Monday, July 20, 2009

Faith in Justice

Here's a story you may have missed in the week ...

'Pagan police officers in some areas are being allowed to take as many as eight days leave a year for events such as the summer solstice and Halloween. It comes after the Pagan Police Association was set up following discussions with Home Office officials. Policy on police leave varies between forces in England and Wales. Hertfordshire Police lets Pagan staff re-allocate the traditional bank holidays to meet their beliefs - it has also appointed two Pagan chaplains. Pc Andy Pardy, a Pagan neighbourhood beat officer in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, was one of the officers involved in setting up the association. He told Police Review magazine: 'Paganism is not the new age, tree-hugging fad that some people think it is. It is not the clandestine, horrible, evil thing that people think it is. A lot of people think it is about dancing naked around a fire. But the rituals involve chanting, music and meditation. For Pagans, the practices are seen to have the same power as prayer does for Christians.' Pc Pardy is allowed to take eight days per year for Pagan events - which form part of his annual leave.

Pagans worship nature and believe in many gods and their practices include witchcraft and druidism. According to the Office of National Statistics there were 31,000 people practising Paganism in England and Wales in 2001. Another officer, Pc Andy Hill, of Staffordshire Police, is a practising Wiccan - a kind of Pagan witch. He has offered to use spells to give fellow officers a helping hand with promotion exams or to heal ill colleagues and is the founder of the Pagan Police Group UK, a website for Pagan police officers and their families. He told Police Review: 'Wiccan has always been a bit of a taboo religion, there are lots of misconceptions about it. This is nothing to do with black magic or devil worshipping. Witchcraft is not the hocus pocus, puff of smoke, turning people into frogs stuff you see on television. It is working with nature for good.'

Superintendent Simon Hawkins, of Hertfordshire Police, said: 'While balancing operational needs, the force's religion and beliefs policy gives all staff the choice of re-allocating the traditional Christian bank holiday festivals to suit their personal faith beliefs and this has been very well-received from a number of faith groups including Muslim and Jewish. The force strives to provide a receptive environment for all its staff and our faith work stream is a positive example of our commitment to meet the diverse needs of all who work for us and the public we serve.'

A Home Office spokesman said the Pagan Police Association did not receive any funding from the Home Office. He added: 'The government wants a police service that reflects the diverse communities it serves. It is down to individual forces to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the religion or beliefs of individual officers, as far as operational requirements permit.'

This story fascinated and delighted me. Sadly, it was mostly relegated to the 'funny' or 'quirky' columns in many newspapers (would they have done that if the story had been about Islam or Judaism I wonder?) but there is a very important point underlying the headlines.

You all know my views on religion. I wrote an essay expressing them that you can read here and I recently deconstructed Creationism (or, at least, one Creationist) here. I am an atheist myself but I firmly believe that everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe and that no one has the right to oppose or attack that right. The one exception I make to my own rule is that I reserve the right to attack any form of faith that tries to drag us back into the Dark Ages by belittling science and evidence. I won't have that. Oh no. I also take umbrage with people who don't respect my right to not believe. Or people who do not accept that I have a right to disagree with them.

I reserve a particularly deep and turbulent tank of vitriol for the kind of self-serving git who uses faith as a tool to forward their careers. I'm not talking here about some sinister, behind-closed-doors Masonic-type secret nepotistic siblinghood of people who 'look after' each other. I'm talking about those who jump on the political correctness bandwagon not from any sense of equality or fairness but for personal gain.

I can point to at least ten examples of where someone has inconvenienced an awful lot of people for the sake of making themselves look shiny. For example, a few years ago, I watched in horror as a group of people were shifted from a suite of offices into one small office so that the building could have a dedicated Prayer Room. No one had asked for it and there were plenty of rooms (including a multi-denominational chapel) available nearby for someone to pray in if they wanted it. But no, it had to be a loudly-trumpeted, specially converted (at public expense) prayer room. The argument put forward was that people with faith need a place of peace and quiet for their devotions. At the time, I did ruffle some feathers by asking if I could have a quiet room in which I could read and study away from telephones, email and the incessant water-cooler chatter about the previous night's Big Brother (or should I say 'Generously proportioned sibling'?). When this was refused, I rather petulantly asked if I could have a room in which I could talk to my imaginary friend too. Yes, I know. I know. Not so much ruffling feathers as plucking the entie ostrich. And I was slapped for my comment, believe me. But the sentiment was honest and heartfelt. It seemed to me that people who choose to believe in a god were deemed to be more important than those who didn't and every effort was made by promotion-seekers to accommodate the worshippers, at the expense of everyone 'less important'. The room, of course, was never used. As I say, no one had asked for it; it simply allowed someone to tick the Diversity box on their application. Gradually, over the months that followed, it became a storeroom for junk.

I mention all this as I applaud the move to recognise paganism as a genuine belief. There is no doubt in my mind that the police officers involved (I know one personally) have the same conviction about their faith as do Christians, Muslims, Jews or any other formalised religion. My personal view is that everyone has the right to believe what they want ... but not at the expense of others. It's this intolerance - not religion itself - that leads to conflict, war and even genocide. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself. It's not rocket science is it?

Live and let live I say. And all hail the Horned One!

What do you mean I can't have human sacrifice at work?


Andrew Kerr said...

Human sacrifice and the Police....The G20 Policing make more sense now!
Another excellent blog.Read and re-read.

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