This is the latest appeal in the case of Celestine Mba, a former carer for children with learning disabilities in south-west London, who had resigned from her job when the management refused to allow her every Sunday off to go to her Baptist church. (She claims they initially did, then changed their minds.) She has now lost the appeal, with the judges citing the fact that most Christians did not demand to have every Sunday off and thus there was no reason for her to. The Telegraph’s report, which seems to rely heavily on material from various “Christian rights” campaigners including the “Christian Legal Centre” which brought this case, alleges that various other faith groups have secured accommodations, such as the right to wear a bangle for Sikh women or the right for Muslims to attend prayers or wear the hijab, a standard plank of the Christian persecution campaigners’ case.
For one thing, as a Muslim, it is not always possible for Muslims to attend prayers, including Friday prayers, which are compulsory for Muslim men to attend if they live near somewhere they are held, and Muslims only require the hour or so on a Friday afternoon to attend, not the whole day. Muslims do not always get Eid off, and do not always get the dress accommodations they require, as Shabina Begum found out when she challenged her removal from a school in Luton in 2006 (she lost her final appeal that year). The “hijab” uniform allowed by some schools does not match Muslim dress requirements, which include not only covering the hair but covering the whole body, including the legs, loosely, which a knee-length skirt does not do (I have seen girls wearing this kind of uniform in London). The rules differ from school to school, and schools are under no obligation to allow what many parents regard as proper hijab. So, the claim that Muslims always get allowances for hijab is not true. This organisation does not actually support such accommodations for minority faiths, as shown in their Twitter feed which contains numerous references to a so-called mega-mosque in east London. What they appear to support is Christian dominance, not equality.
The Telegraph’s report also does not mention the particular circumstances other than that her employer was a care home. As anyone with a disability will tell you, the impairment does not go away on a Sunday, on Eid, on Easter Sunday or any other religion’s holy day, whether it’s a learning disability (in the case of these children), a spinal cord injury, ME, a mental health condition or anything else. If you work in a caring profession, you accept that you will be required to care on a varying shift basis including on weekends and some holidays. In my family there are people who work in caring professions, including (currently student) nurses and a mental health support worker, and I have personal friends both who are disabled and who are carers (and in one case, both). All the care workers have had to work on holidays because the people they care for cannot go home. The consequences when they cannot, or will not, can be devastating for disabled people and their families: there was one particularly awful incident in Dublin a couple of years ago, where people in an open psychiatric ward were moved to a locked ward for Christmas because staff could not be found to cover them. I also know a lady who is disabled herself and who cares for a severely disabled daughter (she has severe cerebral palsy, is blind and has autistic traits) who was refused care over the Christmas holiday. She and her husband had to do it all between them.
There are times when I have found some sympathy for Christian public employees who found the rules changed in ways their religion could not tolerate: public registrars, for example, suddenly finding they had to register gay marriages, which was not on the agenda when they took the job (and certainly for a Muslim, witnessing an unlawful contract, whether it is gay marriage or usury, is also unlawful). In many cases the plaintiffs are Christians from Africa where fashions have not changed as they have here. It was, of course, British missionaries who exported Christianity to those parts of the world, and we cannot export a religion and then expect converts, or their descendants, to abandon it at will just because we do. However, care workers have always worked on Sundays in this country as they do in Church-run schools and hospitals in Africa, for the obvious reasons stated above. This group of evangelicals cannot be allowed to use malicious lawsuits, ostensibly in pursuit of unattainable goals, to intimidate society. Costs should be awarded against the organisation which brought this case, so as to reduce the possibility of any further harassment from them.
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