As most people are aware many forms of discrimination are unlawful in British society as they are throughout much of the rest of the world. However the nature of discrimination (what it actually means) isn’t always so clearly understood. The confusion about what is and is not discrimination isn’t helped by the way that certain individuals or groups claim ‘discrimination’ when really they are simply failing to get their own way.
A recent example of this involves the Bristol ‘Healing On The Streets’ (HOTS) team. This faith-based group published materials claiming that any and all ailments from mental disorders to cancer would be cured by the power of prayer. They did not state this as mere opinion but rather they presented it as fact without any reasonable evidence to support the claim. This would be a problem in any organisation, not just a religious ministry.
Hayley Stevens is a paranormal investigator who was ‘leafleted’ by a member of the HOTS team. She was concerned that the published material may offer ‘false hope’ to desperate and vulnerable people. She was also concerned that it might discourage people from seeking medical care and so she contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who upheld her complaint and ordered the group to remove such claims from its publications. The HOTS team subsequently issued a statement claiming that Hayley represented a group, generally opposed to Christianity. They have since removed that statement from their website.
Criticising fraudsters for false advertising is fair comment. The reason for criticism of the HOTS team is not their religion, it is their unethical behaviour in making false claims that would be a problem whoever produced the publicity.
We can see then that what does or does not constitute discrimination depends upon relevance. It would be discriminatory to say that all religious people are liars but it is not discriminatory to ask all people, religious or not, for evidence to back up claims of miracle treatments and to expect them to abide by the law and by accepted advertising standards when they cannot.
It is when we make unreasonable distinctions between people that we are guilty of discrimination. For example when we make assumptions about someone based upon characteristics that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This sort of discrimination, based upon irrelevancies, is what happens when people make judgements based upon skin colour, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, profession or sexual preference. Skin colour for example has nothing to do with trustworthiness and disability does not invalidate a person’s right to be treated with respect. In both cases, colour and disability, the ‘condition’ is irrelevant to the point under consideration.
However the fact that an individual belongs to a group that is regularly discriminated against does not mean that they can do no wrong. A gay man who assaults his neighbour in a dispute about a garden fence will still be prosecuted. But he will be prosecuted because of the assault. His sexuality is irrelevant. He may claim discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality but his claim will not be taken seriously by the courts because his sexuality is not relevant to the case at hand.
On the other hand a gay couple refused accommodation in a hotel or guest house would be supported under anti-discrimination legislation for exactly the same reason. Their sexuality is not relevant to their right to use services.
Similairly if the manager of a residential drug rehabilitation unit were to evict an Asian man because of his use of illicit substances on the premises he could not then claim racial discrimination. The eviction would be because of the rules of the service which are applied equally to all service-users regardless of skin colour or racial type. Colour is simply irrelevant and therefore the decision to evict is not discriminatory – it is simply an appropriate response.
The basic ‘rule of thumb’ then is to ask if the alleged discrimination is relevant. Is your action the result of the individual’s need or behaviour or is it motivated by the fact that they belong to a particular group.
If it’s because of individual circumstances and would be the same whatever subgroup the person belonged to then it’s probably not discrimination. I say probably not because there is the additional aspect of institutional discrimination that we will consider in a later post. If it’s because of the subgroup they belong to (eg religion, LGBT, disabled, Asian etc) then there’s a good chance you really are discriminating.
As ever ‘relevance’ is the key when deciding whether or not you’re being discriminatory.
About the Safeguarding series
This blog series first appeared on Stuart’s personal blog early in 2010. It has been reposted here as part of a process of ‘rationalisation’ in which work from several blogs has been removed and reposted on only two.
Filed under: Abuse, European Convention on Human Rights, law, Religion, Safeguarding, Social care | Tagged: abuse, care, discrimination, human rights, law, Prejudice, rights, social care | Leave a comment »