To define a group, you have to create two groups: those in the group, and those outside. Every group depends on discrimination, what anthropologists refer to as “the other”.
The Conservative Party should be able to prohibit Labour Party members from joining. The Vegetarian Society should be able to refuse membership to a dedicated carnivore, men should be excluded from women’s changing rooms. Some discrimination is justified.
On the other hand, context is important, and a lot of discrimination is unjustified. Should my religion or sexuality be grounds for discrimination when I look for work?
The 2003 Employment Equality Regulations were intended to counter workplace discrimination, and to comply with European directives. However, it looks as if Tony Blair has directly intervened to add a loophole for “religious organisations”.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the context was sensible. Few people would argue against allowing The Church of England to dismiss a vicar if he decided to become an atheist, or a Hindu; the vicar’s religion is clearly a relevant requirement for his employment by The Church of England.
Unfortunately the revised regulations are very vague. They seem to apply to not just religious organisations, but any organisations run by “religious” people. According to The Independant:
“One of the biggest loopholes allows an employer to dismiss or fail to hire an individual if he is “not satisfied” that they fit his own “ethos based on religion or belief”.”
If true (and I’m still stuggling to believe something this crazy is true) then the scope of legal discrimination will be almost infinite: someone working for a bank could be fired for being a Catholic, or “not being Christian enough”, or reading Harry Potter books.
Some discrimination is required by employers, but this loophole would allow outrageous abuses.
This morning I read that someone is selling car stickers printed with “I voted for Blair, but I got Bush”. This morning, that was funny.