UK Supermarket Walks Back Statement on Religious Accommodation

Yesterday, UK supermarket Marks & Spencer made headlines with a policy that allowed Muslim employees to refuse to handle things like alcohol and pork that are against their religion, and even refuse to sell them to customers. Terry Firma began a discussion on that general topic on this site yesterday. It may be however, that this was misunderstood.

Here’s the Independent on the walkback:

Previously the supermarket said Muslim staff can refuse to serve customers who are trying to buy pork or alcohol.

But a spokesperson for M&S last night said: “Where we have an employee whose religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle, we work closely with our member of staff to place them in suitable role, such as in our clothing department or bakery in foods.

“As a secular business we have an inclusive policy that welcomes all religious beliefs, whether across our customer or employee base… We apologise that this policy was not followed in the case reported.”

The problem seemed to be with an isolated incident with one Muslim employee who had to demur when a customer sought their help with champagne. Marks & Spencer then gave a vague statement saying, “where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.” But, assuming the new clarifications from M&S are true, it looks as though this is more of a case-by-case basis kind of situation, rather than a blanket policy of religious accommodation across the board.

Taken at face value, it’s very respectful. It says that M&S wants to hire a certain person, and they’re willing to make small adjustments when necessary if that person’s religion requires it.

Interestingly, Richard Dawkins had tweeted in response to original story:

So, can followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster refuse to sell pasta? . . . Could I refuse to sell baseball caps?

And lo and behold, Newsthump, an Onion-like satire outlet, reported this:

A supermarket worker and strict adherent to the teachings of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been criticised after refusing to sell customers any pasta-based products.

Shelf stacker Simon Williams, who works for Morrisons in Bradford, said that handling pasta is against his strict religious beliefs and that no-one should be able to force him to do his job – even if it involves something that’s all around him all day, every day.

Williams told reporters, “His supreme noodliness teaches us that pasta is his body, and as such it should be revered – not consumed as part of a balanced diet like these so-call ‘scientists’ keep telling us.”

I think for me, I might claim a religious accommodation that requires that I always be in possession of an Apple device while on the job, lest I anger The Steve (peace be upon him).

Image via Shutterstock.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dave

    A good idea would be to get staff members to wear a symbol on their uniforms so we could make informed decisions on who we want to serve us. Atheists could have a red A, Jews could have a yellow star, homosexuals could have a pink star, and so on. Perhaps this could extend to whole areas, Atheist only, or Jewish only etc where we didn’t have to interact with people who had different values. People could be issued with identity cards so no one could “sneak in” to the “wrong” area.

  • Castilliano

    Wow. Bending Godwin’s Law a bit there, aren’t we?
    :)

  • Jeff

    Yes, he bent it, but it still caught the inside corner of the plate.

  • Dave

    No not bent. Dived right in. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Or in this case a journey of a thousand years starts with one step backwards in time.
    And thank you for your comment.

  • Glasofruix

    The problem seemed to be with an isolated incident with one Muslim
    employee who had to demur when a customer sought their help with
    champagne.

    Any precisions on that? Was it the employee who got all sharia on the customer or was it the customer who acted like an asshole?

  • Nat Carr

    Yeah, if the employee simply tried to say “let me get someone else to help you with that” I don’t see a problem.

  • Glasofruix

    In that case, me neither.

  • Malcolm Mclean

    The irony is that in Britain, if the shop assistant is under eighteen, he or she has to say “let me get another member of staff to help you with that”. Muslims aren’t the only people with silly obsessions around alcohol. In Italy they just put a jug of wine on the table with every meal, they’re sensible like that.

  • midnight rambler

    It’s the same in the US (about the cashiers that is).

  • anon atheist

    I don’t know what your problem is people! What you can visit here are the result of left-wing ideologies’ like feminism and atheism+ contstant demands for diversity. In a rational world a muslim woman that refuses to handle alcohol would just not be hired but because diversity companies are bending over backwards to accomodate even the craziest demands.

    And the irony: if the woman had just sold the alcohol but also told the customer that he should receive 40 whip lashes for drinking it she would have been fired immediately.

  • TychaBrahe

    Don’t blame this crap on feminism or atheism+. This is about mealy-mouthed caving to religious traditions, and it transcends political identities.

    Feminists aren’t going to push this crap, because it’s being used against us. This is no different from right-wing Christians trying to use their religious beliefs to prevent women from getting abortions and birth control. In addition to people trying to assert that a business like Hobby Lobby has religious beliefs and shouldn’t have to fund birth control under the ACA, there have been pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control and abortifacients for being a violation of their religious beliefs. Even more horribly, there was a doctor in Canada, in the middle of nowhere where women had no alternatives, where the anesthetist refused to perform services on women seeking abortions, because it violated his religious beliefs. The women were forced to have the procedure fully conscious. And let’s not forget the women refused abortions of dying fetuses at Catholic hospitals.

    And since many of these things took place years and even DECADES before the creation of atheism+, it’s unfair to blame it.

    So, seriously, what’s your problem with equal rights for women and social justice?

  • Finn Nicolas

    You are, of course, correct, but A+ is still really shitty.

  • CottonBlimp

    The point of diversity is that we think things like culture should grow and evolve over time. I happen to really like that, when I get hungry, I can choose between Mexican or Chinese or Kebabs or peruvian chicken or etc.

    Some center-left people are racist hypocrites who think all the benefits of diversity should work one way, and that we need to protect foreign cultures from ever changing, so we can gawk at them like they’re animals in a zoo. I am not such a hypocrite.

  • RN in NY

    In America we look at reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities or religious practices, such as hiring a Christian, but knowing they won’t work on Sundays. That’s what we call a reasonable accommodation. Is it reasonable to exchange cashiers every time someone buys pork or alcohol? Probably not, so since she requires UNreasonable accommodation, she’d be fired in America.
    We can have diversity in the workplace. In fact we should. However, that doesn’t mean reason has to go out the window and we have to put up with anything and everything.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    “A supermarket worker and strict adherent to the teachings of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been criticised after refusing to sell customers any pasta-based products.”
    No, no, NO! A True Follower™ of the FSM (pbuH) would sell ONLY Pasta-based products, and refuse to sell anything else. (Especially not that dry sandy “parmesan” that comes in a can, that’s Blasphemy.) Well OK, Alcohol and Pasta, but that’s it!

  • Michael

    And strippers. The FSM is very pro-stripper.

  • Bob Jase

    Hah! You forgot eyepatches, hooks for replacement hands and parrots.

  • rtanen

    And crackers, for the parrots. Also pasta sauces, especially citrus-based ones and ones with added vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    Alcohol-based pasta.

    Low in all of the ingredients that keep you alive enough to raise the bar code to the scanner.

    .

  • Cake

    Its weird how the words he is using could be the same words they would use to describe how they accommodate their special needs employees.

    Religion: A Handicap of the mind.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I’d start a religion based on The Steve, but I am not sure that Steve would appreciate it much.

  • Abbé Faria

    He’s dead, he doesn’t get a say anymore.

  • Malcolm McLean

    M and S aren’t basically a supermarket. Most of their stores are clothing shops with a small food section attached. Which is a big difference. Say you are running a pig abbatoir. Obviously, if someone has an objection to killing pigs, be that because they are Muslims who think that pigs are too unclean to kill, animists for whom pigs are holy totem animals, or vegetarians who think that it’s cruel to pigs, then you can’t employ them at Malcolm’s pig slaughters. But let’s say they are some Polynesians applying for the job. Normally they slaughter and eat pigs, no problem. But on two or three days of the year, known as long pig days, it’s their tradition that slaughter of short pigs is strictly forbidden. So they can’t work those two or three days. If you refuse to employ them on the basis of that, they’ve got a very strong case that you’re unreasonably discriminating against Polynesians.

    It’s all about commonsense and reasonableness. It’s not OK for every shop assistant to have a list of goods he will and won’t handle, and then to make the customer aware of that as he does his normal grocery shop. It is maybe OK for people working in what is basically a clothing store to have particular objections to working in another department, but not, say, to selling revealing or “exploitative” women’s clothing, or indeed to refuse to sell veils if that’s the moral objection.

  • midnight rambler

    I’d want to be as far away from them as possible on the “long pig days”…

  • Randay

    Yeah, but those Muslims whom I won’t refer to as pigs so as not to insult pigs, are perfectly ready to cut the throat of sheep or cows and let them slowly die while they bleed to death.

  • Thiriel

    I think it’s good they clarified it. In this case, I can understand why the employee would have deferred to a co-worker, after all, if she doesn’t drink any alcohol for religious reasons, she can’t exactly give good recommendations now, can she? It would be the same for me; I have an intolerance for alcohol (even the smell will make me sick, depending on how strong it is), so instead of making a mistake and ruining a customers experience, it would be better for me to as for someone else. I’m not shoving my teetotalism in his/her face, I’m admitting a lack of knowledge to be of use.

  • Artor

    I don’t know if that was exactly the case here, but I know of what you speak. My metabolism makes alcohol and caffeine pretty much useless, so I don’t drink alcohol or coffee at all. I couldn’t tell a good beer from a bad, except by guessing from what my friends drink. Coffee? It’s all bitter and nasty to me. It should taste like cocoa, but it doesn’t. Ick. I have been known to refuse to pick out drinks for someone, because I know nothing about what’s good & what’s dog piss.

  • Taz

    Does anyone know how this stricture works? An injunction against drinking alcohol is clear, and even understandable given the damage it can cause. But what is the rule here? Against handling it? A clerk could sell it without actually touching the container, but apparently it’s more than that, since there was a case of Muslim cab drivers refusing to transport customers who had alcohol in grocery bags. Against facilitating the drinking of it? Then it seems that even working in a store that sells it would be taboo.

  • L.Long

    In truth it is probably what ever the guy wants it to mean at the time.
    Its been known that muslins have no problem getting totally plastered when they want to.

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    Catholics refuse to even allow insurance that includes contraception to be provided to their employees, because sperm, eggs, embryos, and fetuses are more important than anything else.

    .

  • BillyJoe

    If only the Catholic Church would restrict its membership to those who have not used contraceptives…..

  • EdmondWherever

    Hi, I can’t touch some of the things you sell here, and will refuse service to customers that come in ready to spend money. Can I have a job?

  • Artor

    Here in the US we have people who go through years of training to become pharmacists, but cry persecution when they’re required to dispense birth control pills. They actually get away with that shit here! There was a woman going to school to be a counselor, but refused to treat gay clients without telling them they’d be going to hell. She tried to sue when the University refused to graduate her, but fortunately, she lost.

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    I could tell everyone that I am going to Hell for dozens of Good Christian Reasons.

    .

  • http://gadlaw.com gadlaw

    I prefer to think of it as a ‘teaching moment’ where we all have been taught the absurdity of religion once again.

  • Mikko

    that’s weird one of the food stores i buy food in have a Muslim woman and she doesn’t refuse to sell alcohol and/or pork products

  • Aerial View

    This problem can be completely avoided by only shopping where staff members are nude.

  • rg57

    Can a pastafarian schism be far behind?

  • Georgina

    “Refuse to help” is a Britishism.
    In the original story, a woman queued at the till and when it was her turn she was told that the cashier would not ring up the sale as it involved alcohol.
    The outcry is because this is happening all over the UK. Shariah is being enforced on non-muslims. M&S said the muslim women should not have been at the till. It was a mistake.
    Many of us think it as a mistake not to just fire the cashier for failure to do her job.

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    We have had Christian laws applied to non-Christians for centuries, so maybe this will get the courts to get rid of some of the Christian laws.

    .