There is an interesting story out of Canada’s York University and raises the question again with the extent to which business and institutions must accommodate religious values or practices. Professor Paul Grayson at York University was shocked when the university ordered him to allow a graduate student to skip a required part of the curriculum because he did not want any contact with women for religious purposes. He disobeyed the orders of his superiors in refusing the accommodation and could be disciplined for his decision (which was made with the support of his faculty).
We just discussed that subject in relation to a U.S. trucking company that was told by the Obama Administration not to require Muslims to ship products with any alcohol or pork. Likewise, a British store allowed employees to decline to help customers buying alcohol.
In this case, a York student wrote Grayson to say that he objected to the online in-person requirement of the online course in sociology: a student-run focus group. The student said that he was required to work online to avoid contact with women as a good Muslim: “One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.” Grayson forwarded the message to the schools dean and the director for the Center for Human Rights. They came back with an order to comply with the student’s request and not require him to be in the presence of females. The vice dean noted that distant students are not required to be on campus and, while this student can, he could be treated as if he were in another country. The school reportedly admitted that the decision was made in consultation with legal counsel. Grayson objected that the exception for the other students was due to their inability not unwillingness to be present.
That triggered a debate between religious rights and women’s rights. Grayson objected that “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 . . . Treating Mr. X equally would mean that, like other students, he is expected to interact with female students in his group.” Grayson asked what would be done with a student who claimed a religious avoidance of black people.
What is most striking is that various Islamic professors said that there is absolutely no religious basis for refusing to interact with females. One Islamic scholar wrote “[u]nless he is asked to be physical with a female student, which I assume he isn’t, there is absolutely no justification for not interacting with females in public space.” Of course, we have seen a different view from places like Iran where the highest cleric has banned even interacting with females on social media sites.
However, the student later agreed to participate in the classes with women. Thus, it did not appear to be a religious prohibition even in the mind of this student. Yet, the University and its lawyers were willing to segregate students on the basis of such a request.
While the public backlash probably will protect him (as will his colleagues), Grayson stands in violation of a direct order of the University.
The incident raises again the degree to which institutions should accommodate religious views. In my view, this is different from student clubs, which are voluntary. What is striking is that such rules have been applied against religious clubs, while schools like Harvard have accommodated such religious objections in segregating other programs.
There are some legitimate religious objections in my view to the imposition of nondiscrimination rules, but when it comes to classes, the non-discrimination rules would seem to take clear preeminence. As academics, we preserve a special space for learning where freedom of thought and speech prevail. This community is based on pluralism and equality. For some groups to demand segregation in the name of tolerance should be anathema for our collective intellectual mission.
What do you think?
Source: The Star