Swedish council bans prayer in the workplace

Tue 18 Jun 2019
By Eno Adeogun

A local council controlled by the Sweden Democrats has banned prayer during work hours at schools, care homes and council offices.

According to the Kristianstadsbladet newspaper, the municipality in Bromölla, on Skåne's north-eastern coast, argued that religious freedom hadn't been compromised as religious freedom includes a "right to avoid public religious expression".

However, Laurence Wilkinson from the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom told Premier he questioned the justification behind the ban.

 

"They've essentially justified it on the basis that under the right to religious freedom there's also a right not to be subjected to religion and a right to avoid public religious expression is how they framed it," he explained during Premier's News Hour.

"But of course, that's usually understood in the context of a formal prayer to begin maybe a council meeting."

The council have argued that the ban isn't discriminatory as it affects all religions.

Wilkinson highlighted that Muslims would in fact be more impacted by the ban as their religion requires them to pray five times a day at a particular time.

"I think looking at the contents of it, it's said to affect everyone so they've sought to justify it by saying, 'listen, we're not singling out any particular group here, we just don't think people should be spending time praying during the work hours'".

He also explained why the ban is likely to be illegal: "So the question is, is this specifically targeting Muslims?

"In equality law, you have a concept of discrimination where you treat somebody less favourably, because of a protective characteristics.

"So if you were to say, 'Muslims cannot pray in the workplace', that's a very obvious case of direct discrimination. But what you could also do is have indirect discrimination, you can have a rule that on its face doesn't affect a particular group, but in practice, when it's applied, the only people that it captures are one specific set of people who have protective characteristics.

"So in this case, it would be potentially the Muslims. And you would have to justify that to say there's a reason why we thought this and we can justify it, even though it does disproportionately affects Muslims, we can justify it on the following grounds.

"But basically, the council's also admitted that they don't actually know how many people are stopping to pray during working hours. So it seems that they would have quite an uphill battle to try and justify the rule in the first place."

ADF recently partnered with the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and the Evangelical Alliance to create a resource called 'Christianity in the Workplace' which explores how Christianity might be manifested at work, as well as details on the law.

Wilkinson added: "And actually, as we see it, there's quite a lot of protection for Christians in the workplace and even when it comes to things like praying and talking to colleagues.

"What we say to employees in this resource is there's actually a huge opportunity for you to enfranchise your employees of faith, to tell them that 'we care about you, we care about your religious beliefs, we understand that they're important to you'".

The ban will not apply to employees' personal time.

Listen to Premier's Eno Adeogun speaking with Laurence Wilkinson:

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