Last week the government of Quebec passed a discriminatory law that would ban the wearing of kippah (skull caps), turbans and hijabs (headscarfs), among other religious symbols, for all public servants in ‘positions of authority’. This includes teachers, police officers, judges and others. At a stroke, this law bars traditional religious people – many of whom may feel morally obliged to wear such symbols – from a large swathe of public life.
It is not the case that all religious practice must be accommodated at all times. It seems reasonable that a religious person must fulfil the core duties of the role: for example, a registrar in the UK should be required to perform same-sex marriages. Sikhs in the UK carry a ceremonial or blunted weapon, in deference to knife laws. There could even be some debate over the wearing of a full-face veil, if it was found the lack of face-to-face contact significantly impaired a teacher or police officer’s ability to build rapport. But wearing a hijab or kippah in no way impacts others, and to ban them is straightforward bigotry and discrimination.
There are two further noteworthy points:
– In the UK, the progressive movement has been essentially silent (there may be some honourable exceptions). When Trump banned transgender people from the military or imposed a ban on immigration from some Muslim countries, the outcry from human rights groups, columnists and progressive social media was deafening. On this matter I’ve seen nothing beyond the linked BBC article.
– Religious discrimination of this sort is endemic in the progressive movement. Campaigns to ban halal or kosher food, to abolish or restrict faith schools, to regulate places of worship and even ban circumcision are part of the broad progressive alliance, with such views seen as compatible with the broad aims of the social left.
It’s instructive to compare the situation with a recent row over compulsory relationship education schools. Progessives have been quick to say that it’s important that children see all types of family are normal (I agree, though have doubts formal ‘relationship’ lessons are the best way of doing this). Yet on this matter, it seems they are willing to accept the nonsensical description of harmless cultural amd eligious expression as ‘passive proselytism’ – instead of being pleased that children will see people expressing a variety of differen religious cultures. To be blunt, someone who thinks they have the right to prevent a teacher wearing a headscarf or skullcap because this somehow ‘harms children’ is being just as discriminatory as someone who thinks they should be able to stop a teacher turning up to sports day with their same-sex partner.
It doesn’t have to be this way
Fortunately, the anti-religious movement appears to have less traction in the UK than in North America or Europe. There is a long tradition of Sikhs, in particular, wearing turbans in the military and police forces and it is normal to see skull caps, headscarfs and turbans worn in every sphere of public life, from the House of Commons to the classroom. Most people rightly see it as a positive expression of our diverse culture.
But we’re not immune to the tides that wash across the seas. Those in the progressive movement, particularly, need to do more to stand up against the campaigners in their ranks who would stifle religious expression. If hatred towards people of faith is allowed to continue to fester under the banners of equality, animal rights, child psychology or whatever is the latest progressive cause celebre, we may be unfortunate enough to see such state-sponsored discrimination in Britain, too.