Monday, 24 October 2011

Freedom of speech and discrimination

The Daily Mail yesterday reported on the case of Adrian Smith, an employee who has been demoted allegedly simply because he posted on Face book comments which disapproved of the new proposals to allow civil partnerships to be registered in religious premises. This is the latest in a long line of cases which are being brought, and no doubt being supported by the Christian Institute, alleging that Christians are facing discrimination for their beliefs/ opinions in the workplace and that this amounts both to discrimination and suppression of free speech. Recent examples include a builder disciplined over a palm cross on his dashboard and the case of the cafe owner who was questioned by the police for allowing homophobic comments to be played on a video relaying scripture in his Christian cafe (I didn't manage to blog on that one!)

I have blogged on these matters fairly extensively over the past few months and years. I find it depressing that so many of these cases revolve around sexuality, which seems to be a tinder point for many disagreements, although the wearing of crosses and saying of prayers for patients has also featured.  I have argued before that each case needs to be looked at on its merits and also that the the law should allow a clause for reasonableness and context , and indeed this has recently been mooted  by the Equality Commission. It is a very different matter, for example, if a cafe is playing a looped video of the whole of the bible ( in which case people should put anything that jars in context and live with it in my humble opinion!) from if they are repeatedly playing specific verses with the marked intention of targeting a particular group and causing distress or offence.

As for the case of Adrian Smith, on the basis of what has been reported  it sounds as if he has been badly treated both by colleagues and his employers. I am aware, however, that there is often more to these stories than first meets the eye and The Daily Mail  sometimes has a reputation for being less than accurate and impartial in their reporting. I note that there is a sentence about a "second colleague" who has complained and, in the Telegraph, a mention of a previous faith based complaint. I am also unsure whether the case doesn't also  say just as much about the increasing power of employers over their employees, the pitfalls of social media and the Internet, and our increasing willingness to resort to "law" and not "jaw" to resolve our disputes and disagreements. I can't help thinking that when it comes to disputes the principle of resolving matters informally and amicably whenever humanly possible would benefit us greatly.


  1. As someone who has worked as a manager in social work – both voluntary (faith based) and the statutory sector, my gut feeling is that there is a good deal more to this story that meets the eye. It is VERY difficult to disciple someone for gross misconduct – and posting something on a social media site would be VERY far down the list – at most it might warrant is a spoken warning (and then only in exceptional circumstances). I suspect, as is often the case with some of the various Christian Right lobbying sites, that we are only been told half the story. That is the half that plays to the conceit of victimhood and the constant blaming of others for the marginalising of the Church – when I suspect the answers as to why some Christians have a hard time in the work place is because THEY are difficult to work with! We had a gobby youth worker in my last social work job whom many of us complained about in the office for walking around wearing a sweatshirt with ‘Street Pastor’ emblazoned across his back and chest – the guy was a pain in the arse: not because of his Christian beliefs, but because he was a boring loudmouth who had little respect for others in the workplace. Given he worked with vulnerable people there is a great need to protect others from the zealous arrogance of the few. The guy was a ‘Street Pastor’ – a good and profitable occupation this is... OUT OF WORK’S TIME – just don’t bore the bloody office with your do-gooding – particularly in a social work office where everyone else is engaged in do-gooding, but doesn’t bore their neighbours with their real or imagined ‘Street Cred’! They just get on and do it and don’t desire special treatment or praise.

    What I imagine happened is that the Facebook comment was used as evidence of behaviour that has spilled into the work place and this has been taken out of context (not an uncommon trick with either the Daily Mail or the Christian Institute – nor is it uncommon for a certain species of Christian to eager WANT to believe these stories). I note even on some Right Wing Christian blogs, the story is being taken with a pinch of salt... I’d suggest a shovel load!

    Peter Denshaw

  2. P.S. Like you say Suem, it is sad that almost all these professional martyrdom cases appear to revolved around sexuality. Odd I think that these Christians have such a fixation on Lev 18:22 but don’t seem as fixated on Matt 5: 39; Romans 12:17-21; Matt 5: 44; Col 3: 12-14... Which costs the most? And which is least likely to win you a fat compo payment?

  3. I had a swift look round the right wing blogs and couldn't find a lot actually. Peter O had an "outraged from Tunbridge Wells" type response, Stuart has posted (but he is hardly right wing?...I hope?) Cranmer drew a blank as did the ugley one (who had his own sweet reflections on Wom Bishs:)) Most of them seem to be doing Gaddaffi, St Paul's and even Europe and as I can't quite decide what I think or summon up the energy for those, I went for a bit of tabloid dross:)
    Could you direct me anywhere?

  4. Oops! I think my comment got lost in cyberspace. It was probably a bit dithery anyway. I just wanted to say that I believe that people are entitled to their own opinions as long as they don't incite hate, and providing they recognise the right of others to hold their own opinions.

  5. Freda, you are never dithery, more a mine of good sense and reason:)

  6. There was a piece about it on the BBC northern news last night, the story is here which talks about him breaching guidlines on use of social media maybe thought identifying himself as working for the council.

  7. Thanks - that is interesting. You would sort of hope though that a reasonable employer would first give an employee a warning that they must remove anything identifying them as a council employee from their FB page before just demoting them? It still seems a tad draconian.

    Interesting that they say,
    "Mr Smith was disciplined for his breach of company policy. The trust made no comment about any personal beliefs that he holds."
    suggesting it was the fact he represented himself as a Trust manager on a social networking site that was the issue, rather than his views? I wonder?