Have I offended you? Have I hurt your feelings? Well, hopefully not. But if I have, then that illustrates my point: your feelings are not entitled to legal protection.
Three straws in an increasingly pungent wind:
(1) Last month, Bushra Noah was awarded £4,000 damages for “injury to feelings”. She had been turned down for a hairdresser’s job that she had applied for on the grounds that she wore a headscarf covering her own hair. She claimed this was religious discrimination, and took it to an industrial tribunal.
Sarah Desrosiers, owner of the salon and cougher-upper of the four grand, said: “I never in a million years dreamt that somebody would be completely against the display of hair and be in this industry.”
(2) Last week, Lillian Ladele, a marriage registrar working for Islington council, got a tribunal to rule that she need not conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, on the grounds that her Christian faith holds that marriage (and apparently also secular civil partnerships) should only be between a man and a woman. Requiring her to do that part of her job would be discriminatory.
She said: “Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs.” But religious beliefs most certainly should be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their sexuality.
(3) And now, Constable Graham Cogman is taking legal action against Norfolk Police (via Brett):
His complaint stems from a circular email sent to officers in early 2005 encouraging staff to wear a pink ribbon on their uniforms during Gay History Month. After receiving the email, PC Cogman sent a reply to his fellow officers featuring biblical quotations about homosexuality being a sin. He objected again the following year when a similar email was again sent to officers. He was subjected to a disciplinary tribunal and fined 13 days' pay.
Pc Cogman says: “The blatant support for homosexual rights in Norfolk Police makes being a Christian officer extremely difficult.” (That’s “blatant support” for the law. From the police.)
Norfolk Police says: “The force will not tolerate any form of homophobic behaviour.”
So there you go. If you have membership of a ‘faith group’, then your feelings – if they are related to how your religious beliefs are treated – can get legal recognition. Hurt feelings, especially in the workplace, are increasingly becoming theologically unionised. But these rights can only be claimed by people declaring themselves part of one of these unions (or rather, communions). If your feelings as a believer have been offended, then you’ve been discriminated against. And where there’s blame, there’s a claim!
It’s a curious blend of individualist self-assessment and communalist badge-wearing: you get to decide for yourself when your religious feelings have been hurt, but in order to do so you have to be a member of the right kind of group. Interestingly, the other members of your group don’t have to endorse your pain nor even share the belief that you claim has been attacked. But the group and the supernatural dogmas do have to exist – you can’t just say you don’t like poofs cos they’re dirty.
It seems it is increasingly impossible for the government to manage comprehensive non-discrimination policies and make space for personal conscience and freedom of association. The only compromise I can think of is this separation of public and private spheres [the public sector must have zero tolerance of discrimination for any reason whatsoever; the private sector can discriminate however they like]. Anyone have a better idea?
There is a better idea: don’t compromise. People, religious or not, shouldn’t apply for jobs that they have freely decided that they ‘cannot’ perform properly because of their prejudices.
That religious people feel that their beliefs need special protection is pitiful; that many of these beliefs veer into bigotry means we have a social menace on our hands.
(And sorry about the cockroach thing. I didn’t mean it.)