Monday, October 16, 2006

Religious Discrimination

The recent furore over the wearing of religious symbols, either as jewellery or articles of clothing seems to be getting completely out of hand.

On the whole the ban by BA over a Christian woman being denied the right to wear a small cross on a necklace seems supercilious in the extreme. Whilst I am all for the reduction of religiosity and for secularism, this does not mean that we should always deny individuals the free expression of their religious beliefs however irrational they may seem to me or to others.

This case does have some salient points however: British Airways suspended an employee for wearing a cross on a chain over her cravat and in contravention of agreed staff policy. That same staff policy allows the wearing of headscarves or turbans which are also a religious necessity to some people and these are clearly on view. The policy also allows the wearing of Sikh “Kara” bracelets which are too big to go over the clothing.

Whilst I am not in favour of headscarves per se, I see no harm in women wishing to wear these (the full veil is a completely different matter) and the turban is a stretch (I disagree with turban wearers not having to wear crash helmets) BA has a policy of not allowing jewellery not being work over the uniform. A simple policy one might think – regardless of its wrights or wrongs – but one that this employee thinks should not apply to her because she is special.

If she, or any BA employee, wishes to wear a headscarf, a turban or a Kara then there is nothing to stop her. BA cannot, and should not, discriminate against non Muslims or Sikhs. If an employee wanted to wear a necklace over their scarf, then this would be in contradiction of policy, regardless of the symbols on display. She is not being “discriminated” against; she is the one who wants special dispensation.

If BA does not wish to change their policy to allow jewellery to be worn outside of the uniform then I see no way forward for her unless she swallows her pride (which a deadly sin, is is not?). The trouble with BA giving her dispensation is the slippery slope argument, but one which could well happen. If they allow one item, how big should it be? What about offensive (to some) symbols such as pagan or satanic symbols? What about large items etc? the road is open for "religious" claims for all quarters.

No. Their policy is either allow no items over the uniform or allow them. Not too difficult I would think. As for Miss Eweida, she should recognise that she either puts up with her employers reasonable requests which are the same for everyone or she gets another job.

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