Liberal Grace

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Muslim female cadet refuses to shake the hand of her male chief

Sometimes religious beliefs or codes disqualify religious people from certain jobs.


This article is getting a fair-amount of press in England and Muslim countries but not in the States:

Muslim cop refuses handshake

LONDON -- Police said Sunday that a Muslim woman officer had refused to shake hands with London's police chief during a graduation ceremony last month due to her religious beliefs, fanning a debate in Britain over the assimilation of Muslims into society.

The woman -- whose identity was not revealed -- asked to be excused from the customary handshake with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair during the ceremony, saying her faith prohibited her from touching a man other than her husband or a close relative.

Blair immediately questioned the validity of her request, said a Metropolitan Police spokeswoman.

"This request was only granted … to ensure the smooth running of what is one of the most important events in an officer's career," the spokeswoman said.

She said the incident was still being looked into by the force. external link
(It is also reported here.)

The question that first comes to mind is how she could arrest male criminals.

In this article a Muslim spokesman (not the woman, herself, interestingly) explains that she could arrest a man, if it was part of the job duty.

As an American liberal Christian, I have a very high standard for religious freedom. However, I understand that all religions have dress-codes and dogmas that could make the adherents unsuitable for certain jobs. Society and the legal system needs to allow for this without being called bigots.

Obvious examples might be a Jew who demands a job at a pig slaughterhouse or a shaved-headed Buddhist monk who applies for a job as a hair model.

Closer to home -- I'll use myself as an example: I am a Christian pacifist. I don't just happen to be a pacifist -- I'm a pacifist because I believe Jesus taught this; it comes directly from my Christianity.

This surely disqualifies me from any job that might involve shooting people. I accept that I can't have that job -- it's the price of my Christian convictions. It would be hypocritical of me to apply for a job as a policeman.

So, if your religion forbids you from touching the opposite sex, then isn't it hypocritical to apply for a job that involves lots of touching?

For this to work -- religious disqualifications need to be for real reasons -- not just because we are uncomfortable with some practice. Laws must have a very high standard of tolerance banning only genuine problems -- not just be weird or offensive.

The head scarf is an example -- people are trying to ban it in Europe even though it's a genuine problem in very few situations. A cross around the neck, a Sikh turban, a Muslim head scarf -- should be allowed except for the very rare occasion. The veil is another issue -- it would get in the way of lots of jobs and even things like driving a car.

By the way, I almost got hit by a woman wearing a veil just yesterday! It seemed obvious that she didn't see me because her peripheral vision was blocked.

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