No Mr Phillips, no

Christians who want to be exempt from equality legislation are like Muslims trying to impose sharia on Britain, Trevor Phillips, the human rights watchdog, has declared.

No, I\’m afraid this isn\’t quite correct.

“To me there’s nothing different in principle with a Catholic adoption agency, or indeed Methodist adoption agency, saying the rules in our community are different and therefore the law shouldn’t apply to us. Why not then say sharia can be applied to different parts of the country? It doesn’t work.”

One group is saying that the law of the land should recognise our beliefs and accomodate them. The other is that the law of the land should recognise our beliefs and impose them on others.

Or if you prefer, there\’s a difference between active and passive. Not providing adoption services to Teh Gays is one thing. Insisting that no one provide adoptions services to Teh Gays is another.

For example, it is legal to open a shop on Sunday. But there is no law that says a Christian shopkeeper must open on a Sunday: nor that a Jewish one must do so on a Saturday or a Muslim on a Friday.

Another example, prostitution. This is indeed a legal activity in the UK. We have quite strict laws about discrimination between people on the grounds of their sexuality. Yet absolutely no one is absurd enough to say that prostitutes may not discriminate against (or even for) potential customers on the grounds of their sexuality.

In a free country you should indeed be allowed to discriminate on what services you offer to whom for whatever reason you care to. Just as there should not be laws preventing you from doing as you please (subject, as always, to the no harm to others and the Mrs. Patrick Campbell clauses) in order to impose the prejudices, religious or otherwise, of others.

31 comments on “No Mr Phillips, no

  1. Hmm. I agree, except where the service provider is taking public money to provide a service. If it’s a private institution then they are free to do what they like with their money/time/premises but the once you start accepting public cash, you then have to accept the strings that come with it.

  2. Yet absolutely no one is absurd enough to say that prostitutes may not discriminate against (or even for) potential customers on the grounds of their sexuality.

    Yet.

    In a free country you should indeed be allowed to discriminate on what services you offer to whom for whatever reason you care to.

    Yes but how do we get there from here? Because we don’t live in that sort of country.

  3. Phillips is saying that religious agencies providing services to society as a whole must abide by the law – so must not discriminate on grounds of sex, orientation etc. because that’s illegal, even if their religious beliefs require it. So can we therefore suggest that Halal butchers must abide by the UK’s laws on animal cruelty – which require that animals are stunned before being killed? After all, they are providing a service to society as a whole, not just to their own religious community, aren’t they? As far as I am aware there are no restrictions on who can shop in a Halal butcher’s shop…..

  4. It’s a good principle in general, but there’s a lot of edge cases where it breaks down. For instance, the only b&b in a small village doesn’t allow unmarried couples to share a room. A couple driving through the countryside need somewhere to stay for the night, but the b&b only has one room available. Should they have the legal right to force them to sleep in the stable?

  5. They should have the legal right to prevent whoever they want from entering their property for any arbitrary reason.

    As for ‘force them to sleep in a stable’, if there was no B&B and they asked to stay at a private house, and the owner refused, he would be forcing them to sleep in the stable, but we wouldn’t think him guilty of a fucking hate crime.

  6. I think it becomes problematic when we move away from ‘easy’ cases like whether or not someone should be forced to allow teh gays to do teh gaying in their house.

    What if I own a company, am I allowed to discriminate against teh gays when I hire people, because my religion thinks they’re wrong and dirty and I’ll go to hell if I do anything to help them fund their evil lifestyles? Am I allowed to fire someone for coming out, or for having an abortion?

    What if my religion is OK with teh gays, but has a beef with teh blacks? Or, hey, what if it has a beef with ALL THE OTHER RELIGIONS (which, let’s be clear, it probably should.. damn infidels) I can make up a religion to justify whatever the hell I like.. just like man has done for millenia!

    I don’t think that a B&B owner should have any obligation to allow teh gays to stay.. whether on religious grounds or just because they find the whole business distasteful. But I don’t much fancy the idea that ‘coming out’ could also be deemed to be a legitimate sacking offence.. and that’s only a short logical hop away.

    I have no answer. I can apply my moral code to any given situation, but I’m fucked if I can see how the law should position itself. It’d be nice to scrap all the hate/discrimination laws and just rely on people to not be twats.. but, personally, I think that we’re still a decade or three away from breeding out enough of the old prejudices for that to be something that might work.

  7. The situations that concern me are the ones where there’s a limited choice of alternatives. For instance, there was a florist in Canada recently who refused to supply flowers to gay weddings. Fine, he’s free to be an idiot and offend every gay wedding planner in the country – I’m sure there must be at least one straight one who’ll still shop there. But what about the only pharmacy in an isolated community refusing to stock condoms or fill prescriptions for the contraceptive pill because the owner is Catholic?

    To an extent, globalisation helps. You can buy condoms over the internet (and you should – they’re much cheaper that way and you get a better selection). But I agree with The Thought Gang that we’re not quite at the point where we can completely toss out anti-discrimination laws.

  8. Oh, and as an addendum – what if the postman refuses to deliver said mail order condoms? It’s easy to construct a case where one or two people’s prejudices have a disproportionate effect on other people’s lives.

  9. The performing arts industry of course can and does discriminate against people routinely on grounds of sex, age and colour. It doesn’t seem to do so on the grounds of sexual orientation, except maybe in reverse – the casting couch can be used for men as well as women. This discrimination is completely legal because casting needs in the play, show or whatever are exempted from current legislation. I can’t see why, if exemptions from equality legislation can be granted on artistic grounds, they shouldn’t be granted on religious grounds too.

  10. Frances

    Isn’t there quite a difference between saying ‘You can’t have this part because you are an old black man, and the part is that of a young white girl’ and saying ‘You can’t work for this company because you are an old black man and my deeply held religious beliefs state that old black men are unnatural and wrong’?

    The idea in the arts is, one presumes, that some people are clearly not fit to do the job as a result of age/gender/colour. To outlaw such discrimination would, indeed, be political correctness gone mad.

    If I applied for a job as a Calvin Klein underwear model, I could handle being rejected because I’m not a sexy man who looks good in his undercrackers.. but if I were rejected because either me or the (non)hirer goes to the wrong church I’d be a tad annoyed.

  11. Tim, did you come up with the sex-worker example yourself, or is it copied from somewhere? It’s genius – more thought-provoking than some of the traditional examples that get raised e.g. delivery of vital public services (where discrimination is widely agreed to be intolerable) vs the acting/modelling job (where the discrimination is essential to the role on offer). It’s an example of non-essential service where most people would accept that the discriminatory whims of the service provider should not be challenged, and if there is one such case it suggests there must be a whole realm of such cases, separated from those cases where we wish the law to step in by some fuzzy and uncharted line.

    “Live and let live” is easier said than done. Like The Thought Gang I’m not sure where the line should wind, but I’m pretty sure most folk would agree it should outlaw discrimination in the provision of public services (or anything paid out of our taxes), essential services (healthcare, utilities) and certain other protected areas (accommodation, employment – within certain limits that I’m not sure about).

    TTG, I actually think Frances’ example of outright religious discrimination may be valid in certain circumstances. “If I were rejected because either me or the (non)hirer goes to the wrong church I’d be a tad annoyed” may carry less force if you were going for a job with the church, for instance. It’s arguable that sharing certain personal values and objectives is necessary to fit certain roles (e.g. pastor, outreach worker, campaigner, possibly spokesperson, but probably not someone working for them in admin, accounts or cleaning), in the same way that sex and looks matter for acting and modelling roles (but probably shouldn’t for cabin crew).

    A broader and more prevalent example of this is general philosophical/political inclinations, not just metaphysical outlook. Lots of job ads for campaign groups, think tanks, political parties, charities and so on, require applicants to at least “sympathise” with the aims of the organisation, and in some cases the expectation is clearly that the applicant should be fully signed-up and active within “the movement” (somewhat equivalent to being a “regular church-goer”). Where is that okay? Senior leadership roles, clearly, need their vision to match organisational ones. In practice, “researchers” probably need to be biased as well, at least to be “effective” in terms of organisational goals. (No point writing up reports for publication, no matter how clever or insightful or evidence-led, that contradict the official line.) Back office staff probably shouldn’t be discriminated against in this way, although I can understand they may not fit into organisational culture if they have different leanings, and it must be tempting to apply some kind of “loyalty test” to anyone with access to sensitive information, to prevent “moles” and “infiltrators” (am told a fair amount of this actually happens in political campaigns). The law currently has a broad approach to “religious” discrimination, which provides protection to wide array of viewpoints that could be construed as “philosophical”.

  12. The Thought Gang

    It could be argued that discrimination is discrimination and that there is no such thing as “good” or “acceptable” discrimination. But a bigger issue, in my view, is that outlawing something doesn’t stop people doing it. So a prospective employer refuses to employ an old black man. Unless the employer specifically says it is because he is old, black and a man, the employer is not breaking the law even if deeply-held prejudice against old black men is IN FACT the reason why the employer refused him a job. If a religious organisation opposes homosexuality, for example, using legislation to force that organisation to employ or assist homosexuals is simply asking for them to find other reasons why the jobs or assistance can’t be provided to individuals who – quite coincidentally, of course – happen to be gay. Or, of course, to stop employing or assisting anyone. Which may be in practice what happens if Mr Phillips gets his way. Is it better that religious organisations discriminate against a few in order to provide help to many? Or maybe religious organisations shouldn’t be allowed to provide secular assistance at all, and it should all be done by the glorious State, which of course won’t discriminate against anyone, will it?

    Let’s not get into the question of whether underwear models should look sexy or should reflect reality!

  13. Frances

    I understand, and I do happen to think that religious organisations should be free to excercise their discretion/discrimination to their hearts content.. but I’m less keen to see those who follow religions take their ‘discretion’ out into the wider world (albeit that, like the B&B example, I’d have no issue with it in a great many situations.)

    But I know that you’re right… people who wish to discriminate will find a way to do it.. but if the law means that I have to find stealthy ways to ensure that I don’t hire black people.. rather than simply being able to put a ‘no niggers’ sign outside the office, then that’s good, isn’t it? The more people learn to repress their prejudices, the less likely they are to pass them on.

  14. Is it acceptable to have a restriction on personal liberty that results in a greater total amount of personal liberty in society some years down the road?

  15. Is it acceptable to have a restriction on personal liberty that results in a greater total amount of personal liberty in society some years down the road?

    Conscription in time of war? And rationing / blackouts / not trading with the enemy.

    What about imprisoning criminals? Especially if you’ve got a functional rehabilitation system (we don’t.)

    s4 & particularly s5 Mental Health Act?

    You might well argue that some of these aren’t necessarily going to result in subsequent “greatest liberty of the greatest number” results but …

  16. Good examples. I think anti discrimination laws fall into that category, at least for important public services – even when provided by private enterprise.

  17. There should be a different standard for those businesses and services which benefit from public sector funds. Taxpayers should not be paying any agency to act in a discriminatory manner. Pharmacies which dispense NHS prescriptions should not be at liberty to withhold any legal product.
    B&B owners however, are private sector businesses, they should be at liberty to set their own rules. There is a private hotel near our local infirmary, which is dedicated to accomodating catholics. They are catering to the families of seriously ill patients who have been admitted to the hospital, and daily communion from a local priest is one of the benefits they provide. They don’t advertise, their guests are mostly referred by diocesan organisations who help parishioners going through traumatic times. Someone has complained about their policy being “non inclusive”, and they may be forced to close. I think that is wrong.

  18. I’m not talking about a B&B where you can go to the one around the corner, by the way. I’m talking about the case where there is literally no alternative except sleeping in your car.

  19. There should be a different standard for those businesses and services which benefit from public sector funds. Taxpayers should not be paying any agency to act in a discriminatory manner.

    I’d go a little bit more libertarian than that. There should be a public-sector funding standard of non-discrimination. However, the public sector should be allowed, within set boundaries to relax that for deserving cases.

    As an example, I’d suggest that it isn’t entirely against the public good that “homes for retired gentlewomen” should be allowed to receive funds for those interned who qualify without having to admit the appalling oiks of the spear-side.

  20. SE, if you had said “homes for retired gentleMEN” I would have cheered. The problem is that “equality” doesn’t mean equal treatment. Homes for retired gentlewomen may very well receive funds. Or at the very least they could be allowed to exist, even though they would be blatantly discriminatory. Homes for retired gentlemen (or appalling oiks, for that matter) – no chance. In fact homes for retired gentlemen would likely be outlawed, wouldn’t they?

  21. Matthew L – “Is it acceptable to have a restriction on personal liberty that results in a greater total amount of personal liberty in society some years down the road?”

    Perhaps but this is not the case here. What these laws say is that every single transaction between two adults is now the business of the State. Nothing is free from their regulatory grip. There is no private sphere or even private life at all. It is about as totalitarian as you can get.

    If we say that a pharmacist has to meet some government guideline for who they sell to, then every single transaction becomes suspect and open to challenge in the courts. If we say that an adult may not use some form of words, then every word we say is now a potential offense.

    The only areas of freedom left are what they can’t be bothered enforcing.

  22. Matthew L – “I think anti discrimination laws fall into that category, at least for important public services – even when provided by private enterprise.”

    How is a B&B an important public service?

    20Matthew L – “I’m not talking about a B&B where you can go to the one around the corner, by the way. I’m talking about the case where there is literally no alternative except sleeping in your car.”

    Well two things – hard cases make bad laws. And of course you are talking about one where you can go around the corner. No one passes these laws on the one-in-a-million off chance they are in a town miles from nowhere, with no one willing to open a competing side line in condoms, and just one pharmacist who is so strict they refuse to sell birth control.

    I see no pressing social need to force anyone to not discriminate. The market will take care of it by itself. What is more the law probably creates more problems than it solves. People’s petty resentments are not cured by giving them a chance at getting State backing.

  23. But private houses aren’t advertising themselves as providing accommodation, are they?

    Nor are B&Bs advertising accommodation with no conditions attached.

  24. What these laws say is that every single transaction between two adults is now the business of the State. Nothing is free from their regulatory grip.

    When I’ve argued about this with lefties, they are delighted with this state of affairs. They genuinely believe that as soon as cash changes hands, the entire affair becomes the business of the state and should only be allowed with the state’s blessing. In the next breath they complain about faceless corporations homogenising Britain’s retail.

  25. Frances,

    It was just an example …

    Homes for retired gentlemen (or appalling oiks, for that matter) – no chance. In fact homes for retired gentlemen would likely be outlawed, wouldn’t they?

    Goodness, no. Of course they exist. They’re not as common as they used to be, of course, but they exist and there is currently no bar on the residents receiving state aid for their care.

    Possibly, as you note, this is only because Mr Phillips and his motley crew (and that’s a horrible visual image – glam metal bureaucrats) have yet to take them to court on behalf of some ageing chavette.

    Although I’d point out the counter-example of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea …

  26. It was a counter-example – with Dorothy Hughes and Winifred Phillips being admitted in 2009.

  27. Matthew, I don’t know the exact rationale for the push to get them closed down, except that someone at the hospital was miffed when he found out that the guest house accomodation was not available to him. I do know they have been there for years, and have never advertised their services to the general public. They are registered with the local authority as a private guest house.

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