The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled this week that private companies can legally ban employees from wearing religious, political, or philosophical signs. I feel a bit uncomfortable about this ruling and here’s why. But first, let me say that I am atheist. I can’t think of anything I could wear that would fall into any of those categories so it doesn’t affect me in any way. I also view religions as somewhat ridiculous. Imagine someone tells you we ought to wear crocheted Marge Simpson hats in public because aliens say we must and it would be wrong to disobey them. We would, I hope, ask for proof that these aliens exist. Suppose this is their response. I’m going to copy and paste from my favourite philosopher again here, Peter Singer,
‘I have encountered these aliens in moments of deep despair, and they have entered into my head and my heart, and I love them and know I can trust them. Open your hearts to them, and you too will come to love them and see that they are right.’
The President of Good and Evil (pg 124)
The main determinant of what religion we are is what religion our parents are. Not many children brought up in Christian families become Islamic and not many children brought up in Islamic families become Christian. Despite my view of religion I still respect a person’s right to religious freedom. It’s possible to reject one or all religions *and* allow others to express religious freedom. That’s what being in a diverse society is all about: tolerance and acceptance.
We should not ban people from wearing head scarves or crosses or any other religious symbol if that’s what they want to do. A ban will ostracise those people further. People can also be quite contrary if you try to tell them what to do and how to behave. It’s far better to encourage reflection and critical thinking and then allow people to make their own decisions.
Another reason, and probably the most significant for me, is that a woman wearing a hijab or a Christian cross is not harming anyone by doing so. There’s no valid reason to ban something when it is completely harmless. We could even argue that it may be harmful to them by limiting job opportunities and the chance to engage fully with society.
There are also likely to be cultural aspects we don’t understand. Imagine you suddenly find yourself in a different country where it is considered normal for women to walk around topless. It feels strange and embarrassing for you to do that and so you continue to dress in the cultural norms you are used to. But local people tease and bully you; it’s hard to find employment and make friends but when you have been taught all your life not to bare your breasts in public it’s very difficult to change overnight.
Can we just be a bit more tolerant, please?