Pragmatic approach needed to religious dress at work

By Press Office
November 28, 2007

The religion and society think-tank Ekklesia says that the idea of a wholesale ban on religious dress and symbols at work is contrary to the openness and tolerance society should be promoting - for both religious and non-religious alike. It says sensible dress codes and health and safety compliance at work are proper and reasonable, however.

The comments came in relation to the case of a Sikh girl who has been suspended from a school in Wales for wearing a bangle (kara). She is being backed by civil rights group Liberty.

Simon Barrow, Ekklesia's co-director commented: "With some activists trying to push to 'keep religion out of the workplace' altogether, and some religious lobbyists using the power of symbolic representation to reassert themselves at a time when they perceive their influence to be under threat, there is a danger that all sense of perspective and proportion will be lost.

"Until recently, with the odd exception, most organisations have come up with pragmatic approaches aimed at keeping everyone on board and included within the bounds of a common (legally sound) policy. That is how it should be, and it is the situation we need to encourage. Less heat, more light for everyone to share.

"We should not look at religious clothing and symbols as if they are something entirely separate from the way in which we dress generally, either. We live in a consumer-driven society that encourages us to be distinctive, to be individual, to express ourselves in ways that are different to other people as well as peer-associated.

"It seems extraordinary for someone to feel threatened just because one expression of difference (or solidarity) in an intentionally plural society is religious. In monocultural, illiberal or theocratic orders the issue is quite different, of course."

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