The National Secular Society has called on the Government to permit employers to declare their workplaces to be secular after another incident of conflict over religion emerged.
This week, a Catholic man was suspended for three days from his job as a car park supervisor at Manchester Airport after he hung a “picture of Jesus” on the wall of the staff room, and incurred the wrath of a Muslim colleague. He claimed that the picture was deliberate “provocation”. Mr Langmead, of Atherton, Greater Manchester, was eventually reinstated without consequences, his employer saying he had done nothing wrong.
Now, instead of telling employees to leave their religion at home, the airport has engaged the chaplain and his team to work with employees to “foster a greater level of understanding about each other’s beliefs”. It does not say whether these lessons in tolerance will be part of the working day when, presumably people uninterested in religion will be left to hold the fort while the believers go off for their training in hate management.
This incident follows on from the incident of a Hindu woman who insisted on wearing a nose stud, against uniform policy, at Heathrow airport, and was consequently sacked – and then reinstated.
Another Heathrow worker, the Christian activist Nadia Eweida, was suspended for four months for wearing a Christian cross. She returned to work after the airline came under intense media pressure to change its uniform policy to accommodate her demands. She subsequently demanded that BA include Bible readings on its in-flight entertainment system.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “These incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. Conflicts between people who insist on making an issue of their religion in the workplace will escalate. In the USA, the number of legal actions about religious discrimination at work is second only to sex discrimination cases. That will also soon apply here. Instead of trying to accommodate every religious demand (as each concession is made, another demand is waiting in the wings – as last week’s incident with Sainsbury’s and the Muslims refusing to handle alcohol showed).”
Mr Sanderson continued: “The workplace should become a secular space where religion plays no part. The only way to stop these confrontations is to stop the religious proselytisers in their tracks and make it a term of employment that they will not bring religious issues to work.
“Instead of this, we are going down the road of trying to satisfy activists who will not be happy until religious practice is mandatory for everyone on the shop floor. We will soon have the situation that applies in America, where all employees are required to pray together at the beginning of the working day.”
Mr Sanderson said that the provision of prayer rooms, special washing facilities, and even toilets specially dedicated to one particular religious tradition must be making a significant impact on the economy of some employers.