The world seems to get a little smaller every day. Back with I was pre-teen, I thought it was amazing that I had a penpal in Fiji. I thought everyone was Christian. Catholicism was as exotic as it got, and being a Jehovah’s Witness was so far out there it nearly blew my mind when I met one. Now, I have friends that live in South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, and many other countries. I know people from so many different religions that I’ve nearly lost count. However, while I love the diversity of our modern world, it is leading to many significant issues that our society needs to address.
Back in September of last year, a male student of an online course at York University here in Toronto emailed his professor and said that because of “firm religious beliefs” he couldn’t meet in public with his study group because it was mainly comprised of women. The professor didn’t think that accommodations should be made for the student because he felt that religious rights do not trump women’s rights. However, the dean overruled the decision. The professor’s reaction to the dean’s action was, I think, apt. He wrote:
“York is a secular university. It is not a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Moslem university. In our policy documents and (hopefully) in our classes we cling to the secular idea that all should be treated equally, independent of, for example, their religion or sex or race.”
And, while the Ontario Human Rights Act does require accommodations to be made for religious observance and practice, the question this situation raised is quite simply where do your rights end and mine begin.
This clash of rights happens more than you may expect. In November 2012, a friend of mine, Faith McGregor, ran into a similar issue. She sports a traditional “businessman’s hair cut”, and decided to pop into a barbershop for a trim. The barber refused to cut her hair because it was against his religion to touch a woman outside of his family. My friend ultimately decided to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the case was solved through mediation.
Again, that leaves the question of where the barber’s right to follow his religious practices ends and Faith’s right to equal treatment regardless of sex begins.
From my point of view, religion should provide guideposts for our lives. It should never be the reason that we diminish or belittle another person, through either action or inaction. If you believe so deeply in a religious rule that says you can’t be around women, or people with red hair, or someone that is short, then that is your issue for you to sort out. It does not give you the right to infringe on someone else’s rights. That is something we should all think about when examining our faiths.
For more about the York University situation, check out this article from the CBC.
For more about my friend and her situation, see this article from the Huffington Post.
Looking for a little bit of fun? Try this article from the Beaverton.