Sunday, 17 July 2011

Unreasonable Accommodationists

The UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued a press release calling for a concept of 'reasonable accommodations' to allow employees to manifest their religious beliefs. They say:
For example, if a Jew asks not to have to work on a Saturday for religious reasons, his employer could accommodate this with minimum disruption simply by changing the rota. This would potentially be reasonable and would provide a good outcome for both employee and employer.
Seems fair enough. But Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the EHRC recently said:
Our business is defending the believer. The law we're here to implement recognises that a religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a fulfilled human being and plays an important part in our society.
Clearly he is wrong here, since his business is equality, not just the concerns of a particular group, like believers. But let's be charitable and assume he meant that in striving for equality, the Commission must recognise the concerns of every group, and he's simply mentioning one group over others because he's expressed himself clumsily.

However, one of the cases that the Commission is supporting is Lillian Ladele's. She's the Christian Registrar who wanted to discriminate against gay people in the performance of her duties. One can only assume that the Commission adopt the position that she should be allowed to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, because of her religious belief. If the Commission thinks this falls into the range of 'reasonable accommodations' for religious views, then one wonders what qualifies as unreasonable. Note the duties of the EHRC:
We have a statutory remit to promote and monitor human rights; and to protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine "protected" grounds - age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
So, sexual orientation is on a par with age, disability, gender, race and religion and belief. As an aside, in my view sexual orientation, age, disability, gender and race are qualitatively different to religion and belief, since they are invariable, and cannot be chosen under any circumstances. But, in any case, since the EHRC appear to be including discrimination based on sexual orientation as a 'reasonable accommodation' for religious beliefs, then one assumes that discrimination based on race, gender and so on are also 'reasonable accommodations' for religious beliefs.

So, if the EHRC support Ladele, then this renders the EHRC self-defeating. They will then be campaigning against their own aims. A bizarre situation.


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