Two weeks ago, I wrote about a EU court decision, upholding rulings against three Christians who had been sacked for basically choosing their faith over what was expected of them by their employer. The specifics of each case are a little more barbed than that, but you can read the original piece to get a fuller picture.
Since then Mike Judge, the Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, has written two articles for the Huffington Post UK defending each victim and attacking the court’s ruling as well as the media and public response to it.
First off it is worth pointing out that of course Judge is going to be taking sides, given his position. He works for a group who, in some of the cases, provided legal assistance and regularly issued press releases in their defense. So, having made clear Judge’s inherent bias, he’s written a piece that is well worth a read.
The first half of the article is actually a spoof, but you don’t realize this until half way through when he admits to the rouse. The basic premise is to take the case of Lillian Ladele and change all the details but keep the facts. (In case you don’t remember, Ladele was a public registrar responsible for officiating marriages and civil partnerships. She claimed these duties violated her Christian conscience.)
So, in Judge’s article, instead of a council registrar, it’s a teacher; instead of a Christian conscientiousness objection, it’s an atheist objection.
In the story, an atheist school teacher loses his job after refusing to conduct a religious assembly in the state school in which he teaches. In the UK this could be possible, given that there is legal requirement for religious eduction in all state schools, and I’m sure there are a great many atheist teachers in schools across the country. I’m sure there are people out there who would be outraged at the thought of an atheist losing his job in such circumstances. Judge does this to show to good effect that the very fact that Lillian is Christian changes people’s perception of the case. His central point is one which I think is very important and that I think people can too often lose sight of. Just because you don’t agree with someone else’s viewpoint shouldn’t mean that he should automatically lose his job. Even though I don’t agree with Ladele’s views on homosexuality and gay marriage, I respect her right to hold those views. So long as she doesn’t impose them on other people.
Sadly, that is where it all falls apart. The non-equivalence of his thought experiment just doesn’t hold up to any basic logic.
There are legal exemptions for teachers in such circumstances as the hypothetical atheist’s, and in most cases it is never even an issue. There is no such exemption in Ladele’s case. In reality, a lot of teachers who do not wish to organize an assembly for any reason whatsoever, including the classic “I don’t like talking to large groups of people,” do not have to do so. After all, a Muslim teacher is going to be much better equipped to hold an Islamic themed assembly over someone who isn’t, so the head teacher is going to make an obvious choice. The most critical difference however is that holding assemblies is NOT the core of a teacher’s job — teaching in a classroom is. Ladele’s main role was to perform marriage ceremonies, a role she refused to perform for gay couples.
A more equivalent spoof would have talked about an atheist teacher who refused to teach math to Christian children.
These flaws are brilliantly pointed out in the comments section,
Angelaaaa responds with:
This is a clearly false equivalency. The school’s role is to educate children — it may ALSO provide a religious assembly. But whether it does or not, is no reflection on its central role as an institution of education. Being a civil registrar and registering civil unions is the central role of the registrar. It is not an ancillary function. It is ALL she does. A more honest comparison would be if the atheist teacher ONLY agreed to teach atheist students, indulged in a pick-and-choose as who she considered worthy of receiving the benefits of education. And fobbed the unworthy off on other teachers. So, we read this article in full. We jumped to no conclusions. We heard you out. Sadly, you have done little to dispel the suspicion that religious belief is often incompatible with logic and critical analysis.
Please accept a B for effort.
Mnene piles it on even further by adding:
Asking an atheist to directly engage in religious worship is not the same as asking someone who believes homosexuality is wrong to issue a marriage licence to a same sex couple. The former requires active participation in something which violates personal belief, the latter does not. For the comparison to be valid, Ladele would have to have been asked to have sex with or marry another woman, which she wasn’t. Clearly Ladele believes that not only should she personally not marry someone of the same gender, but that nobody else should be able to either. So yes I suppose in that respect her beliefs were trampled on, but only because they deserved to be. Furthermore I think it says a great deal about the strength of your arguments when you have to make things up to support them — though in retrospect I realise this is nothing new for religion.
So for the last time Mike; no, your delusion does not grant you exemption from the same rules that apply to everyone else. So stop asking.
Maybe the reason Judge had such a difficult time finding a truly analogous situation was because atheists don’t often complain about doing a job because it violates their beliefs when it really doesn’t. That seems to only be a Christian phenomenon.