Four legs good, two legs bad?

Much has been made recently of the latest guidance document released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (not, as some media organs have suggested, the European Court of Human Rights ECHR) concerning Religion or Belief in the workplace- ‘Religion or belief in the workplace: a guide for employers following recent European Court of Human Rights judgments’. The document can be downloaded here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/guidance-for-employers/religion-or-belief-new-guidance-february-2013/
Popular media commentary has focused on a notion that the guidance insists that Druids, Pagans Vegans and Vegetarians are now entitled to special privileges such as time off for festivals and reason to avoid having to clean out fridges that contain meat products. These ‘special privileges’ are identified by the media as loony, wrong and a step too far.
Putting aside the inaccuracy of identifying the guidance document as enabling ‘special privileges’, I feel drawn to comment on what appears to be an issue felt by the media with the concept of equality. In the wake of the Leveson enquiry, I have to wonder if any lessons have been learned by a media that clearly felt it was above the law in pursuing and presenting a story. The latest outbursts from our media, in targeting Pagans, Druids, Vegans and Vegetarians as the main thrust of their ‘outrage’ , seem to be of the opinion that a) those groups should not have equal rights in the workplace and b) are fair game for grabbing the headlines. The Leveson enquiry indicated that there were concerns with unethical behaviour in the media. These media outbursts seem to confirm that and to suggest that the media does not feel an ethical approach to presenting ‘information’ is something that should concern them. ‘All animals are equal unless you are a journalist, in which case you are more equal than others’ seems to be the attitude. How the media hopes to convince us that they should be self-regulating is beyond me.
But getting back to the document that has so animated the media- The title of the document should give the first lie to the media outrage. Religion or belief in the workplace: A Guide for employers following recent European Court of Human Rights judgements. So, this document seeks to help employers understand the implications of judgements made in the European Court of Human Rights with regard to region or belief. That would imply it isn’t intended to dictate, but to guide. You would think journalists would understand the difference between ‘dictate’ and ‘guide’, as they make a living choosing language appropriate to deliver the news of the day. You would also think that they may be able to make a distinction between the European court of human rights (especially as they had already reported on those judgements by the ECHR) in the past and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Perhaps they were confused by the reference to one organisation by another.
The document itself suggests:
This good practice guide aims to help employers understand how to comply with the Court’s judgment when recognising and managing the expression of religion or belief in the workplace. It specifically addresses the following questions:
• How will an employer know if a religion or belief is genuine?
• What kind of religion or belief requests will an employer need to consider?
• What steps should an employer take to deal with a request?
• What questions should employers ask to ensure their approach to a religion or belief request is justified?
• Do employees now have a right to promote their particular religion or belief when at work?
• Can employees refrain from work duties?
And goes on to provide some examples of requests and how employers might deal with them.
The very next paragraph of the document states:
The Equality and Human Rights Commission supports individuals’ right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to conditional protection of the right to express religion or belief. It seeks to promote a balanced approach to recognising and managing religion or belief issues at work and to help employers and employees find reasonable solutions, wherever possible, and avoid complex, costly and damaging litigation. It is in the interests of all parties to try to find reasonable solutions through discussion, mutual respect and, where practical, mutual accommodation.
To me, that seems to suggest that the remaining sections of the document are likely to indicate ways to ensure that employees are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that a conditional right to express religion or belief in the workplace exists. That conditional part seems important in that the document refers to seeking to promote a ‘balanced approach to recognising and managing religion or belief issues at work and to help employers and employees find reasonable solutions wherever possible…’
Ok, so maybe it is just me completely failing to understand this document and the media have the right of the matter. I have to be honest and say I am not in the slightest bit convinced that is the case. My feeling is that this is another case of the media picking up on some news and twisting it to create sensationalism. However, in doing so, I feel they are throwing into question the entire concept of employees having rights…. Except, perhaps for journalists. ‘Four legs good. Two legs bad’ indeed!

By Mike Stygal

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    4 Responses to Four legs good, two legs bad?

    1. thetwistedaxe says:

      another case of today’s news being tomorrows bird cage lining, as happened with the stones of praise incident, once they have something else to sensationalize they will move on,

    2. Christopher Blackwell says:

      The media has a long history of either trying to attack Pagans as dangerous, or calling them foolish. But facts have never been all that big with the media. Sensationalism, conflict and controversy always have big ways for the media to grab people’s attention even if the media has to make up it up as in this case. This is one of the reason that fewer and fewer intelligent people pay much attention to the media when it fall to the level of the gutter press.

      As for Pagans, we have had to create our own media in order to get factual news about our own communities. Ironically because of Pagans great interest in the world around them I can get more news about the environment, about religious rights, human rights, more about history, myth, archeology and technology through some of the Pagan media then I can get through the regular media which is only interested in silly celebrities, crime, disaster and scandal.

    3. Sue Dorney says:

      Excellent and well thought out blog. However, my fears on this issue with the attitude of the media, is that it is the Pagan community that are going to appear as though we are somehow demanding special privilages which is not the case at all. We don’t need special privilages, we can get time off for festivals if we book it in advance, just like everyone else books holidays.

      • CSO says:

        I completely agree. It’s a bit like the fuss the media made about the Police Pagan Association…. suggestions that police officers would be getting time off for festivals and neglecting their duty….. just like all the other faiths do- NOT. As with other faiths, Pagans need to book time off and, if that doesn’t fit then they can’t have that time off. The guidance itself doesn’t suggest any special privileges at all. It simply seeks to offer guidance on how to handle issues concerning religion or belief in the workplace in light of the developments in the ECHR. It could be argued that the media’s struggle to grasp concepts of equality is one reason why employers might actually need this guidance.

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