Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

What If My Politics is My Religion?

Suppose I was back working on the tills at Safeway* (remember them?) and I walked into work wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Milton Friedman, or Hayek on the front.

My supervisor would have told me to take it off and don the then regulation white shirt and bow tie. I then decided to take the company to court for restricting my political freedom and right of free speech. Fair? No. Even now, in the age of the Human Rights Act, I wouldn’t expect to get away with that one. I would accept that my employer has rules and if I don’t like them I should find another job.

Now suppose that, instead of my Hayek t-shirt, I was wearing a symbol of religion. Then I would have, at least by today’s standards, a case for (religious) discrimination. So while an employer, owner of a property or indeed, say, a headteacher who is responsible for the day to day running of a school, can (I would say reasonably) exert some restriction on my freedom of speech, if I claim that my strongly held beliefs are part of a religious belief system, rather than a political one, I can sue under equality law.

Now I happen to think that there are aspects of the law on discrimination and equalities that do need to have some common sense applied. Some protection of religious freedom is justified, but in the same way as free speech generally should be. Equally, though, there are some justifiable restrictions on free speech (such as incitement to murder, to take an easy extreme example) which should apply to religions. More particular points can be argued around the balance between tackling unfair discrimination and respecting the rights of property ownership. Perhaps more esoterically, there is recognising the fact that minors might not yet have the free will to make up their own minds about their beliefs. I also think there is a necessity that head teachers, for instance, should be able to demonstrate fairness by treating all pupils equally, and not to see rules aimed at maintaining discipline in the school undermined (too many left-liberal educationalists have done plenty of that already).

These points alone could generate a good series of posts, but the basic question remains: why should religion be treated differently to any other type of philosophy? Whatever exceptions – restrictions or allowances – one might concede, they should be applied equally to religion and politics. Regardless of whether you or I agree with the treatment, why should a CND badge or my (now sadly lost) pound badge be treated differently from a Sikh bangle?

* My first (part-time) job while at school, when I had a Triumph Herald to run, at Biggin Hill. It escaped the clutches of Morrisons and is now a Waitrose, and joins a Marks and Spencer as evidence that Biggin Hill is “on the up”.


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