The Daily Mail’s front page today surpasses even its usual standard of cynical and calculated ignorance. It calls the advice given to employers by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in response to the Eweida judgement in January, “an insult to Christians” simply because it explains that religious rights apply to followers of all belief systems.
Darren Newman was quick off the mark this morning with a detailed response, concluding:
The author of the article cannot possibly think he has presented readers with a fair and balanced summary of what the guidance says. On the contrary he has clearly distorted – with something like wild abandon – what is essentially a prosaic and not terribly important guidance document. The stupidity of the article is surely deliberate and calculated – and all the more depressing for that.
Far from being the ‘lunatic advice’ claimed by the Mail, the guidance gives some practical illustrations of what the ECHR ruling means for employers. It explains that the judgement extends the right to manifest religion in the workplace and that this applies to a number of religions and belief systems. That’s how human rights and discrimination laws work. The rights and protections apply to all.
This is a general principle of the rule of law; laws apply equally to the rulers and the ruled. Mainstream opinion among economists and historians (and on this occasion it is mainstream opinion I agree with) is that the rule of law is one of the major factors enabling western economies develop so rapidly compared to those elsewhere in the world. (For more on this read the excellent Why Nations Fail. See previous post.) It is certainly one of the characteristics which make the liberal democracies more pleasant places to live than the dictatorships.
None of this seems to matter to the Daily Mail though. It seems to think that Britain should have special laws which protect only the rights of Christians. That druids, environmentalists and vegetarians might have their rights protected by the same laws is, apparently, an outrage. And the ultimate insult:
Even atheists should have their beliefs respected.
Rights for the godless? Whatever next?
[R]ather than focusing on Christian rights in the workplace – which it insists are still strictly limited – the controversial quango suggests employers should give equal respect to fringe and non-religious groups
Yep. That’s how the law works. Thankfully.
Britain abolished its laws discriminating on the grounds of belief in the early Nineteenth Century, when laws preventing Jews and Catholics standing for public office were finally repealed. Since then, the idea that religion should give some citizens more rights than others, has been seen as a throwback to the seventeenth century. Nowadays, legal rights based on religion are features of benighted autocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Apparently, this is company the Daily Mail wants us to keep.
So, yes, if there are laws protecting Christians, the same laws also protect druids, pagans, atheists and, potentially, vegetarians and environmentalists. Consistent with the best of British traditions, the law does not say whether one deeply held belief is any more worthy of protection than another. In this context, there is nothing controversial about “equal respect to fringe and non-religious groups”. It’s how the law in most civilised countries works.
It should therefore have been obvious that, if Nadia Eweida won her case, it would give similar belief-based rights to non-Christians. (As I said time after time after time.) Not to Tory MPs though, if the Daily Mail’s quotes are anything to go by. After having advocated ‘Christian rights’ they are now back to banging on about red-tape and the terrible burden all this will place on struggling businesses.
The ECHR ruling has indeed muddied the waters on religious discrimination. Many people predicted that a victory for Nadia Eweida would cause problems for employers and it almost certainly will. The Equality Commission’s advice is simply an attempt to clarify the position and give some helpful pointers.
Let’s be clear about this. If you supported Nadia Eweida’s campaign for the right to wear her cross at work then this is what you asked for. By demanding employee rights for her you were also demanding them for pagans, druids and atheists too. And, quite possibly, for tattoo-wearers, those with piercings and followers of who knows what other beliefs. Oh and, of course, Muslim niqab-wearers.
Those who backed Nadia Eweida, yet complain vehemently about similar rights being extended to non-Christians, are guilty either of cynical communalism or extreme stupidity. When non-Christians start bringing cases against their employers, as they inevitably will, we can expect a lot more of both.