Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Hitch-More Principle

This week, a woman committed the unthinkable crime of getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Elsewhere, a man heinously and recklessly supported gay marriage on his facebook page.

In the first case, that woman was a teacher at Caloundra Christian College in Queensland and she lost her job.

In the second, that man was a teacher at a language school for international students and he was arrested on the insinutation that he is a paedophile. Later, it was deemed justified to close down the entire school until it could be purged of his influence.

The cases have two things in common:

a) both involve an employee deemed to be in violation of 'lifestyle agreements' or found to be holding views 'incompatible with their employer', and
b) both employers cite religious freedom as a defense of their incorrigible actions.

Error 404: Tolerance Not Found

Imagine that you turn up to work tomorrow and find that details of your private life have made their way into the hands of your boss. Let's say she has discovered what you did in bed last Saturday night. Whatever that activity was - and be honest with yourselves -, she finds reprehensible. Maybe you were alone and she won't work with socially awkward losers. Maybe you slept side by side with your husband or wife and your boss is a hard line polygamist that will not have monogamy in her organisation. Maybe you shagged a cat and your boss is more of a dog person. Really let your imagination run wild here.

You are shown the door, unceremoniously, to the relief of the people that you, up until moments ago, worked with.

You might, at some point, feel the slightest indignity at your private life being dragged into your working life like this. There is a reason it's called your private life, after all. You're under no obligation, in normal circumstances, to divulge any of this personal information to your employer. I'll put it another way. Whatever you did on Saturday night in your own bed, it's my sincere hope that you weren't fretting over what your boss might say about it on Monday morning. (Unless you were in bed with your boss, in which case, *high five*. I'm sure you were great!)

Such is the case everywhere except for religious institutions - particularly faith schools.

The people that work in these places have to be very wary about what they do in their beds on Saturdays. The tiniest miscalculation about the gender, marital status or religion of the people that they invite there could have real-world consequences between 9 and 5 in a work week.

Jess Davidson - from case 1 - forgot to get the correct paperwork signed before she became pregnant. Fired. Keith Paulusse - from case 2 - accidentally didn't demonise what other people do in their beds on Saturdays. Fired.

The religious nature of these schools require that certain standards be met - infallible standards set down by the one creator of the universe - if one is to teach properly. How on earth are you supposed to deliver a quality lesson on mathematics, for example, when you seem to under the impression that (one baby) plus (one mother) minus (one husband) equals (Acceptable)??

Astute readers will have spotted my sardonic tone by now and will have guessed what I think about all this.

It's all a bit silly, really, isn't it? Silly enough to write a tongue in cheek blog post about, for sure. Enough to make you laugh.

Until I remind myself that this bit of silliness has cost two people their jobs.

Then I get a bit mad.

It reads like a paradox.

"If you don't let us discriminate against anyone we like, you are in fact discriminating against us. And we claim protection from such."

This famous cartoon is so cuttingly correct that I often find it difficult to believe anyone but the most strident theocrat could fail to grasp the message. There seems to be a double standard, does there not? A man's ability to discriminate against whoever he wishes seems to come down to the manner in which he wields his cross.

The response to public outrage in both cases that I'm talking about here has been predictable. The most clear response was given by Principal of Caloundra Christian College, Mark Hodges. I've copied and pasted it here.

"As a Christian college we require all staff have and demonstrate a faith and lifestyle consistent with the Christian beliefs taught here," [Mr Hodges] said.
"These beliefs are set out in college policies and documents, including the agreement under which all staff are employed."
He said these employment processes "are in line with Section 25 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991".
And here's the worst part. He's right. Section 25 of the Anti-Discrimination act says that institutions may not discriminate, except when there are...
Genuine occupational requirements
(1) A person may impose genuine occupational requirements for a position.
Examples of genuine requirements for a position—
Example 4—
employing persons of a particular religion to teach in a school established for students of the particular religion.

What a disgusting blight on the Australian legal landscape that we have to suffer such insipid cases of special pleading like this. Worse still, that we are told exceptions like these are in fact morally superior to a system that would not allow a pregnant woman to be dismissed on blatantly discriminatory grounds. I would invite anyone who believes that to kindly examine their definition of the word 'moral'.

Here I go again, inventing terms that probably already exist

It's a testament to Christopher Hitchens that he can still make salient arguments about current events from beyond the grave. That's exactly what happened today as I listened to a speech that he gave in Canada some years ago. In it, he cited this passage from the play and film 'A Man For All Seasons', in which an ambitious prosecutor (Roper) expresses his outrage that Thomas More would give equal protection to everyone under the law.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
A bit literary, I know, but you can read between the lines. The point that Hitchens was making through Thomas More was that the law is a blade that cuts both ways. When you throw out laws that are designed to protect you for whatever your convenience du jour happens to be, you cannot expect the protection of those laws when the situation is reversed.

For the purpose of the post, I'll call it the Hitch-More Principle.

The religious 'freedom to disciminate' seems like the most blatant illustration of the Hitch-More principle you'll ever find.

"You must allow us the freedom to discriminate against others," they say, "or else you are discriminating against us. We claim protection from that discrimination. And what's more, we claim it by the laws you say we are violating."

The words 'your move', and the accompanying slimy smirk, are often left unsaid but very much understood.

If I'm trying to make a point in this post, let it be this: that claim is fallacious. It is wrong. The confidence and smarmy satisfaction with which that argument is offered is completely unfounded. The religious institutions that make this claim cannot be allowed to continue thinking it is perfectly valid, because while they do people are losing their jobs and livelihoods. And did I mention, they're wrong?

It's time these institutions realised that what they are really facing is the devil, turned 'round on them.

One may not discard the fundamentals of anti-discrimination so readily - so piously - in the way that religious institutions do and then expect to be protected by them. You can't smash the windows out of anti-discrimination law and then complain when a cold wind chills you! You want to discriminate against gays, women, single mothers, other religions? Then answer this: Who will you look to for protection when one of those groups finds traction and opposes you? Historically speaking, it's inevitable.

This is the Hitch-More principle. If you don't abide by the law, don't expect protection from it. The respect that one accords a law ought to dictate how that law is, in turn, applied back to them. Nothing so repugnant as a 'freedom to discriminate' should exist without it's corollary - a freedom for others to discriminate against you. And yet here we are. Two Thousand and Twelve. In Australia.

Turning out pregnant women for being pregnant. With the full endorsement of law.

Mind what you do in bed this Saturday night, lest you wind up jobless on Monday.

If you'd like to read more about the case of Jess Davidson, Chrys Stevenson is well across the issue over at Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear.

You can also 'Like' the I Support Miss Jess page on Facebook if you're of a mind to stir some outrage.