for them. Atheists and humanists would be especially hard done by if schools started pushing every religion on them!
As long as the religions remain stubborn, irrational and superstitious about such symbols, then, the only possible course of action is not to have any of them displayed. If all the children in the playground constantly fight over a toy, then at some point the teachers are negligent if they do not remove the toy.
The biggest child of them all is, apparently, the Catholic officials who complained. If they peddle irrationality in schools then do they have a right to be offended when further irrationality ensues? An arms-race of prideful religious irrationality easily descends into violence, schism, riot and suffering. Either the Catholics permit tolerance and support the presence of multiple religious symbols, or, they arrogantly demands rights for themselves only and then find themselves (correctly) barred from public presence.
Discrimination against blacks, gays, etc, is not justifiably enshrined in law. This is true even if you are a Christian who believes the Bible condemns gays to hell. It doesn't matter if the source of discrimination is Nazism, xenophobia, Christianity or Islam. Claiming religion as a justification does not give people special rights to abstain from the morals of equality.
If a Muslim refuses to allow herself to be identified, for example by not removing an Islamic veil, they will be unable to pass security checks, and this is their own fault. It doesn't matter what your reasons are: be they insane, religious, anti-establishment or conspiracy theorist: the result is that the person will not be able to pass visual security checks, or to obtain licenses that require photographic identification. It is not anti-Islam to deny security checks to such a Muslim, and it is not really right to say that security staff need to include females on duty just on the off-chance that a religious or insane person refuses to be seen by a male. Such dysfunctional behaviour should not be accommodated, because it then means any dysfunctional behaviour can then claim equal rights.
Child abuse is immoral in so far as the prospects of the child are harmed. So, if a person denies their child science education or other education, the parent is behaving in an immoral way. This is true whether or not the parents have done so for religious reasons. Cults, conspiracy theorists, outcasts and lunatics are in the same boat as every other parent: Children are required to receive an education.
Presently in the UK, the Vardy Foundation led by the Evangelical Christian Peter Vardy, the used car salesman, has gained permission to open a second fundamentalist Christian school. This is, in my mind, child abuse, and should not go ahead even if he does have sincere religious reasons for doing so.
"I killed him and ate him" is not legal for a Brazilian even if he does claim to have done it as part of an ancient religious cannibalistic practice. Cannibalism is either acceptable, in which case all can do it with consenting subjects, or, it is unacceptable and no-one can do it. In either case, referring to specific religions is unnecessary.
The following is taken from "Islam and the West: Pluralism, Immigration and Danger: 6. Family Reunification Laws in the West" by Vexen Crabtree (2011):
are capable of adapting their cultural practices to their Western situations, but sometimes it seems that the West is complicit in undermining integration by putting into practices policies which encourage large-scale non-integration, with little or no oversight of the total effect:
“Traditionally, in Muslim countries, a new wife moves in with her husband's family - never the opposite. Among European Muslims this custom has been entirely overthrown. Nowadays, when a transnational marriage between Muslim cousins takes place, the spouse that migrates is invariably the non-European spouse, whose first residence after migrating is, as a rule, his or her in-laws' home. These marriages - which in Norway have acquired the name "fetching marriages" - accomplish two things. They enable more and more members of an extended Muslim family to emigrate to Europe and to enjoy Western prosperity. And they put the brakes on - or even reverse - whatever progress the European-born spouse might have made toward becoming Westernized.”
"While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" by Bruce Bawer (2006)35
Strange as though it sounds, although some European countries have implemented new laws to curb strategic marriages, others actually make it easier for the system to be abused. Bawer continues:
“In many Western European countries, indeed, some laws are different for natives than for immigrants. For native Swedes, the minimum age for marriage is eighteen; for immigrants living in Sweden, there is no minimum. In Germany, an ethnic German who marries someone from outside the EU and wants to bring him or her to Germany must answer a long list of questions about the spouse's birth date, daily routine, and so forth in order to prove that the marriage is legitimate and not pro forma; such interviews are not required for German residents with, say, Turkish or Pakistani backgrounds, for it is assumed that their marriages have been arranged and that the spouses will therefore know little or nothing about each other.”
"While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" by Bruce Bawer (2006)36
Not only is this reverse discrimination - whereby many immigrants are forced to follow stricter procedures than some (Muslim) others, but it also undermines Western ideas of morality, where marriage is a free enterprise with no element of compulsion. For these two reasons, such exemptions should be removed, and all people and all religions should be treated equally under law, as is the ideal in fair democracies.
Special religious rights are a travesty of justice and a victory for stupidity. The more special religious rights that exist, the worse society has become and the more democracy is undermined. The most extreme example is the Vatican, where all laws are religious, and there is zero democracy. The government passes laws because it is necessary and because it is for the greater good. The more exceptions there are to those laws, the more democracy is weakened. This seems especially true where religious superstitions replace the rule of law. For example in Islamic states where Sharia law is declared, or during the Dark Ages when Christian superstitions cost many people their lives (not to mention the torture!), society is at its worst. Theocracy is the worst form of government, and special religious rights are exceptional in their ability to uphold discrimination and barbarianism in the face of normal moral legislation. People do not have a right to do anything they wish. Just because something is a persons' religious belief does not give them extra rights to do it.
There are two consistent paths society can take:
Fight for the rights of all religious minorities. So, certain parents can deny their children life-saving blood transfusions, Nazi parents are allowed to abstain their children from Humanities education, fundamentalist parents are allowed to abstain their children from science classes, Muslims and Jews are allowed to torture animals and (inc. Christians) kill people for blasphemy, Satanists are allowed to sacrifice people, and any other religious behavior is given the go-ahead too. The advantage is that we support religion. The disadvantage is that we fail to protect the rights and lives of those who are victims of harmful religious practices.
Stand for equality and non-discrimination. Legislation should never need to mention religion, except to enforce freedom of belief (but not necessarily action, of course). This means, cease tax-exemption for churches, no laws allowing Christian managers to fire gay staff, do not allow any religious belief or cult to undermine society, and therefore promote equality of belief by not allowing people to discriminate against others who do not have the same beliefs. Reject all special laws regarding religion. The advantage is that we protect the weak, children, and innocents from harmful religious behaviour. We do not discriminate against religion nor demote it, because adherents and parents are still free to teach and practice legal elements of their own religion in their own homes.
I have shown that the first path is a dangerous regression to anarchy, whilst the second is the only path that upholds equality, fairness and humanity in the face of antisocial behaviour. We should abolish all special religious rights, and remove all religious exemptions from laws that normal people are subject to.
By Vexen Crabtree 2013 Jan 16
(Last Modified: 2016 Dec 20)
Second edition 2009 Jul 13
Originally published 2004 Jun 19
Parent page: Secularisation Theory: Will Modern Society Reject Religion? What is Secularism?
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
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