In 2005 I was invited to a discussion on BBC Asian Network when some Sikh groups were running a campaign to shut down the play Behzti. Of course, I was for the play carrying on. Anyway the Sikh Human Rights Commission wanted to sue the writer Gurpreet Bhatti for racial discrimination against Sikhs because of its content. She was Sikh herself. The stupid idea never went anywhere, thankfully.
I’m reminded of that again in yesterday’s ruling that a school discriminated against a Jewish boy on racial grounds, even though the school contends they didn’t allow him in on religious grounds (they said his mother wasn’t proper Jewish, and therefore he wasn’t).
As it is I have a problem with bodies officially sanctioning who can claim to be part of a religion. But more importantly this case lays bare the complex relationship between race and religion which I’ve repeatedly mentioned on PP. See, only Sikhs and Jews are defined as a race under the Race Relations Act for historical reasons. Those reasons may have been important then but they’ve become redundant now and this case says two things: one that schools should be forced to stop discriminating on the basis of religion; that legally defining religions as a race is a bad idea.
The Guardian’s excellent writer Afua Hirsch has an article which highlights this bit from the ruling:
A person who honestly believed, as the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa until recently believed, that God had made black people inferior and had destined them to live separately from whites, would be able to discriminate openly without breaking the law
A point well made. Civil law should, in my view, always take precedence over religious law and ruling. And minorities better get used to that quickly – including that silly Hindu group pushing for open-air cremations. The long-delayed Equalities Bill was supposed to sort this out but it’s got so many other things attached to it now, I fear it won’t actually get anywhere.
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Filed in: British Identity,Race politics,Religion