Monday, December 10, 2007

This is not religious discrimination

A Quebec union head wants teachers and judges not to wear hijabs. Others say this would amount to religious discrimination.

I say it most certainly is not. Freedom of religion, in a legal constitutional sense (I know Canada is a little different, but same general ideas), simply means that the government cannot force you to hold certain religious beliefs, and cannot punish you for those which you choose to hold. In a private industry, this rule does not and should not apply at all. A private employer is not bound at all by constitutional free expression rules. I would argue that an employer should be able to fire anyone for any reason, even awful hateful ones. That's just a little aside though.

We're talking about teachers and judges, which are government positions, and they are in fact held to non-discrimination standards. You cannot use religion by itself as a factor in hiring or firing. What you can do, though, is look at specific behaviours. We are not talking about getting rid of judges who privately subscribe to Islam in their personal lives because of the beliefs they hold. We are talking about getting rid of judges who openly display a constant endorsement of one particular religion, specifically a strong symbol of oppression and misogyny, which also happens to make verbal communication difficult. If a Muslim judge or teacher can remove her hijab in court/class and conform to the (secular) behaviour code of her profession, then it doesn't matter if she worships God, Allah, Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha, Vishnu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in her spare time.

The Sikh religion requires men carry a ceremonial sword or knife. They are not allowed to take these knives on airplanes. Does that mean the airline is violating their human rights? Of course not. Likewise, to use the Sikhs again, they would not be allowed to be firemen if they insist on wearing a turban because it interferes with the helmet that they are required to wear. It has nothing to do with religious beliefs and everything to do with practical regulations.

This is a practical issue about specific behaviours, not a philosophical issue about private beliefs.


the rev. said...

It is religious discrimination. Would you forbid a jewish judge or teacher from wearing a yarmulke? or a Christian from wearing a visible cross in same situation.
I'm an atheist and think all the beliefs of all three groups are goofy and wrong, just as they belive I am going to hell or whatever, but I do thing they are entitled by law to believe whatever nonsense they like and if wearing a piece of clothing or jewelry is part of their belief system, that's fine. A judge or a teacher has every right to wear a hijab, a cross, a yarmulke or a flying spagetti monster t-shirt on the job.

the rev. said...

"I would argue that an employer should be able to fire anyone for any reason, even awful hateful ones. That's just a little aside though."

The law has a term for this -- it is "wrongful dismissal"

Jolly Bloger said...

Would I forbid a cross or yarmulke? Absolutely I would! Just as I would forbid the ten commandments being displayed in a courtroom. You can wear whatever your crazy book tells you in the privacy of your own home, but when you are at your job, your employer determines your dress code. When you are a civil servant, your employer is the government. In North America we have decidedly secular governments, which means teachers, judges, police officers, senators, premiers, presidents, and prime ministers can not endorse any particular religion over any other. No crosses, no yarmulkes, and especially no hijabs. There's also the pragmatic issue mentioned in the article about a hijab making it difficult to understand what the wearer is saying.