03
Feb
10

A comment on a very good post by Ralph Wedgwood on PEA Soup:

Hi Ralph,

I appreciate your post and would like to ask for some clarifications. Your suggestion to use the idea of an “expressive purpose” or a “representative role” is a way to be sensitive the arguments raised by the English Bishops. But it might concede too much.

According to the UK anti-discrimination Bill, being involved in “promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion” counts as a reason for taking into account sex or marital status or sexual orientation. There are some examples of how it might work. In some countries (e.g. Italy), the Catholic Schools and especially the Catholic University refuse to hire someone who is the re-married condition. This is considered a good reason whether one is a teacher or Moral Philosophy or Quantum Mechanics or Greek Literature. And, I suspect, also for the role of janitor or book-seller or front-office secretary. Now, the Bill would give the opportunity of distinguishing between the role of janitor and secretary on the one side, and that of Professor of Moral Philosophy on the other. And would also offer some argument to those who would object against considering the teaching of Physics as being involved in “promoting or explaining the doctrine” (but what about teaching Evolutionary Biology? Well, a Catholic University would probably not offer such a teaching…). Yet, the idea seems quite clear. Being a janitor should not count as promoting the doctrine, as well as being a parish secretary. And, in my opinion,  the same should be said for the teaching of Physics or Mathematics. But the language of “expression” and “representation” seems to me more open to abuse by religious employers: as you point out, almost any role might be described as “representative” of a religion, and it would be very hard to find a basis to object even to the Church of the White-Supremacist Mysoginist that you imagine. The point, I think, is that the distinction we need must be attached to a specific function (promoting and explaining) and not to a general “identitary” concept (expression or representation). The liberal States protect citizens against those kinds of discrimination which would impede an otherwise acceptable identity; a job is an open position in this respect, and the right causes for discrimination should depend on the relation between the nature of the job and the religious doctrine. If the role is incompatible with a certain kind of identity, this should depend on the kind of practice it is, not on its “representativity”. This idea, I suspect, would put us on a rather slippery slope.

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