Un-Reasonable Accommodation

How basic human rights are sacrificed for intolerant cultural/religious belief

Canadian society has evolved to break down many of the arbitrary barriers that previously excluded women and various minorities from fully participating in commerce and the democratic process.  However, what happens when there is a clash of “accommodation”?  For example: an ultra-orthodox Jewish man who refuses to be seated next to a woman on an airplane.

This type of accommodation dilemma can send many well-meaning liberals into a tailspin of irrationality.  What is often surprising is how quickly they will throw women aside in their efforts to accommodate intolerant religious beliefs.

When did we decide that religion trumps all, most, or even any other grounds of discrimination?

This should be very simple: accommodation should favour those who have no choice about the nature of their being over those who choose to believe something.  In this order of priority, religious accommodation must take a back seat to gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and other criteria that are not a matter of choice.

Consider a discussion on CBC radio about accommodation for orthodox Jewish men on airplanes and other transportation.  I applaud Sharon Shapiro for her change.org petition to have the Airline El-Al cease harassing women to change their seats to accommodate these bigoted fundamentalists.  However, in the radio interview she seems oddly willing to allow other means of accommodation.  She says:

“I don’t have a problem with their being separate rows for people that require such accommodations. I’m OK with that whether El-Al itself directly reserves such rows or whether or not they can direct people who request such seating to travel agencies [who book blocks of seats]”

What!  Your agreeable to accommodating people who believe in gender apartheid as long as the segregation is set up in advance?  For Sharon Shapiro, it seems to be mostly about the inconvenience and social discomfort of having to make these accommodations during the boarding process.

Want to know if an accommodation is going too far Ms. Shapiro?  Try this simple test: substitute “women” with “black people” or another identifiable group.  For example, seemingly reasonable people like Sharon Shapiro will say:

“I don’t have a problem with their being separate rows for people that don’t want to sit next to women.”

Now try it like this:

“I don’t have a problem with their being separate rows for people that don’t want to sit next to black people.”

While you try that on for size, picture the pre-civil rights American south with segregated schools, busses, lunch counters, and other vestiges of bigotry.

I did sign Sharon Shapiro’s change.org petition and I’m sure we would agree about many things including the immorality of racial segregation.  Yet, when it comes to the immorality of gender segregation, she completely loses her shit!  No Ms. Shapiro, it is not acceptable to accommodate outdated, misogynistic beliefs about women being unclean, or temptresses, or whatever the hell someone’s rabbi, mullah, or holy book decrees about the situation.

Religion is a choice, gender is not!  I respect the right of religious believers to believe their backward misogyny.  However, they should be given no accommodation (or respect) for holding these beliefs.

First of all: the need for such accommodation is not an agreed upon standard among orthodox Jews.  This is one of the problems with religious accommodation: it is easy to assert anything about religious beliefs.  After all, religion is based on beliefs that cannot be tested or verified.  Anyone can assert a deeply held religious belief about anything and demand accommodation.

How, then, do institutional or commercial organizations decide about religious accommodation when they conflict with established secular standards of conduct?  One principal often applied is to make reasonable accommodation when a religious practice is considered “mandatory” rather than discretional.

Thus, those considering religious accommodation may consult religious authorities to test the worthiness of an accommodation demand.  This is then an appeal to tradition or the popularity of a religion.  However, it is precisely those old traditions that secular democratic societies have had to tame in order to have decent human rights values in the first place.

A case in point is where York University professor Paul Grayson rightly refused a religious accommodation request by a male student who wanted to be exempted from interacting with women on a class project[4].  This was in spite of a demand from the Arts dean, Martin Singer, who insisted that prof. Grayson accept the accommodation.

Professor Grayson’s backbone is commendable.  As part of his due diligence, he consulted both Jewish and Muslim scholars about the student’s request.  In either case, the religious “experts” reported no religious basis to the student’s request.  While I appreciate the volatile environment of political correctness that Professor Grayson operates in, such consultation should be unthinkable because gender rights should never be compromised for anything as dubious and arbitrary as religious belief.

I’m sure that if Grayson trolled for more fundamentalist Jewish and Muslim consultants, he would have received another answer.  Why the hell should it matter either way?  Gender discrimination has absolutely no place on a university campus!

So how about this: we allow religious institutions to remain exempt from human rights codes and, in return, educational institutions will no longer even consider religious belief as a criteria for accommodation.  Educational institutions should exemplify enlightenment principles that are founded on science and critical thinking.  Beliefs based on unprovable assertions about invisible gods don’t belong there!

It’s time for mainstream liberals to wake up from our complacency, abandon the bankruptcy of moral relativism, and reassert the values we supposedly stand for.  We should mock, insult, and blaspheme intolerant ideas especially if they are cloaked in the veil of religion!

[1] http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/current_20150417_40286.mp3 (April 17, 2015)

[2] https://www.change.org/p/el-al-israel-airlines-ltd-customer-relations-department-stop-the-bullying-intimidation-and-discrimination-against-women-on-your-flights

[3] http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/current_20150417_40286.mp3 at 8:30

[4] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/what-york-university-forgot-gender-equality-is-not-negotiable/article16278726/



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Finally someone who gets it. Women rights should NEVER be pushed aside for religious beliefs. Generations of women before fought hard for women’s right and it should not be pushed aside by a ancient unfounded belief. It is a constitutional right for women.Why can’t our politicians understand this?