Aggressive Secular Workplace Discrimination?

There seems to be a growing view amongst some in various religious communities that asking them to comply with equalities legislation in the exercise of their job or public service, or asking that they not impose their religion on others, constitutes some form of discrimination.

I view this as absurd. It is absolutely not the purpose of anti-discrimination legislation to protect the right of groups to themselves engage in discrimination. This much is self-evident; anti discrimination legislation which tried to accommodate this would be an absurdity and constitute an unworkable collection of cascading self-contradiction. Just imagine:

You can’t discriminate against the gays unless you find them really, really icky, and really want to.

Because for some reason, this always seems to come back to some sort of obsession with homosexuality. Personally, I think thinking about gay sex as often as some of these people seem to is really unhealthy, and I say that as a homosexual person, but I digress.

There’s a new report out. It’s called Clearing the Ground and it’s published by “Christians in Parliament”, who are apparently “an official All-Party Parliamentary Group”. The report is described as a, “preliminary report into the freedom of Christians in the UK”, and is the result of the committee being “tasked with considering the question: Are Christians marginalised in the UK?”

Anyway, flicking through, as one does, one can find the following gem:

The Department of Health’s practical guide on religion and belief offers the following guidance:

“Members of some religions … are expected to preach and to try to convert other people. In a workplace environment this can cause many problems, as non-religious people and those from other religions or beliefs could feel harassed and intimidated by this behaviour… To avoid misunderstandings and complaints on this issue, it should be made clear to everyone from the first day of training and/or employment, and regularly restated, that such behaviour, notwithstanding religious beliefs, could be construed as harassment under the disciplinary and grievance procedures.”

Dr Richard Scott gave evidence to the inquiry which suggests that the implementation of this guidance is not always applied with consistency, and sometimes with greater restriction on religious belief than envisioned or permitted under the law. There is also a lack of logic in the guidance because someone who is prevented in the workplace from manifesting their belief, either through prayer or witnessing, may consider themselves harassed on account of their beliefs.

Let’s examine this. To my mind, the DoH’s guidance seems eminently sensible. If you’re working together in some sort of workplace, where your religion is incidental to the task at hand, asking your co-workers if they want to “talk about Jesus” or making a show of praying is likely to make people uncomfortable, and make them feel like you’re pushing your religion on them. In an entirely hypothetical situation where someone who is repeatedly singled out for being asked if they want to talk about Jesus, and happen to be the only out gay person in the office (I’m sure this never happens), they might reasonably feel harassed, and would likely consider taking the issue up with HR.

However, the response seems to be saying that this guideline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray overtly or engage in unwanted proselytisation in the workplace at all. It’s clear that myself and Dr Richard Scott are seeing this, apparently simple, guidance and coming to two completely different conclusions. Given that Dr Scott got into trouble with the GMC for proselytising to a vulnerable patient, this is perhaps not entirely surprising. Let’s look at what Dr Scott says again:

There is also a lack of logic in the guidance because someone who is prevented in the workplace from manifesting their belief, either through prayer or witnessing, may consider themselves harassed on account of their beliefs.

This looks like a clear case of wanting equalities law to treat religion as a special case, where it has carte-blanche to do unto others as it would not wish to be done unto itself.

Do these people simply not understand that equalities law applies to everybody? I’ll make this as simple as I can:

  • I’m a gay woman (protected by equalities law).
  • In private, I sometimes have sexyladytimes with my partners
  • Note this is in private
  • If I tell my co-workers in detail about my sexyladytimes, that is inappropriate, and I would expect disciplinary action for it.
  • If I go round asking random women in my working environment if they want sexyladytimes with me, that is sexual harassment and I would expect to be subject to disciplinary action, and possibly arrested.

If I don’t get to force homosexuality on you, you don’t get to force religion on me. I have to wonder if people who think like Dr Scott really don’t understand this, or whether they understand it entirely, and are just raging hypocrites.

19 thoughts on “Aggressive Secular Workplace Discrimination?

  1. Personally I would much rather hear about sexyladytimes at work than Arsenal v Chelsea in excruciating detail, but you are of course correct – religious bodies and other packs of wankers should not be allowed to be homophobic twunts just because they feel like it.
    Luckily I have a feeling the law is on your side, not theirs. They are squawking loudly because of this.

  2. Speaking as a recovering ex-Xtian, I’ll vote for “don’t get it”. They really do believe that what they are doing is Infinitely Good For You and that trumps any minor concerns like the law, ethics or mental and physical pain inflicted. If I thought being preached at at work was bad, I hadn’t realised how I would feel when I found evangelicals stalking my children online, manipulatively preaching at them to try to convert us. In your analogy that would be tantamount to paedophilia… I consider it mind-rape.

    I am proud, though, that I have two very mature teenagers!

      • Having seen the effects on a very dear friend who has experienced both physical abuse and systematic mental abuse, I beg to differ. They can be every bit as damaging and invasive as each other – indeed, getting inside someone’s soul to convince them that they are worthless, disgusting, deserving of abuse, is as invasive as it gets.

  3. Dear Sarah,

    This is not specifically about this blog entry but …

    I have been following yours and other’s tweets about the “Let’s attack all the minorities we can think of”, sorry Daily Mail and would like to add a couple of things for you to consider. The Mail have used the wrong terms, mixing up, amongst others transgender, transvestite, intersex, hermaphrodite etc and people are getting upset by this. Some of this I agree with some I don’t. Why? Its (in the words of lovely Frank Carson) the way I tell em. If a gay man walked past a building site and was greeted with “Hoi you f***ing pouff” followed by other nasty comments, this is well out of order. However, 4 pouffs and a piano are “embracing” the term. My friend the drag queen Miss Kimberley sings a song about being a tranny and I am ok with that. Someone who shouts out “f***ing tranny pervert” is obviously not ok. I have had people refer to me as the tranny who runs the quiz in the local bar, but they have added, she’s great, we love her. So how could I complain.

    I get people asking me questions, I presume you do as well. I look at how and why they are asking. Some have little knowledge and are v friendly so I will chat happily and answer anything they throw at me. Others I smile and walk away. It’s all about whether they mean it in a derogatory way or not.

    As far as hermaphrodite, intersex etc, it’s a shame that the DM reporters have so little knowledge about a subject they are happy to write about, but I have seen similar articles in the Sun, the Express, the Mirror, so it doesn’t surprise me.

    In a similar vein : I am also slightly confused about what is referred to usually as the “N” word. If I were to use it, it is wrong, but i have heard thw word used my many black youths (don’t forget NWA). I grew up with this word, also wog, coon, coloured, all of which are now unacceptable

    Finally I agree with the disgraceful Paddy Power ad, but the people to have a go at are the idiots at the Beaumont Society who went along with it. I am also anti this business of photo recognition and will support anyone kicking up a stink about this.

    Alll the campaigners are doing a great job, but please remember, not everyone who uses the word tranny is being obnoxious.

    Love, regards and admiration.

    Jo

    • Jo,

      I think the thing to understand is that some people ‘own’ a word while others do not. You and I are trans people and therefore have a right to use ‘tranny’ of ourselves if we wish (I don’t wish). Cis people do not own the word and have no right to use it. Its use by outsiders makes all sorts of privileged assumptions about the right to label others.

      The ‘n’ word has been reclaimed by the people to whom it belongs and at whom it was originally aimed as an insult and they use it (if they wish-not all agree with its use) amongst their own community. I am not a person of colour so have no right to it. You’ve heard it used by ‘black youths’- that’s the point- they have a right to use it.

      I’m of Jewish ancestry and have a right to use the word ‘zhid’ if I feel so inclined- others using it of me would be attempting to insult. I’m also of Roma ancestry and would not wish to be called ‘gyppo’, ‘pikey’ or ‘didakai’ by others.

      I’m a Quaker by belief. ‘Quaker’ started life as an insult which was then owned by the group it was aimed at and is probably now the more common name for us that the Religious Society of Friends which is the ‘proper’ name.

      Hope this makes some sort of sense?

  4. I think the DoH guidelines are ambiguous, although I can see what they are trying to say. It is unhelpful to use phrases such as “preach” and “try to convert” when describing what construes harassment, but I suppose it is meant primarily as a warning to those who might be the cause of complaint. In reality it is a very fine line, and it comes down to courtesy and giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Telling someone about what you believe is not harassment (even if you mention Jesus, Mohammed, or the FSM), but if someone has asked you to stop and you continue regardless you are then harassing them, but so would it be if you had asked them to stop talking about football, or Eastenders, or sexyladytimes,

    My concern is that in some secular systems religious belief is seen as somehow an add on to someone’s life, something an individual can switch on or off. Christians, Muslims, and anyone who is serious and passionate about any belief or important part of their lives of course wants to share it with others around them, and as long as they are sensitive to how others perceive that there shouldn’t be an issue. I expect a Muslim friend to want me to convert to Islam, just as I expect a homosexual friend to challenge my beliefs about gay marriage, or a Lib dem to challenge my politics – indeed I welcome it, and would interpret it as a dialogue opened in part out of concern for me and my role in society. If I felt it was getting in the way of our working relationship, or if I felt uncomfortable, I also trust that they would respect that.

    Sadly, the situation experienced by many Christians (amongst others) today is that they are being given special treatment by a workplace environment which seems to judge religious dialogue as automatically abusive, including religiously motivated opinions that are deemed unsavoury by the majority. A good example can be found in the following link, and even Peter Tatchell’s support for the right of the Christian to express his views has been controversial for many in the LGBT community. (http://www.petertatchell.net/religion/christian-manager-wrongly-demoted-over-homophobic-facebook-comments.htm)

    It should be made clear to every individual in a workplace what is acceptable and what isn’t (and common sense should be employed), and when someone gets it wrong it sparks a discussion and a gentle reminder, rather than instant penalties and stigmatisation (it seems that whenever facebook is involved management get especially dogmatic). Religious groups are not asking for special treatment (in general), we are asking for equal treatment.

  5. Interesting post! The problem with Dr Scott (as I see it – and this has been covered in other comments) is that he sincerely believes that the creator and ruler of the entire universe has given him, and his Guild, a Quest to go out and challenge the bits of the world that don’t match His Message (the Message being defined via his Guild’s interpretation of the Holy Scrolls). What is a human law in comparison to that? Judging by his comments, this human law is apparently a Dragon or an Ogre to be slain in the pursuit of righteousness.

    OK, so that was flippant, but I think it does go some way to explaining his attitude. I think the problem is that he doesn’t understand the situation in the terms of your post – to him, it is not hypocritical.

    Doesn’t make it right, though. I’ve seen both sides of this fence, and I don’t have an answer. Happily (to continue the flippant analogy) there are Guilds that do not share his version of The Message, his views of other people, or his views about his role in ‘saving’ them.

    Not sure what to do about the ones that do…

    • Thanks for an interesting reply. I’ve seen both sides too, I guess (you knew I’m a recovered Catholic, right?)

      In hindsight, being convinced of the righteousness of ones position will excuse pretty much anything, and that’s terrifying. This is not something unique to religion, but it does excel at it.

      • being convinced of the righteousness of ones position will excuse pretty much anything, and that’s terrifying.

        I agree entirely.

  6. I just saw this from _kip_w_ in another similar discussion on LJ and thought it singularly apt given the present discussion here:

    ‘A heat-crazed holy man in the desert said God told him something, and it was repeated a bunch of times by other people with different agendas, and finally it was written down in Aramaic, and sort of translated into Greek, and then kind of translated into Latin, and still later more or less translated into English.

    And that’s direct from God, buddy!’

  7. Chiara that is a very misleading and unhelpful caricature of, well I think Christianity, but maybe Islam as well. It’s also quite offensive.

    Do you mean Abraham? Or Jesus? Either way, the books of the bible were written in Hebrew and Greek, and Aramaic was spoken alongside Hebrew by 1st century Jews. Although it was later translated into Latin (and thousands of other languages) the English versions we now have are translated from the earliest possible copies of the Greek and hebrew. Even secular literary critics agree that the texts we have are incredibly similar to the originals, although obviously there is more debate about the accuracy of the originals!

    • You may have noticed that I did state that I was quoting someone else’s comment.

      Fwiw, I am in point of fact a practising Christian but sure enough of my faith not to be put out by an amusing comment which I do not find in any way offensive.

      Kip W is a US citizen and has had more than a little grief from so called ‘Christians’ in his region so I think he has every right to suspect their (and possibly even my) motives.

      I prefer to take my Christianity from a group which does not seen me as the spawn of the devil and as someone inherently evil because I happen, like Sarah, to be trans.

      It’s also the case that the sect to which I belong does not recognise either of the testaments as the revealed word of
      G-d, preferring something which speaks to the 21st century and is welcoming of everyone whatever or whoever they may be.

      We make no friends by jumping down people’s throats.

      • I do recognise that you were requoting it, and I apologise for presuming you found it amusing and not erroneous, even if that is the case. I should have made it more clear that it was the quotation I had exception with, and not you, although you did state that you felt it was appropriate.

        I think jokes which spread misinformation and trivialise the deeply valued beliefs and history of a minority group are always unhelpful, even if they were funny. This one I don’t even find particularly amusing.

        I can however see that in its original context, where Christianity is certainly not a minority, and where there are powerful Christians who believe that the bible that you can buy in your local bookstore was dictated word for word by a God who happens to agree with them, this might be more appropriate. But in this discussion about how equalities legislation should effect religious discrimination, it just feels like poking fun.

        But it’s the misleading element I dislike – by all means satirise faith, and criticise and even make fun of it, but do it in an informed way.

        You say you belong to a sect that does not recognise the bible as the revealed word of God, could I ask which sect this is? To be honest, I am uncomfortable using the phrase “word of God” when referring to scripture, as I feel that is a phrase the bible uses for Jesus himself, although I recognise that I am quite alone in this particular querk.

        • Tell me about poking fun- trans people understand that all too well.

          I’m a Quaker of Latvian Jewish and Roma and Italian Catholic ancestry- confused? So was I, especially after the recent discovery that I lost relatives in the Sho’ah…..

          I wish Christians would occasionally take time to remember that Jeshu bar Joseph was a Jew.

          I’d also like to know why captcha think I have modern Greek amongst my language fonts, but maybe that’s one wish too many!

          • Of course, quakers. I have a couple of quakers in my congregation (CofE) and as a child I spent a lot of time at a Friend’s meeting house.

            I take Jesus’ religious and cultural identity very seriously indeed. The Christian narrative of salvation can only be understood in the context of the Jewish faith, and in the Covenant God made with Abraham and David.

  8. I’ve got a different perspective. I’m religious and I do worry that the public climate could change in ways that would obstruct my career due to my religious practice. I cover my hair when in public. In some EU countries that would exclude me from some sectors. I can’t work during some religious festivals. I work that out by using my holiday and making up the time on other days, but I worry about the possibility of having a manager who is less understanding or even decides to take a stand against religious people getting ‘special treatment’.

    I’ve used analogies between being queer and being religious. I’m a member of my religion all of the time, not just in private. Queer people are still queer when we’re at work. I wouldn’t expect you to have sex with your wife at work, but I would expect it to be normal for you to talk about her when you’re making small talk with you’re colleagues, wear a wedding ring, have a picture of her on your desk, invite colleagues to your wedding, etc. More generally I think it’s perfectly acceptable for queer people talk about their activities in queer groups when chatting to colleagues, dress and act in ways which are look gay or dykey, join in conversations about attractive celebrities, etc. I think asking someone for sexyladytimes might be inappropriate but lots of people date people they work with, so they’ve asked something like that but put a bit differently at some time.

    Another thing I worry is that even if you’re not trying to convert people, some people will misinterpret your actions as attempts at proselytism. A friend of mine was asked if she was a missionary because she was mulit-tasking and doing her morning prayers during her commute to save time.

    Requirements to keep things in private, whether queerness or religiosity, tend to indicate a discomfort with people who aren’t part of the normative group. It tends to mean that members of privileged groups are uncomfortable with our very existence, so we might be permitted in their presence on condition that we pretend to be like them and play by their rules. I don’t think that’s how I want society to be.

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