Entitlement and Religious Exemptions

What the New Zealand Herald Refuses to Understand

While driving to work today, I heard a news item about an employee of SkyCity, Tuni Parata, is facing some degree of disciplinary action after being found with a personal book on her. Apparently this is in breach of SkyCity uniform code, which does not allow employees in certain roles to carry personal items such as mobile phones or books. I was wondering why this was in the news, then it was mentioned that the item she was found with just happened to be a pocket Bible. Okay, I thought, that’s probably why it made the news, but no big deal.

Then, when having lunch, I saw this headline on the front page of the New Zealand Herald:

Thou shalt not…
casino bans Bible

I read the article to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood when I heard about the story on the radio in the morning, and two sections stuck out to me:

As a general principle, staff in customer service roles are in breach of SkyCity’s uniform standards if they carry items such as mobile phones, books and other items which might interfere with their customers.

Grainne Troute, SkyCity’s general manager of group services

a union rep told [Ms Parata] it didn’t matter if it was “a Playboy magazine or a Bible, it was not work-related material, therefore should not be with you front of house and certainly not being read”.

Perhaps whoever wrote the headline didn’t bother to read the entire article? Unfortunately, it seems more likely to me that this is indicative of the Herald prioritising getting more readers over accurately representing the truth. If there is anything indicative of bad reporting, it is having a higher priority than accurately representing the truth. This headline is misleading, implying that the fact that the specific object Ms Parata was found with was a Bible was somehow relevant.

The article is available online under the headline Casino worker faces action over Bible at work. I don’t know why the headline is different here, and although it’s a certain improvement on the misleading sensationalistic one used in the print version, it’s still fixated entirely on an arbitrary detail.

Society is overprotective of religion. Religious ideas escape the criticism to which other ideas are subjected in the name of “respecting the beliefs of others”. As a result, when a religious idea is treated just like any other idea (or, like here, when a religious book is treated just like any other book) some people are going to think that the issue is about religion, and attempt to explain the discrepancy from normal behaviour by some prejudice against religion specifically. That’s what this article seems to be trying to do, particularly with its headline.

However, as expressed in the quotes above, that’s not the case. The discrepancy is because religion is not being handled with kid gloves. This woman has been told she’s not allowed personal books at work, and that includes her personal religious book, whether it’s important to her or not. I like to call this being treated as an adult. Instead of treating this woman like a child in the name of “respecting her beliefs”, the organisation is respecting her by treating her like an adult. I applaud them for this, at least. People are more important than ideas – they deserve respect by default whereas ideas should always stand on their own merits.

In reading this story I am also reminded of events like pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions on religious grounds. I realise the scale is entirely different here, but at some level the concept is the same: there is a conflict between one’s job and one’s religion.

I’m going to practise as I preach now, and give Ms Parata the respect of applying the same standards to her religious ideas as I would to her secular ideas. According to the Herald article, she made this claim:

Ms Parata said that carrying a Bible was a vital part of her faith and relationship to God.

Just to emphasise how ridiculous this sounds when we’re not handling religious ideas with kid gloves, I’m going to swap out a couple of words for essentially equivalent ones that belong to a religion that is typically treated with the respect it deserves by non-adherents:

Ms Parata said that carrying a copy of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was a vital part of her faith and relationship to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I doubt, however, the Herald or the union would be acting so outraged if this were the case.

EDIT:

It looks like SkyCity is going to grant Ms Parata an exemption from this rule – she will be allowed to carry her pocket Bible with her at work. I understand how this might be seen as necessary from a PR perspective, but I withdraw my statement of support. By exempting her from this rule on religious grounds they are respecting her beliefs over her, and not treating her like an adult. They’re furthering religious hypocrisy and I certainly will not support that.

I also think it might be worth clarifying that I’m trying very hard to make no comment on whether or not I think the policy is a good one. Whether or not the policy should exist or be enforced in the first place is irrelevant to my discussion; it’s the hypocrisy I take issue with.

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