to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #48 — UNDERSTANDING THE "MAJORITY RULES" ISSUE WITH CHRISTIAN RELIGION
With Canada's changing shift in religious affiliation, we will see fewer Christians (relatively speaking), more Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and more people with no religious affiliation as a percentage of the population. Since those with no religion are younger than the general population, we can expect the number of Canadians without religious affiliation to grow. It will be interesting to see how this impacts our perception of accommodations for religious purposes, as well as the need to ardently adhere to religious statutory holidays in the workplace. Employees still like long weekends on statutory holidays, but more might start asking for alternative days off to add some flexibility to their schedules and address business operational concerns.
Most people don't think of Christians as being accommodated, and yet that is what our Canadian institutions and governments have done for decades. For example, look at Sundays. Years ago virtually everything shut down on Sundays, in keeping with the Christian tradition of resting on the Sunday Sabbath. I remember as a kid going across the street after Sunday school with my friends to get chips and a Coke from Lee's Diner (our mothers must have given us enough money for both the collection plate and the treats). The only Chinese family in that small prairie town, the Lees, worked seven days a week. Their hours were an anomaly, because on Sundays, most businesses and all retailers closed up, giving the town a ghost-like quality. As per the laws of the day, most businesses had to shut down - there wasn't an option.
Consider how statutory holidays fit into this equation. While New Year's Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and even Thanksgiving aren't religious holidays, most everything shuts down for Christmas and Easter, the most important of the Christian celebrations. As a Muslim, atheist, Jew or Buddhist, go ahead and try to carry on business as usual in Canada on those days. Everyone accommodates Christians on these important Canadian statutory holidays, regardless of a person's religion or lack thereof.
In defense of these Christian accommodations, people often talk about how the "majority rules." They claim that the reason businesses observe Christian holidays is that the majority of the population adheres to them. That can work in a homogeneous society, but ever since Canada opened its doors to people of all backgrounds and faiths, and ever since the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect, that sort of logic carries less weight. Before this time, those who did not form part of the majority had no choice but to go along with the laws that had a negative impact on them. "Majority rules" can be great if you are part of the majority. It can suck if you are in the minority. Worse, if others think your observances are a bit strange, good luck being accommodated, even in the 21st Century.
1) Watch for "majority rules" references - it can often be words that divide, rather than bring people together. It's hard to find a real majority because a person of British descent has only so much in common with a person of Italian descent...except perhaps the colour of their skin. Human rights are not about majorities. In fact they are often about protecting the rights of a minority that can get trampled by a majority.
2) Allow people to be as open as they want - and they will share their religion if they feel comfortable. We see so much religious antagonism and battles in the world - it would be foolish to think all Canadians are free from prejudice or bigotry towards some or many religions. Many employees will be open, while others won't be, due to past history of how people have reacted. If you create an environment where people feel comfortable, you'll get people speaking openly if they choose to.
3) Don't make assumptions - as we all know what "assume" means. There are plenty of people who are Muslim, who don't look like Muslims we see every day. That is also true about Christians. The days are gone when we can look around a room and tell a joke, or make a comment, thinking we won't hurt anyone's feelings.