Even though it’s a few months old I only recently came across this press release about British turban wearing Sikhs now being officially exempt from having to wear any headgear usually associated with any job. This includes items connected to health and safety such as protective helmets on building sites.
This got me to thinking, not for the first time, about the ongoing impact of religion on UK law. Naturally, this is a touchy subject. Daniel Dennett devotes much of his book Breaking the Spell to the concept that not only are religions themselves very successful memes but that almost as powerful is the associated meme of not being able to question their rules without being seen deeply disrespectful.
I’m a big fan of John and Hank Green (the Vlogbrothers) but in an episode of their podcast Dear Hank and John ever they answered a question about adult baptism with “just do it if it makes other people happy”.
This state of non-questioning or just-going-along has lead to a number of different impacts on UK life – including several things I’d not previously heard of. Most of these I discovered via National Secular Society.
However, there are many other instances:
- “Anyone in Holy Orders or a regular minister of any religious denomination” is exempt from jury service
- Schedule 9 of the Equality Act 2010 states that there is an exception for sex discrimination if the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion
- Multiple issues around non-medically-required circumcision
- Lack of prosecutions in the UK for female genital mutilation
- The Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Act 2015 which was specifically introduced to allow “the inclusion of prayers or other religious observance” at local council meetings after a previous High Court ruling had stated that they were illegal
- Slaughter of animals without pre-stunning
- The millions of pounds of state funding spent on NHS chaplains
- Chancel Repair Liability where owners of some properties find themselves obligated to pay for repairs to local parish churches
- Multiple issues related to the impact of religion on schools including faith schools and the requirement for collective worship
- Unbelievably as late as October 2015 the NHS advertising for a spiritual healing role
If any other groups of comparable sizes were to campaign for similar funding or exemptions they would stand very little chance of getting them. Yet, due to the tradition of religious accommodation in the UK these practices are likely to continue for some time to come.
There is some good news on the horizon – the report Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good published by the Woolf Institute was written by a combination of religious and non-religious authors and has a number of sensible suggestions. In addition, even some ministers are calling for the de-establishment of the Church of England.
All we can do is keep raising these issues and hope that the fact that regular church attendance has now fallen to less than 1.5% will mean that we won’t have to wait too long for positive change.