24 May 2016

The Public and Religious Exceptionalism

If you have been following the news lately, you probably have encountered the phrase "Religious Liberty Laws" every now and then. Basically, these are laws in various different domains trying to "protect" people's liberties when it comes to religion. Alternatively, these are laws designed to institutionalize discrimination, so to speak. After all, religion and religious beliefs aren't the most egalitarian out there. Plenty of religions think that their own imaginary man in the heaven is better than the other person's imaginary man in heaven, and that if you don't switch allegiance to these imaginary men, then you're better off dead.

So, these religious liberty laws in essence allows people working in the public sector to discriminate based on religion. If you are a gay couple, and you want a gay cake, then the conservative bakery can decline service to you. Simple as that.

What I actually want to rant about is not about these laws, but about something one step before that. That is, the role of religion in the public sector. See, religion should be private. I don't care if you believe in an imaginary man in the heaven or not, and yes, I couldn't care less what kind of imaginary man in heaven you believe in, but your belief should be done in private. That means that if you work in the public sector, then you should be willing to serve anyone, irrespective of whether they believe in the same imaginary man as you or not.

If you own a bakery, you should be willing to bake a cake for anyone, irrespective of your religious beliefs. If you are working as a cook in a supermarket, if someone orders blood sausage, you should cook that, even though your religion forbids you from eating blood. And if you are a flight attendant, and your airline flies to an Islamic country requiring females to wear a headscarf during the time they are on land, then you should wear that, irrespective of whether you have something against wearing it or not. The fact that you are working in the public sector should trump all your religious beliefs. If your religion has something against what you are doing in your work, and you feel that you cannot do that aspect of your job, then it's time for you to find another job.

See, there's so many incidents like these on the news. Conservative bakeries in the USA not wanting to bake a "gay" cake; a Jehovah's Witness cook in a supermarket in Britain not wanting to cook black pudding for a customer who ordered it for breakfast; and flight attendants of Air France who are protesting because the company is starting flights to Tehran.

Yes, as much as I am against religion, I am also against exceptionalism, whether it is for or against religion. So if Air France wants to serve Tehran, it should play with Tehran's rules while in the country. So I see nothing wrong with requiring female flight attendants to wear the headscarf while there. I don't see a valid reason how non-Muslims would be exempt from this rule, the same way as I don't see any valid reason why Muslims would be exempt from any other rule in the Western world, just because they are Muslim.

That said, it would be nice if Air France makes it voluntary for flight attendants to fly this route: if someone doesn't want to wear the headscarf, then don't assign this person to the route.

The thing is, it would have been nice if people understand relativism; the problem with religion is that everything is absolute. Every religion believes that their canon is the absolute truth, and that everything else is false. There isn't room for discussion, nor room for accepting the fact that it is nevertheless okay for other people to believe in some other imaginary man in heaven and be perfectly okay with that.


  1. French feel very strongly about secularism and the headscarf was a huge deal a few years ago. I don't get it since it's mu understanding that there have always been Muslim women in France wearing it, it's hardly a new trend... I have zero problem with it as an atheist as long as your beliefs, whatever they are, don't prevent you from doing your job or being a decent human being!

    1. Zhu,

      Exactly, as long as they don't prevent you from doing your job. The thing is, there are plenty of people out there who think that just because they believe in one particular religion, then they could be excused from doing their job. That is when it becomes an issue. If your job is to bake a cake, then bake a cake irrespective of the religious beliefs of the person who ordered that cake.