A number of Britons felt it was intrusive for the 2001
Census to ask about their private religious beliefs. So, as a protest, 390,000
described their religion on the form as “Jedi”. As a result the wholly
fictional Jedi-ism is officially the UK’s fourth biggest religion.
Some people did not get that it was a joke. A British
employment exchange, euphemistically called a Jobcentre,
apologised recently for telling a dole applicant to remove his hood – of the
type usually worn by troublemakers – after he claimed that he was a Jedi and that
wearing the hood indoors was an integral part of his “religion”!
Of course, that’s the public sector for you – but the nasty
thing about the public sector is that it imposes its own absurdities on the
In another recent case,
a judge ruled that a belief in climate change could be treated the same as a
religious belief for the purposes of an unfair dismissal claim. There was
speculation that the judge was being satirical in equating climate change with
faith – defined in the Bible as “the conviction of things not seen” – rather
than science, which is supposed to be based solely on data that can be
observed, but the fact remains that his decision is still the law now.
Employees can launch claims for unfair dismissal on the basis of their
political opinions as well as their religious beliefs.
Perhaps we should at least consider whether there should
even be laws against religious discrimination in the workplace. After all, the
only valid test of what separates a real religion from a fake is that true
believers are prepared to make sacrifices for their faith.
Using one’s beliefs as a pretext for compensation claims is
hardly an act of martyrdom.
Against that, it could be argued that only anti-religious
discrimination laws can prevent a situation like that in Ulster in the 1960s,
when Roman Catholics were effectively excluded from many of the best paid
occupations. However, it should be noted that, at least in some cases, this may
not have been due to prejudice on the part of the employers: by employing only
one denomination, they hoped to avoid sectarian violence in the workplace. The
very same lawyers who sue for discrimination would also sue for failing to
ensure safety at work!
Most employers have no interest in getting in the middle of
religious disputes. We refuse to be judges of these things. All we want is employees
who come to work to do the job we need done, the job we pay them to do, no more
no less – and what they do, say, and believe on their own time is entirely
their business, providing it isn’t detrimental to our businesses. Is that too
much to ask?