Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Who takes responsibility for this guesswork?

Over at the Hermeneutic of Continuity, Fr Tim Finigan mentioned (and I believe I am supposed to touch my forelock to him, but am new at this whole blogging thing so I am prepared to stand corrected) the case of Adrian Smith who was demoted from a managerial position for posting comments on facebook about same-sex marriage taken place in churches. I went and found the article in the Manchester Evening News because surely for such measures to be taken against him, citing gross misconduct, he must have written something actually bigoted (rather than just expressing an opinion, which is what is taken for bigotry these days) or incited people to burn down churches where same-sex marriages are performed or something equally extreme.

In fact, no.

Then I thought that maybe this is part of the recent spate of facebook/twitter crimes, by which an individual writes something more or less offensive (often whilst drunk) and gets sent to jail for it. I heard of a newly qualified teacher who didn't get the job he applied for because the governors saw pictures on facebook of him acting stupidly whilst drunk and decided that he didn't have the necessary character for forming young hearts and minds. People need to realise that twitter is public (and should be avoided when drunk) and that there is nothing private on the internet, including facebook. And, I think, the law needs to take account of modern means of communication which are changing much faster than the law ever can. Did Mr Smith, then, say something which he thought he was just saying to his nearest and dearest but turned out to be public?

In fact, no.

Mr Smith's 'crime' (bearing in mind that he is not being prosecuted, just sanctioned) turns out to be breach of his employer's code of conduct which, according to the MEN, states that employees must not "expressing religious or political views which may upset co-workers".

I think that warrants closer inspection...

Firstly, if you express views which may upset co-workers as long as they're not religious or political then that's fine. So if you were to express "Darcey's earrings are way too big but at least she's a better judge than Arlene was", or "I hope that Saddam rots in hell", "I am saddened and disappointed by the content of JK Rowling's new book. She may not agree but I think as a well known children's author she has a certain responsibilitiy" or even "I can't believe anyone thinks (insert name of celebrity) is good looking. He/she looks like they've been hit by a bus, and is also completely devoid of talent" all those are also fine. However, if you say "I don't see how Nick Clegg in conscience can remain head of the Lib Dems seeing as how he did a U-turn on tuition fees which has always been one of their manifesto promises," or "The government don't have a mandate for same-sex marriage and I can't help thinking that the furore is a cover-up to distract us from the failing economy, much like the issue of the Falklands in Argentina" that is not OK. And secondly, I feel there is a problem with the wording "may upset co-workers". It doesn't matter if no-one is actually upset by your religious or political views, just as long as they might be. But in this case, who decides? We're back to people being told that they can't wear a cross because someone "might" be offended. If no-one is offended, what is the basis for thinking they might be. And is there a difference if I say "I think abortion is wrong" and am a Catholic or if I say it and am an atheist. The statement equally "might" offend someone who has had an abortion but only in one case could it be argued to be a religious view.

It would seem that Adrian Smith has made two mistakes. Firstly, signing up to work for a company with such a ridiculous code of conduct and secondly using facebook whilst Christian.

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