This post is by Jesse Galef, who is stepping in today.
I know they do things differently “across the pond” but I was still surprised to read that in a legal case in England, climate change belief was given the same legal status as religion. No joke.
Tim Nicholson is a strong environmentalist to the point that he refuses to travel by air. He believes this was a factor in his recent termination and wants to sue for wrongful discrimination. This week, a judge ruled that his environmentalism qualifies as a “genuinely held philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations” and that he could proceed with a lawsuit.
Mr Nicholson hailed the Employment Appeals Tribunal ruling as “a victory for common sense” but stressed climate change was “not a new religion”.
He said: “I believe man-made climate change is the most important issue of our time and nothing should stand in the way of diverting this catastrophe.
“This philosophical belief that is based on scientific evidence has now been given the same protection in law as faith-based religious belief.
“Belief in man-made climate change is not a new religion, it is a philosophical belief that reflects my moral and ethical values and is underlined by the overwhelming scientific evidence.”
His lawyer Shah Qureshi, head of employment law at Bindmans LLP, argued that if the ruling had gone against them, “the end result would be that the more evidence there is to support your views, the less likely it would be for you to enjoy protection against discrimination”.
Now, I don’t know enough about the British law to comment on the judge’s decision – it might be an accurate dispensation of their written laws. But this is a great example of how complex the issue of secularism can be and how tough it is to implement. We don’t want the state to define religion – that would be none of their authority – and without a definition we have other problems.
This situation reminds me off is the so-called “conscience protection clauses” that are typically associated with the religious right here in America. Senator Enzi tried to slip one in the healthcare bill – I remember because when I was with the Secular Coalition we lobbied against it. It states that if a healthcare employee feels a particular act violates their conscience, he or she can refuse to do so without fear of being fired. In context, it usually means that someone can refuse to assist in like abortions, sell contraception, or provide end of life care. Our position has generally been that if your supernatural beliefs are affecting your job performance, you might have chosen the wrong job and companies have the right to dismiss you.
I suppose that if a country is going to have a law like the “conscience protection clause” for religion, it might as well apply for nonreligious moral systems, right?
Wait, I just thought of something: I have a sincere belief, based on science and philosophy, that religion is incorrect and that it is immoral to promote faith. In my job search, perhaps I should consider applying for the clergy in England – I could get paid while conscientiously refusing to work!