Found an interesting news article from last fall in the Manchester Guardian: British employers, a judge has ruled, are forbidden from discriminating against employees because of their environmental convictions. The case in brief: employers at London’s Grainger real-estate company mocked one employee’s devotion to remedying climate change, even taking steps to provoke him – in one case ordering him to fly to Ireland just to deliver a BlackBerry his boss had left behind. Eventually, he was fired – and a judge says he has a case. The relevant 2003 British labour law, indeed, is worded to prohibit discrimination and harassment on the grounds of “religion or belief.”
Generally, such a law strikes me as overdue. I’ve long been uncomfortable with the idea of giving legal protection only to “religious” convictions, for the idea of “religion” so often tends to obscure more than it clarifies. Aside from the obvious difficulties in classification (does the term “religion” apply to yoga exercises? To meditation? To brushing our teeth?), the term leads us to ask the less important questions, about differences between traditions rather than within them. For these intellectual reasons I suspect it’s a category we’d be better off without, if we could be.
But here the problems with “religion” are more than intellectual. On what reasonable grounds can we proclaim that this man’s refusal to fly on frivolous grounds is less serious, less important, less well considered than, say, a Jew’s refusal to eat pork? I disagree with politically activist views that see commitment to environmental or social causes as our fundamental moral duty; but then I disagree with much of the Qur’an’s moral teaching as well. Anti-discrimination laws are specifically designed to protect those with whom we disagree. Either the law should protect all deeply and sincerely held beliefs, irrespective of their “religious” status, or it should protect no such beliefs at all.
(No post this Sunday, as I’ll be out of town, as well as starting a new semester.)