By Leah Smiley
As we approach the holidays, the P.C. (Politically Correct) police become more vigilant than ever. Once, I sent out an e-mail blast that said, “Merry Christmas” and I received messages for days on end saying, “You’re not a REAL diversity professional”.
According to Wikipedia, “freedom of religion [in America] is a constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is also closely associated with separation of church and state, a concept advocated by Colonial founders such as Roger Williams, William Penn and later founding fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.”
In the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides for ‘religious freedom’ through anti-discrimination laws. According to EEOC, “Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.” This protection includes atheists, agnostics and non-religious folks.
Most developed nations have workplace protections for people based on religion. In emerging markets, however, religious diversity is causing all sorts of conflicts. According to DoSomething.org, “Nearly 50 percent of countries increased their religious discrimination between 2009 and 2010, and only 32 percent saw decreases. On average, countries that have government restrictions on religion have higher rates of social hostility. Social hostilities of religious discrimination include armed conflict, harassment of women over dress code, mob violence, hate crimes, violence or violent threats, terrorist violence, and more.”
Consider this partial listing of recent events:
- Somali extremists killed 28 non-Muslims in Northern Kenya.
- Two attackers armed with knives, axes and a gun stormed a synagogue in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, killing four worshipers and wounding several others.
- In the Philippines, a nurse and teacher bled to death after extremists threw a hand grenade into a Church of Christ.
- In Bangladesh, a prominent university professor was murdered, several years after he led a push to ban students wearing full-face veils. The professor followed the folk sect Baul, popular in parts of western Bangladesh, whose members call themselves followers of humanism rather than a particular religion.
- According to The Freethought Report released in December 2013, Atheists face death in 13 countries. Even in places like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Malta and Poland, blasphemy laws allow for jail sentences up to three years on charges of offending a religion or believers.
This very brief list certainly provides an overview of the world’s religious state of affairs. For global organizations and governments, this level of religious (or non-religious) intolerance presents a risk for workers and their families, tourists and business travelers, conventioneers, customers, and more. In other words, there are much bigger fish to fry than whether or not someone says, “Happy Kwanzaa.”
Therefore, if you are P.C., try to relax this holiday season. If someone says, “Happy Hanukkah” because you look Jewish and you have a Jewish-sounding name, try not to go ballistic. Perhaps, you can say “Happy Hanukkah to you too!” But if your “freedom” does not allow you to celebrate Hanukkah, perhaps you can simply say, “Happy Holidays” without going into a diatribe about how some Jews are Jewish by ethnicity only. Likewise, if a store clerk says, “Merry Christmas”, don’t go on a rant about banning the store because you’re not a Christian. Take a deep breath, smile, and keep moving.
When we think about all that is going on around the world, and the fact that people are dying for what they believe (or don’t believe), the least we can do is show some civility when someone seeks to spread a little holiday cheer. The Platinum Rule for Diversity is to treat others as they want to be treated. Yet, religious and secular fanaticism (e.g., unreasonable zeal, mean-spiritedness, or other extreme behavior) threatens everyone else’s freedom.
Political correctness is not an apparent token that you are the king or queen of diversity and inclusion because sometimes, P.C. is offensive. Thus, instead of being politically correct this year, try to be civil. In the words of Jim Leach, former U.S. Congressman and academic, “Civility is not about dousing strongly held views. It’s about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives.”
P.S. You can send me all of the P.C. notes you want, Happy Thanksgiving anyway!
Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org.