I do like getting wound up over a good alleged religious discrimination story once in a while. It’s been ages since that Christian registrar who didn’t want to conduct civil partnerships, so the recent story about Sikh children bringing daggers into school sounded very promising.
Unfortunately, not only am I going to have to steal the subject line from the New Humanist’s report on this (because it’s really the only obvious reference to make, that I can see), I’m also going to fail entirely to have an original opinion.
It is unlawful in this country, I understand, to be carrying a knife (of the potentially-offensive-weapon sort) in public, and this certainly includes what children are allowed to bring into schools. If you think the law should be changed, then try and get the law changed, but as it stands now this is just not something you’re allowed to do.
If anyone can get around this law by claiming that an unlawful act is religiously important to them, then the law might as well not be there. Either it becomes trivially easy for anyone to claim religious privilege on any action they like, or the legal system has to take on the role of judging the validity or sincerity of people’s religious beliefs. The latter even I find worrying and ridiculous, and I don’t have any religious beliefs.
Our society decides on a set of rules that everyone in it must live by, and the prohibition of offensive weapons in public is one of them. No skirting around it. No privilege to anyone who has a “belief” that’s important to them. You can have all the beliefs you like, but you can’t do the things that have been classified as unlawful. Them’s the rules.
We don’t need to be dicks about it.
Something I mentioned when writing about that Christian registrar up there, back in my relatively early blogging days, was that I hoped that her employers would have made at least some effort to accommodate her, and see if they couldn’t find some way she could carry on doing her job usefully, without rigidly insisting that she go through with the part she was uncomfortable with. Maybe it wouldn’t be possible, because the limitations she placed on what she was willing to do just made her hopelessly ineffective at the job, but I hope they explored that option.
And I think Sikhs should be given a similar chance.
The fuss is over a certain type of ceremonial dagger, called a Kirpan, which some Sikhs consider it important to carry on their person. In particular, one boy was banned from wearing his Kirpan at school.
Now, the Kirpan is a dagger, and it’s against the law for people to bring daggers into school. The law applies to hoodies and headmasters, teens and teachers, swots and Sikhs. That’s the first important thing to remember.
And yet, it’s a ceremonial thing that means something to some people, and it merits us asking if there’s any way we can help them achieve their goals. Call it my libertarian streak, but whenever there’s a chance to inch nearer the “let people do whatever the hell they want” side of things, I think it’s worth exploring.
And, indeed, this was explored at the time. The school suggested that wearing “a smaller knife, welded into a metal sheath” would be perfectly acceptable, which seems like a helpful compromise – it should be able to fulfil the religious requirement, and it means the school are willing to acknowledge the difference between an actual offensive weapon and something that’s obviously more of a decorative trinket. But the kid’s parents refused to accept this.
So, it’s the religious end of things that’s making me go “eurgh” and wave my hands in dismissal at the whole business this time. Your religious beliefs are personal to you, and not something anyone else is obliged to give a toss about. If your personal set of priorities require you to carry a knife everywhere you go, then you may find your potential destinations becoming more limited – and if your priorities are that important to you, then that’s a sacrifice that you’re choosing to make and will have to learn to live with.
If my Holy Church of Cricket-Bat-To-Everyone’s-Groin ever changes its doctrine to enforce its one and only tenet more rigorously, I’m going to have a decision to make. Fortunately, you won’t be obliged to accommodate my religious beliefs.
Ooh, and I nearly forgot! On a totally different topic, this is fucking hilarious. Until you remember that millions of people wanted her to be Vice President of the United States. And then it’s so very sad.