Saturday, March 22, 2008

Freedom of Religion vs Equal Rights

A rather interesting ruling has come out of a federal court in Dallas today. The case was a Southern Baptist seminary vs a former female professor. The seminary had fired (technically not renewing the contract, but that is mostly semantics (how else do you interpret "You're doing a good job, you know what to do and how to do it, but we're not going to keep employing you.")) because she was a woman.

So, an easy open and shut case. Clear discrimination on the basis of gender, scorn and misery heaped upon the seminary and life goes on for all.

Nope. The seminary claimed that its religious beliefs forbid women to teach a man. Their basis for this claim is the First Epistle to Timothy, chapter 2 verse 12 "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man." (Heaven help them if Hilary wins the election.) And so, to insure their freedom to practise their religion, they have the right to not employ a woman to teach a man (The article notes that the seminary does employ ten women as teachers (out of 116) but only one teaches theology and she teaches only women's classes).

This the court bought, and decided in favour of the seminary.

This situation is an interesting case. Here we have two groups claiming two different rights and trying to decide which takes precedence. On the one hand, we have the woman, clearly discriminated against because of her gender, wanting to be treated fairly on her merits as a teacher, without consideration of her gender. On the other side is a religious group whose beliefs require that men and women are not treated equally, and that to deny them their ability to treat men and women differently is to deny them their right to profess their faith.

This is a tricky one. Actually, no it isn't. Using religion to justify sexist actions doesn't stop it being sexist any more than using religion to justify racist actions makes that any less racist. The quote from Timothy is 2000 years old and from a society very different to the one we live in now. To use the bible literally as a set of rules for modern life is ridiculous. We don't stone people for adultery, and we criticise those who do (I'm looking at you, Iran). We've decided that that part of the bible doesn't work for us any more. And I have to say, neither does the quote from Timothy. It doesn't fit the modern world, so it's going to have to go. To put it bluntly, we're better than that now.

And what if I were to say my religious beliefs required I receive a 10% pay rise each year. No employer would accept that, and would not be liable for infringing my rights to religion.

Now that I've decided that the seminary is indeed in the wrong (my initial reaction was the same, but I wanted to work out why exactly. I'm embarrassed to say that the simple argument I give took me a while to realise.), just like a court should do we need to work out how to resolve the situation. There should definitely be some financial compensation. They should continue to pay her salary until she finds a new job (backdated to when they actually fired her, and only up to say three years), plus some extra as a lump sum (a few years pay at most. I'm not proposing a massive punitive sum, just enough to fix the mess they made). They should also be made to publicise what they did. I'm thinking a full page spread in several major news papers, plus any internal or student news publications. Such public notices should be prominently displayed and should stick to the facts, without trying to weasel out of the blame.

Case adjourned.

End Post
Writing time: 43 minutes
Time since last post: 12 hours
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally nuts... there is no other way to describe this... totally nuts...