When I first read of Lilian Ladele’s court win I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that a court had ruled in favour of a civil servant refusing a minority of the population what’s in their right only based on her beliefs.
As I reflected on it, I started to understand that the judge would have ruled on the fact that Ms Ladele probably did feel isolated and discriminated against by her employer and the ruling wasn’t really about whether she had a right to discriminate against gay people. It’s only tragic that it is being interpreted this way.
I felt sorry for her but as I thought about how she felt discriminated and isolated, I started wondering if it wasn’t right that she should feel this way. A religion is an ideology: an organised set of beliefs that you subscribe to and choose to live your life by. Gay, on the other hand, is what you are. Is it really ok to discriminate against people for what they are, based on your beliefs? Do our beliefs really supersede the law? If I’m a racist or a misogynist, to what extent do my beliefs deserve respect?
“No,” you’ll say, “this is her religion, not just something she believes in.” Same difference. Why is an atheist not given the same respect as someone who believes in God? Are we saying that of all the things we believe in, whether or not you believe in God determines if all your other beliefs will also be given credit? Apparently it’s like a main switch that determines if your other ideas are eligible for respect.
If my religion tells me women should stay at home, am I allowed to stop dealing with them at work? And if alcohol is sinful in some religions, can a barman ask “to be excused” from serving alcoholic beverages? His employer certainly won’t be able to sack him for it.
The truth is I find it tiring how we’re all having to tiptoe around religion as if it were something we’re never allowed to question. I was under the impression we were living in a secular society. Beliefs are beliefs, they should be respected in as far as they don’t try to limit other people’s freedoms – this is hardly a new concept and it’s ironic that I’d have to reiterate it in a country that considers itself a democracy.