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  • Technorati: graph / links

    The limits of accommodating religion


    by Rumbold on 15th December, 2009 at 8:21 PM    

    A Christian registrar has lost her appeal after she was fired for refusing to register same-sex civil partnerships:

    Lillian Ladele said she could not carry out same-sex ceremonies “as a matter of religious conscience”. In July 2008, an employment tribunal found north London’s Islington Council had discriminated against her. This was overturned by an appeal tribunal. The Court of Appeal in London upheld the appeal tribunal’s ruling

    This seems a good ruling to me. I have no problem with accommodating people’s beliefs in the workplace, provided that (a) it is reasonable and (b) this does not involve discriminating against anyone else. Ms. Ladele breached both these criteria as conducting same-sex ceremonies was an important part of her job, and she discriminated against law-abiding homosexuals. Her views were irrelevant, it was her failure to carry out her role that mattered.

    But what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ accommodation of beliefs? There is no absolute rule, but one definition might be a change that does not notably alter the output of a worker nor entitles them to better treatment than others. The decision should still ultimately rest with the employer, but sensible employers should make allowances.


         
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    Filed in: Civil liberties, Religion






    16 Comments below   |   Add your own

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs


    1. will — on 15th December, 2009 at 12:53 PM  

      I think that this ruling probably was the right one in this case but its by no means clear in all cases. For example an NHS doctor asked to perform an abortion against their beliefs, or an assisted suicide if it became legal. So, I don't think that your definition works. It might have to do with a wider view of what is morally encompassed. The problem still arises as to what a state can legitimately ask of people.

    2. Don — on 15th December, 2009 at 2:15 PM  

      I believe that NHS workers can excuse themselves from abortion procedures. That certainly used to be the case. I can't imagine anyone envisioning a situation where one was required to take part in assisted suicide against moral objections. These are not real world examples.

      This was an administrative position. It wasn't a religious ceremony. She just had to ensure that the rules were followed, not make a judgement on the punters. Do it, or find another job.

    3. Andy — on 15th December, 2009 at 2:57 PM  

      In this particular case her claim to being a committed Christian is somewhat undermined by the fact that she is working as a registrar anyway. Did she previously insist that she would only officiate for couples who had given an undertaking to have a church blessing afterwards? If not, in God's eyes she would presumably be encouraging people to live in sin, which isn't very Christian.

    4. Shatterface — on 15th December, 2009 at 6:02 PM  

      Our telephony section excused fasting Muslims from telephone duties during Ramadan because of self-inflicted dry throats; I doubt management will be so accommodating of Christians who celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner of getting pissed and coming to work with a hangover.

      Work should be a secular place. If you intend to make yourself useless around the workplace work part-year or use up your annual leave.

    5. MiriamBinder — on 15th December, 2009 at 7:34 PM  

      Fasting during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan is a religious requirement. Getting eight sheets to the wind at Christmas is not.

      I think that on the whole the term 'reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs' works very well. Bearing in mind the issue of requirement vs tradition as in the example above. Further bearing in mind the issue of 'terms of employment' which would delineate the various requirements for the job; a gynaecologist should expect to be required to perform a termination of pregnancy at some time during their professional career. A Jew can expect to sit down with a colleague eating a ham sandwich whilst drinking a milky coffee during a working lunch. A committed vegan can expect to deal with animal produce while working in an abattoir.

      If there is a sufficiently large workforce to make allowances for personal preferences then all's well and good. On the other hand if the workforce does not have the capacity then this too will be a matter that can reasonably be assumed before hand.

    6. Pobeda — on 15th December, 2009 at 7:59 PM  

      Hah!

      How many vegans work in slaughterhouses?

    7. MiriamBinder — on 15th December, 2009 at 8:22 PM  

      Isn't that the point?

    8. Shuggy — on 16th December, 2009 at 1:08 AM  

      Bit of a no-brainer this one, isn't it? “I'm a brick-layer - only my religious beliefs forbid me to actually lay any bricks.” Oh, get a job you like.

    9. chairwoman — on 16th December, 2009 at 2:17 AM  

      Just to put a bit of a different spin on things, what if your job description changes from the time of your appointment? Should you then be penalised for not wanting to perform actions that might have precluded you from taking the job in the first place.

    10. MiriamBinder — on 16th December, 2009 at 2:23 AM  

      If your job description changes then you either accept the changes, negotiate with your employer or seek alternative employment.

      Quite frankly you are there to work not to be molly-coddled.

    11. Andy — on 16th December, 2009 at 2:30 AM  

      In this case the registrar's job description didn't change, working for the council she signed up to an equal opportunities policy which required her to work with all sections of the community including LGBT.

    12. bananabrain — on 16th December, 2009 at 4:02 AM  

      I have no problem with accommodating people’s beliefs in the workplace, provided that (a) it is reasonable and (b) this does not involve discriminating against anyone else.

      i agree. there is always a reasonableness test. clearly, however, this is a difficult case as it involves a) a change in the existing conditions b) a specific set of beliefs and c) a refusal to be flexible on both sides. i do think the equivalence that is constantly drawn between civil partnerships and marriage is bound to cause such situations. if it were portrayed as a merely administrative arrangement (no different from a business partnership) then i think the problem wouldn't arise. the issue, in my view, arises from having the registrar do both. what you could do as a workaround is to have a separate registrar for marriages as for civil partnerships as is the case, i believe, for births and deaths. if, on the other hand, you view marriage as a merely religious ceremony (as i do) then it should be unnecessary to view the civil bit as a marriage. i guess you really can't have it both ways. i'm not standing up for people who discriminate against gays, however, because i don't think that's a very compassionate thing to do.

      what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ accommodation of beliefs? There is no absolute rule, but one definition might be a change that does not notably alter the output of a worker nor entitles them to better treatment than others. The decision should still ultimately rest with the employer, but sensible employers should make allowances.

      unfortunately, the vast majority of employers aren't that sophisticated - and, more often than not, the gap between human resource professionals and the line manager is not properly bridged.

      Work should be a secular place. If you intend to make yourself useless around the workplace work part-year or use up your annual leave.

      or negotiate a compromise. i stop work early on fridays during the winter because of the sabbath, so i make up the time elsewhere in the week as well as working from home so i can use my commute time for working instead. the focus should be on value, not on “presenteeism”. as far as festivals are concerned, in my current job i am forced to take annual leave (which can be up to 13 days a year, so it's not nothing) although at more sensible organisations i have been able to take *unpaid* leave so that nobody is out of pocket. i also go out of my way to demonstrate that i'm not taking the piss. one person can really widdle in the soup for everyone else in cases like this.

      A Jew can expect to sit down with a colleague eating a ham sandwich whilst drinking a milky coffee during a working lunch.

      strictly speaking, they can't whilst looking visibly jewish, they should ideally have their lunch at a different time, but they should be able to sit in a lunch meeting and not eat. if you train as a chef and have to work with non-kosher products, there is a halakhic procedure for allowing this to be done, as long as you don't eat anything.

      Bit of a no-brainer this one, isn't it? “I'm a brick-layer - only my religious beliefs forbid me to actually lay any bricks.” Oh, get a job you like.

      so a religious jew would find it hard to get work as a restaurant reviewer, or as a quality controller at a non-kosher food production facility which involved tasting. either way, this does require everyone concerned to use their fecking brains.

      Just to put a bit of a different spin on things, what if your job description changes from the time of your appointment? Should you then be penalised for not wanting to perform actions that might have precluded you from taking the job in the first place.

      i think it depends - it might be grounds for a constructive dismissal action.

      In this case the registrar's job description didn't change, working for the council she signed up to an equal opportunities policy which required her to work with all sections of the community including LGBT.

      exactly - in the same way, if your job is to observe and enforce civil law, then you should be prepared for it to change.

      b'shalom

      bananabrain

    13. Unity_MoT — on 16th December, 2009 at 4:07 AM  

      “I'm a brick-layer - only my religious beliefs forbid me to actually lay any bricks.”

      I've come across worse excuses.

      One guy tried it on with a Jobcentre in Central Birmingham by claiming to be a shepherd, while another claimed to be a flagpole painter who was unable to work due to vertigo.

    14. Rumbold — on 17th December, 2009 at 9:21 AM  

      (Apologies for the late replies)

      Chairwoman does have a good point about what happens if the nature of the job changes. In that case, I think that you have to try to work things out with your boss, and if that fails, examine your conscience. I wouldn't continue doing somethign that I found to be morally repugnant. Luckily I am not religious, so don't worry abotu such rules, but if your religion is that important to you, then you may need to make sacrifices.

      Bananabrain:

      I think letting you go home early is an excellent idea. A school near me finishes lunch on Friday a few minutes later so that the (sizeable) Muslim contingent can go to the mosque. These are both good examples of accomodation without causing resentment (as the other pupils and teachers get the same time off). For marriages/civil partnerships, I long to see the day when both are classed as purely administrative. Then religious people can do what they want without it mattering in the laegal sense.

    15. camilla — on 17th December, 2009 at 9:35 PM  

      “I have no problem with accommodating people’s beliefs in the workplace, provided that (a) it is reasonable and (b) this does not involve discriminating against anyone else.”

      I wonder, Rumbold, why did you pick the christian's case to illustrate your idea and some religious people's intolerance?

      It is obvious that the muslims try to impose their religion's rules on others more often…

      ever heard of supermarket epmloyees who refused to handle alcohol and pork and decided even to sue the shop? or dentist refusing to treat a woman without hidjab?
      and won't somebody tell me their religion, hah?

    16. Rumbold — on 18th December, 2009 at 3:43 AM  

      Camilla:

      I picked the case because it was topical.



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