In October I wrote about religious disputes in the workplace arising as faith groups claimed rights that would ultimately come into conflict. This story from the Manchester Evening News is a good example.
A HOSPITAL porter quizzed by police after a row over a crucifix being covered in a prayer room has denied allegations of assault.
Joseph Protano, 54, was interviewed on suspicion of religiously aggravated assault at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Pendlebury.
Mr Protano, a devout Catholic from Salford, was released without charge but was suspended four days after the incident and has now been at home for two weeks.
The row centres round a prayer room available to staff and visitors of all faiths at the hospital.
Mr Protano entered the room when three Muslims were using it. It is alleged he asked them to remove a cloth covering the crucifix and an argument broke out.
Mr Protano said he was unable to comment due to the ongoing police investigation and an internal hospital inquiry.
But a friend told the M.E.N.: “He denies assaulting anyone. He was shaking like a leaf when the police visited him. He spent four hours at the police station.
“Joe goes into the prayer room about six times a day to check the statues in there have not been left covered.
“He is a Christian, but he also thinks it could be upsetting for visiting parents who want to say a prayer to find the statues covered.
Six times a day? This is clearly not a one-off dispute. It looks more like the latest incident in an ongoing fight over whether the prayer room is a Muslim or a Christian space.
The story continues.
“He went into the room and there were three adult Muslims already in there. Two were visitors and one was a member of staff.
“He walked in and said ‘please don’t cover up the statues’. He was only in the room for 30 seconds.
“There was a statue of a crucifix and one of Our Lady cradling the baby Jesus. They had been covered with a curtain. Also a picture of Our Lady had been placed face down on a table.
“Joe uncovered the statues, turned the picture up the right way and left.
“Almost immediately the three people in the room followed him outside and there was a confrontation in the corridor. It is alleged Joe assaulted one or more of them but he denies it completely. He says they were verbally abusing him.
“There are witnesses to what happened who can verify Joe’s account.”
Mr Protano has worked at the hospital for two years and will be represented by his union if the hospital takes disciplinary action.
The case has sparked anger among staff at the hospital, many of whom believe he has been treated unfairly.
Police plan to interview several witnesses and the complainants before taking any further action.
There was a similar dispute at the Post Office a couple of years ago, where an Odinist quarrelled with some Muslim employees over what should be displayed the the prayer room.
There may be a case for having prayer rooms in hospitals but managers in other organisations should surely think carefully before going to the expense of providing something that could become a focus for religious disputes. I still think religion is best left outside the office or factory but, thanks to the government’s recent legislation, religious adherents now have a legal basis for demanding the recognition of their beliefs by their employers. As yet, there is no legal obligation on companies to provide prayer rooms but it is only a matter of time before it becomes seen as ‘good practice’ to do so. When that happens, we will see many more disputes like this.