Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Religious Exceptions & Discrimination

According to the Washington Post, a federal judge has ruled that a Rastafarian baggage screener's rights were violated when he was fired after refusing to cut his hair. The ACLU, which took up his case, maintains that the firing "violated federal discrimination law." Apparently when he was hired, he was told his hair would not be a problem, and was then later ordered to cut it. Let me first say that I am not defending the actions of his employer. The hair obviously came up during his hiring, they decided to hire him anyway, and then decided to change the rules after he was an employee. I'm not sure how that's illegal, but it's clearly not a good practice. I sympathize with his situation.

But why do religious practices deserve special consideration? The ACLU says the baggage screener was discriminated against because of his religion. But every person working there that wasn't allowed to have long hair but may have wanted to, was discriminated against because they don't belong to a religion requiring a particular hair length. By allowing religious exceptions from standard policy, employers are discriminating in favor of certain individuals and against everyone else. If we actually want non-discriminatory workplaces, the answer is to have standard policies and allow no deviations for religious reasons. People whose job requirements conflict with their religious practices should simply seek other jobs where that won't be a problem. Accomodating their religious preferences isn't non-discrimination, it's special preference that discriminates against everyone else who has to follow the standard rules.

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