Religious Tolerance

Religious Tolerance February 23, 2012

When is religious intolerance not religious intolerance?

For me, it’s when you refuse to give somebody special privileges simply because of their religion. This theme has been in the news in Britain today after a Christian woman lost at an employment tribunal, where she claimed she was forced out of her job because she couldn’t work on Sundays.

“An employment tribunal ruled that Celestina Mba, 57, was not constructively dismissed from her job in 2010. Miss Mba, from south London, worked helping children with severe learning difficulties. The council said it had a duty to ensure children had weekend care. Ms Mba worked for Merton Council at Brightwell Respite Care House in Morden for three years.”

I take issue with Miss Mba’s claim that she couldn’t work on Sundays. She wouldn’t work on Sundays, and yet she still applied for a job which requires employees to be available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days of the year. It seems that she also misled her employer when she was interviewed for the job; “she had told her employer she had ‘difficulties’ working on Sundays before she was employed, but did not specify they were religious”.

This is an important ruling, not only because it protects employers from having to make unreasonable concessions on the grounds of religion, but also because it protects other employees – The days when Miss Mba would not work, ultimately have to be worked by somebody else. Is it fair that other people routinely lose their Sundays off because one person claims a religious right to have Sunday as their “day of rest”? I would argue that it is not reasonable at all.

I would also speculate that Sundays would only be the opening salvo in a case like this – Speaking as a healthcare professional, I would love to never have to work on Christmas day, and to always have a long weekend over Easter, but I accept that that’s not going to happen because of the job that I have chosen to do.

Of course, Mis Mba disagrees:

“Miss Mba said: “I am amazed by this decision. I thought that this country was a Christian country. I worked hard for years at my job, and to lose it because of intolerance towards my faith is shocking to me.”

Where to start… Firstly, we are not a “Christian country”, a claim which Christians seem to love throwing out at every opportunity, in complete ignorance of the fact that they’re in a clear minority. Census data suggests that we’re a 71% Christian country, but that’s at complete odds with reality – Most people record themselves as Church of England, simply because until very recently it was the default entry on the Register of Births and therefore on birth certificates. As of 2008, there were actually only about 1.1 million church-goers in the UK – about 1.5% of the population. So no, Miss Mba. We are not a “Christian Country” – and more to the point, even if we were, it would be irrelevant to this case.

Secondly, and this is a point I think I’ve harped on at great length: Failing to give somebody special privileges that they try to demand over everybody else because they’re religious, is not the same thing as being intolerant of their religion.

I am sick to death of this tired old argument; there really is nothing more to say about it than the last paragraph says, and yet religious people continue to scream like spoiled, obnoxious teenagers when expected to abide by the same conditions as everybody else.

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