back to article Religious discrimination law may open door for decent deviants

How far can your personal beliefs shield you against a growing culture of enforced respectability? Does paganism count as a "protected" philosophy? Will the law on religious discrimination herald the possibility of a new tolerance in sexual matters? Sacked police trainer Alan Power certainly hopes that is the case. At a …


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  1. Michael 36


    There seems to be a confusion here between philosophy and religion. The three major religions all believe in a creator God who revealed themself to mankind. So a good start to define a religion would be to say that a religion is God-centered. A philosophy such as a belief in man-made climate change is man-centered and so is not a religion.

    And of course man-made climate change has no basis in fact....

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Why are you bundling Paganism in with the others?

    Paganism covers a group of different religions and belief systems, all held very seriously by their adherents. It's not game-playing, role-playing or a light-hearted passtime. The vilification of paganism comes from ignorance, not knowledge.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Of course many unbelievers will scoff at any religious belief, but for those able to consider that there may be a spiritual aspect to existence, then there is a valid question regarding why one belief should be acceptable and valid in society whist another is mocked. In the interests of consistency and fairness, is a belief that there is survival after bodily death is acceptable, why would a belief that some individuals have a limited ability to communicate with those who have died, be open to ridicule and dismissed?

    Good on Alan I say, his experience seems to be the start of righting a blatant wrong.

    As for how far one goes top accepting beliefs not held by yourself, well probably as far as possible. As a starting point, I'd suggest that if the belief is coherent and not demonstrably incorrect; and if it doesn't interfere with other justifiable laws, (and in the case of job positions, isn't going to adversely interfere with their ability to do the job) then it isn't anyone else's prerogative to discriminate based on that difference of opinion.

    I'm a little wary of the ""settled and consistent" belief" reference though. So suppose you thought you were settled in a belief in Protestantism, and suddenly you switched to Buddhism, doesn't that suggest both were unsettled after all, and both should be dismissed?

  4. Paul Hates Handles

    What about...

    ...when things are conclusively proven to be rubbish?

    Like mediums. There has never been a single proven tested instance of a medium being able to do anything other than simple cold reading.

    So any "religion" based on that must surely be bollocks...

  5. Martin Proffitt

    Needs to go further

    We live in a world where it is, on the surface, excepted to follow personal, philosophical and spiritual beliefs which "differ from the norm". Society in general understands that not everybody wants to stick to the conventionally accepted belief structures and accepts our basic right to practice our own views albeit behind closed doors in some instances.

    I am an atheist, many of my friends are pagans, some are wickan and others agnostic yet off the top of my head I can think of two major instances where I have been instructed to accept a more conventional belief system.

    Several years ago I was hospitalised with a particularly nasty disease. I wasn't in a good way at all and was isolated in a side ward, drugged to the eyeballs and under 24 hour surveillance. Whilst I don't remember much from my stay there itself I do recall the nurse coming in at one point and asking me what religion I believed in. I dutifully responded to this that I was an atheist and was subsequently told that she would put me down as CofE.

    About a year after this incident I appeared in court following a minor infraction and was asked to swear an oath on one of the major religions. I think the options were mainly Christianity, Muslim, Hindu and Judaism. There was no option for swearing an oath on anything else and I remember thinking to myself at the time, "If I swear on any of these I am effectively instantly committing perjury". Anything I say after this should really be discredited because I have already lied about something fundamental, yet if I had spoken up against it then I could be held in contempt.

    It is not just employment law where this issue needs to be addressed but in all aspects of society, local government, law enforcement, etc. It is a violation for us to have conventions forced upon us and can lead us into situations where whichever way we turn we are literally "damned if we do, damned if we don't".

  6. Chewy


    It sounds perfectly reasonable that these laws will defend people from minority religions - employment etc. However these laws shouldn't be used to defend the religious teaching itself.

  7. Dazed and Confused

    What's the difference

    I can't see that there is any difference between someone indulging in BDSM or finding partners of the same sex more attractive than those of the opposite one. So long as it is consentual who else's business is it anyway. I'm sure we all have predilections that some other people might find distasteful or at least odd.

    Keep private lives private.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Michael 36

    I hope you're joking. We don't want to discriminate against people who don't believe in God, do we?

    I'm not sure that Hinduism (which I presume is one of the "three major religions") is correctly characterised as a belief in "a creator God who revealed themself to mankind", and I would guess that Buddhism (presumably not one of the "three major religions", but nevertheless a major religion) doesn't fit that description, either.

    I would have thought that the difference between a "religion" and a "philosophy" in the everyday use of those words has something to do with membership of a community: members of a religion are members of a sort of club. However, a different definition might be appropriate for the law, or perhaps the law should just be binned.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    One hand gives, the other takes away

    Companies don't want to employ 'weirdos' because public prejudice against such weirdos may adversely affect their reputation and ultimately their profit margins. Companies therefore end up becoming proxy enforcers of prejudice against individuals. Removing that is no bad thing.

    On the other hand, CRB checks and vetting is exposing people as such weirdos, as dodgy or potentially dangerous individuals on mere allegation or choice of reading and viewing material. While the courts are moving to greater protection of human rights, the government is moving towards undermining them.

    There's a long way to go yet.

  10. lglethal Silver badge

    @ Michael36

    And religion is based in fact? Wow i missed that news bulletin..

  11. Anonymous Coward

    @Michael 36

    and for Buddhism, which has no god ?

  12. keddaw
    Big Brother

    3 major religions?

    Judaism is a cult. It has too few followers to be considered major. Islam 1+billion, Chrisitianity 1+billion, Judaism 14+million.

    What people do in their OWN time is no business of the employer, the government or anyone.

  13. Evil_Trev
    Thumb Up

    Not so confusing

    The real, and probably best, way to distinguish if some idea is a "religion" is to ask two simple questions

    a) Can the person with idea demonstrate that there is evidence for this idea, or do they accept it as true without having direct or indirect proof ?

    b) Are there others that share this idea ?

    There are four possible outcomes

    1. They have no proof but 'believe' and no one else does : Conclusion Nutcase

    2. They have no proof but 'believe' and so do many others: Conclusion Sheep (Religion)

    3. They have proof, but no body agrees with them : Conclusion Nutcase

    4. They have proof and many people also accept the idea with proof : Conclusion : Ok.

  14. Shadowfirebird


    *Please* can we not have this comment thread degenerate into a war between the climate change trolls and the climate change denial trolls (to over-simplify massively)?!

    We could, you know, actually talk about the subject of the article?

    Should a pagan be allowed to be a schoolteacher? Should someone interested in BDSM be allowed to be a judge? Is a law protecting these rights a good one, or not?

  15. qwertyuiop
    Thumb Down

    Bye-bye to the world's fourth largest religion!

    @Michael 36

    "So a good start to define a religion would be to say that a religion is God-centered". Would you agree that Buddhism is a religion? According to several sources it is the fourth largest religion in the world in terms of followers. But a belief in a "god" is not a requirement of Buddhism; Buddha is respected as a great teacher but he is *not* a god and Buddhists don't worship him. So by your definition Buddhism is not a religion.

  16. Steve Swann

    Wait a second....

    ...cogency and coherency are two of the properties required in order for such a standpoint to be 'recognised' as pertinent and defensible?

    Erm... I think that just about ALL religions would fail those tests. If not, then those in charge of making such distinctions are either religious themselves and thus biased, or are simply not looking close enough.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    BDSM isn't a religion?

    Possibly not but at least there's incontrovertible evidence that spanking actually exists which is more than can be said for any imaginary figure worshipped by the religious types.

  18. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Heavenly Work Ethic

    Watch out for the Super Duper Master Organisations which require you to be Porn Proficient for those Special XSSXXXXual EMissions ..... Foreign Deep Cover Trips into Virtual Vital Alien Territory. :-)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This kind of stuff is doomed.

    The relationship between religion and society can itself be a matter of religious belief. What happens when the law on religious discrimination itself conflicts with someone's religious beliefs?

    Many years ago, a Muslim told me of how (in his view at least) it was unreasonable to expect Islam to fit into western secularism, since Islam itself rejected secularism. The idea of God fitting into a human system in which all religions are treated equally was itself offensive. How are religious discrimination laws supposed to deal with cases like that?

    The idea that all religions, philosophical belief systems, etc, can be all nicely accommodated by one, single, secular system in which we "all just get along" is simply ignorant nonsense. And that's my firmly held philosophical belief - so there!

    And then there's the problem of how to separate philosophy from politics. While some might believe that the two are separate classes of ideas and beliefs, there are also those who fundamentally disagree. And, of course, what counts as political is itself a philosophical question in the first place.

    What, for example, is to be made of anarchism as a philosophy? Might philosophical anarchism be an example of how it's not possible to exclude political beliefs from protection at the same time as protecting philosophical freedom? How can the law be enforced in the case of philosophical anarchists without violating their philosophical rights?

  20. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: 3 major religions

    A cult? Those who don't follow any of them regard all three as branches of Judaism and are happy to treat the rise of the latter two as "yet another schism". So that's a pretty big cult.

    There are also ancient branches of Christianity that have now dwindled to very small numbers of adherents, but the bigger churches give them space in Jerusalem in a way that they'd never dream of doing to certain much larger "happy clappy" congregations.

    I don't see that you can judge a religion on either its level of support or its logical basis. It seems that the UK legal system (which now has to, because of this law) is coming to the same conclusion. This being the home of the famously docile CofE, I expect we'll end up with a ruling that religious adherents are people who sit quietly at the back and members of a cult are those who insist on thrusting their beliefs in other people's faces. (At that point, political parties start to look like cults, so parliament may intervene with a new law.)

  21. TRT Silver badge

    @Paul Hates Handles

    Mediumship is only a part of spiritualism. It's a basically Christian, God worshipping religion, much akin to Catholicism and Protestantism, but the mediumship comes in as a 'demonstration of the continuing endurance of spirit'. In fact the part of the service which involves mediums is called the demonstration. I'm not saying I believe in it, and I'm not a spiritualist, but I'm saying it's no more hokey than saying that miracles are a demonstration of the existence of God. There's also a heavy emphasis on spiritual healing, including prayer healing, like in the Baptist flavour of Christianity.

    Spiritualism is a recognised religion, and as such there should be no question in this case - clear and simple discrimination on grounds of religious belief. Should be wrapped up inside of an hour and shouldn't have even made it to court!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    A victim of 21st century?

    Let me put it this way:

    One obvious condition (well, as far as the UK is concerned) is not supporting policy.

    There are plenty, many, reams and reams of policies in most organisations but who really gives a jot?

    It is the same here.

    Everyone will of course defend one's right to freedom of expression in religion (especially if HR decides that one's job and professionalism or sector proficiency demand it is so) until one is confronted or rather meets a first instance of having to support a non-populist religion.

    Tis the way of the wurld m8,

    Tseecht Seemplz?

  23. Phil 54

    Trudeau said it best

    “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”

    Pierre Elliot Trudeau

  24. Red Bren

    Paid overtime?

    If an employer wants to control what their employees get up to in their spare time, they can damn well pay them overtime!

  25. Mark Rosher

    Who is in and who is out? It's as bad as OS's...

    @ Michael 36. Yes, I would suggest you have some confusions regarding religion and what it is if you based it's definition only upon a few book based Abrahamic faiths.

    @ Michael Proffitt. You may not be aware that there is now a "Pagan Oath" which is an agreed honourable statement that could be utilised by folk even if they are not Pagans.

    As a professional engineer, a parish councillor and a trustee of a pagan organisation I feel able to be open in all my dealings. All religions or none, I don't mind, but let's not pick and choose.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    I hate religion

    How did all these nonsense beliefs in (mostly) some mythical deity ever rise to the point where they actually become part of law?

    If you want to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden then that's fine by me. It's complete bollox, obviously, but I don't mind. But religion should be kept firmly inside people's sad and deluded heads, and certainly not entered law.

    I object to even being called an atheist because that is a term with reference to religion and therefore implies some sort of "opt out" when I never asked to be opted-in in the first place. I prefer to call myself "normal" - ie - without any fanciful cranky beliefs (I even resent the fact that I feel I need to explain that! I hate religion!!).

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only problem I see is

    when actively proselytizing groups\cults\religions etc use this ruling as a smoke screen to do exactly what they like.

    "You can't fire me! The The Flying Spaghetti Monster and his apostle the BoFH, demand that I take everyone's HR records and bank details so that they can be cleansed of any ill gotten gains."

  28. Swarthy Silver badge

    Religions, philosophies, and cults. Oh my!


    A philosophy is a belief, or belief system, usually dealing with ethics.

    A religion is a philosophy with a mythos, or a belief in a higher power.

    A cult is simply a religion who's founder is still alive.

    Cults are religions, religions are philosophies. not all Philosophies are religions, and not all religions are cults.

    Ergo, Judaism is not a cult.

    I get a kick out of the fact that people can accept the "3 major religions" as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; all three are of the same philosophy, grouped as "Abrahmic Tradition," because all three follow The God of Abraham.

    I also find it ironic, and hilarious, that the Abrahmic Traditions get separated out, and are never combined, despite their similarities; but pagan religions, which range from duothiesm (Wicca) to pantheism (Norse\Egyptian revival-types), are lumped together as if they were all the same.

  29. JohnG

    Private life

    When at work, it is fair that an employer expects certain standards of behaviour and may require conformance to some dress code. However, everything that happens outside of work is none of the employer's concern, as long as it is legal and does not involve the company name (e.g. like wearing a company uniform to a political or religious event). Whether it is religious beliefs, sexual preference or membership of an S&M club, all of this stuff is part of an employees private life. The employer's opinion or moral attitude to someone else's private life has nothing to do with their performance at work. It doesn't matter whether or not someone thinks spiritualism is a religion - it has nothing to do with work.

    The one exception would be where a church employs someone like a vicar or priest - in that case, it is reasonable to require that they actually follow the religion.

    Of course, the flip side to this is that is is not unreasonable to expect employees to keep their private beliefs and practises to themselves while they are at work.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    this isn't difficult

    People should believe whatever they want, as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's rights.

    On the whole, regardless of belief, we all agree that reality matters. And so we must base our decisions on reality and what can be empirically demonstrated.

    Companies have jobs to fill. They have expectations of the people who want to do those jobs. If somebody's bat-sh*t crazy beliefs interfere with them in discharging their duties then they should go.

    Unless spirtualism can be demonstrated empirically as true it has no use in the solving of crimes. Faithtards can QQ about it all they want, but reality is the only thing we know we've got.

  31. Michael 36

    @qwertyuiop, lglethal, keddaw


    "Buddha is respected as a great teacher but he is *not* a god and Buddhists don't worship him. So by your definition Buddhism is not a religion."

    Correct. Its a philosophy.


    "And religion is based in fact? Wow i missed that news bulletin.."

    If there is no God then where did the universe come from?


    The three major word religions, in chronological order are Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

    "Judaism is a cult. It has too few followers to be considered major"

    It is a religion because it has a God. This is not affected by the number of people who follow Judaism.

  32. Tom Paine Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Most amusing

    I'm enjoying watching the cognitive dissonance of supporting the Human Rights Act in the name of personal freedoms make the heads of the particular Daily Mail-reading commentards explode

  33. peyton?

    @a couple of comments

    Just because Buddha is not considered a god does not mean Buddhism does not include deities.

  34. John Square

    For Christs' (or gaia's) sake!

    I'm bloody fed up with laws... why the hell have we got so many of them? Why do we keep ending up with more and more case law and other tribunal verdicts protecting people who are quite obviously weird?

    The Sustainability Manager at the middle of the eco-case is quite clearly a maladjusted nutcase. Grainger should have sacked him on grounds that he'd fundamentally destroyed his own credibility and made himself unemployable. In other words: it's not to do with belief, it's to do with whether you look like a nutter or not.

    For the vampire lady: you put stuff on the web, traceable to yourself, that broadcasts your private sex life all over the world, and are surprised when the school (!) you work at has a fit?

    I very much doubt that any employee (well, those outside of certain establishments on the the Reeperbahn) would be much in favour with their bosses if they spurted details of their sex life all over a globally accessible media source.

    Pron actor chap? And you decide you want to work with kids? Have you not seen the daily Mail lately?

    I'm all in favour of people being able to be porn stars or sub-dom vampire fantasists and stuff, but fundamentally they've chosen to live their lives in this way. Bully for them. Now live with the consequences of that choice.

    Believe what you like, and do as you will, but accept the responsibility that comes with your choices, and don;t piss and moan when you come a cropper.

  35. Roger Pearse

    Law doesn't include Christianity, obviously

    ... as a series of cases of discrimination have made clear. But does include new agers?

    We need an end to all these systems of privilege for favoured groups, and rather more freedom for all the rest of us; the freedom to speak our mind would be a nice one.

  36. Graham Marsden

    "Codes of Conduct"...

    ... "which appear to be based on little more than a desire to stop any employee from doing anything that the management doesn't like."

    There, corrected it for you.

    See for a couple of examples...

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  39. The Indomitable Gall

    I'm confused.

    Is political philosophy not philosophy now?

    And is my belief that the fortunates (the rich/well-off and the able-bodied) should provide for the unfortunates (poor, disabled etc) a socialist political view, a socialist philosophical view or a Christian religious view?

    Even if we can separate this trichotomy and have me as holding separate but identical political, philosophical and religious views, which of these traits is recessive and which dominant in the eyes of the courts? Does having a political view trump the philosophical and religious views and invalidate them in court or is it OK to have a political view that arises from a philosophy and still defend it on philosophical grounds.

    Personally, I find the idea of a political policy that is not based on some form of philosophy kind of scary.

    "Taxation of the rich -- because providing for the poor is the right thing to do!" is fair enough.

    "No extra tax burden on the rich, because they're generating wealth and deserve to be rewarded for it" is also fair enough, although I'd personally vote against it.

    But "taxation of the rich -- because... well... I don't know, it just kind of sounds good, doesn't it?" really is quite worrying.

  40. bygjohn

    Re: Needs to go further

    Martin Proffitt Posted Monday 16th November 2009 11:00 GMT:

    "About a year after this incident I appeared in court following a minor infraction and was asked to swear an oath on one of the major religions. I think the options were mainly Christianity, Muslim, Hindu and Judaism. There was no option for swearing an oath on anything else and I remember thinking to myself at the time, "If I swear on any of these I am effectively instantly committing perjury". Anything I say after this should really be discredited because I have already lied about something fundamental, yet if I had spoken up against it then I could be held in contempt."

    I think I'm correct in saying you could have asked to simply affirm rather than swearing any oath in this case. This is the option offered to people who regard swearing oaths as bad news, eg Quakers. IIRC that's what I did on jury service.

  41. Richard Parkin

    @ Martin Proffitt Posted 11:00

    In court you should ask to affirm and they will produce an alternative oath. However, from memory, it reads "on soul and conscience" which begs several questions :(

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Vegetarian Butchers

    I wonder, are we going to end up with vegetarians applying for jobs as butchers, while demanding that their potential employers spare them from any work that would conflict with their vegetarian beliefs?

  43. Def Silver badge

    Re: I hate religion

    You're kinda missing the point about religion.

    Organised Religion is population control through manipulation of people's beliefs. Back in the dawn of civilisation, religion was the opiate of the masses; a way to control people. Ie the law of the land. You prostrated and believed, or you were slaughtered.

    It'd be nice to think that in these enlightened days nobody believes a word of it, but unfortunately the delusional fantasies and rituals of people long dead still control most of the people on the planet.

  44. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Paris Hilton

    @Michael 36 (Is that one of the psalms?)

    Every one knows our universe may is the result of a collision between two P-Branes. According to this, what we see around us is a 3D brane floating in a higher dimensional universe, When our P-Brane collided with another P-Brane, it triggered the heating and expansion that be call "big bang". Maybe its M-Branes, I can never remember.

    Where did the P-Branes come from, sorry its turtles all the way down.

    P.S. did anybody look at the p0rnstar…. Sorry p0rnstarlet story, his name, apparently, is Roger Eastwood, and I though they made up their names.

    Paris, 'cos I mentioned P-Branes and p0rn starlets

  45. Martin 71 Silver badge

    I think the point is not 'what is a religion and what isn't

    But more that, what the *HELL* [or your local equivalent] does it have to do with an employer? Provided you turn up for work and actually do the job, what more say do they have?

  46. Michael 36

    Irrational beliefs

    Talking of irrational beliefs I thought that my windows 7 install might last longer than 4 days before it decided that I didn't need the left mouse button.

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  48. Chris Harrison

    Round and round we go...

    Michael 36 Posted Monday 16th November 2009 13:23 GMT


    "And religion is based in fact? Wow i missed that news bulletin.."

    If there is no God then where did the universe come from?


    uhm, if there is a god, then where did god come from?

    If you really want to go down that 'the universe is complex and must have been created' route then good luck - i'll give you a clue to where it leads though - how complex must god be to have made the universe?

  49. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @I think the point is

    The problem is when they turn up and DON'T do the job. At the moment if they don't do the job because of a religous reason you can't fire them - with the new rule they can claim anything as a reason.

    So "I can't work saturday cos God says so" means you have to give them the day off - with the new rules "I can't work saturday cos United are playing at home" is a philosophical belief.

  50. Anonymous Coward

    @Chris Harrison

    "uhm, if there is a god, then where did god come from?"

    C'mon this is religion 101, God IS, if he didn't he wouldn't be God. It would be a pretty lame god that played by our rules and understanding.

    And of course the assertion that there is no god is as much a statement of belief (because you can't prove a negative) as any religious conviction.

  51. mafoo


    What about the great placebo that is homeopathy? It ticks all the boxes for being a religion.

    Are people to sue doctors now because they suggest that other, non sugar and chalk, treatments would be more effective? Thus defaming the patients core beliefs.

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