Pagan police

According to the BBC, “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.”

At first blush, this seems obvious and uncontroversial. Pagan officers are being given similar rights to officers who profess other religious beliefs. Whatever one might think of the beliefs themselves, those who hold them deserve the same rights as anyone else.

But two very different sources have an alternative take on it.

On the one hand, National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson says, “The police should call a stop to this and dismantle all religious groups,” according to the Metro. (I was unable to confirm this on the NSS’s own website. All they seem to have is this rather neutral description of the news item.) [Edit: An anonymous commenter has given a link to the NSS page with this quote.]

Expressing his support for the NSS position is Christian blogger Cranmer:

Cranmer is all for freedom of religion: it is foundational to liberal democracy. But Her Majesty’s Police Service is not charged with the provision of religious services: it is not a theological college, a sexual health clinic or an identity counselling service.

Let me just respond to a couple of the key ideas here.

First, it does not seem to be the case that public money supports these sectarian groups within the police services. The BBC reports that “A Home Office spokesman said: the Pagan Police Association did not receive any funding from the Home Office.” It sounds more like police officers spontaneously self-organizing groups that speak to their particular, independently-held identities. People may like or dislike the idea of police officers identifying with different parts of the community they come from, but I can’t see any solid grounds for “dismantling” groups that celebrate the force’s diverse background.

Second, Cranmer points out that everyone is a minority of one, if you add enough qualifiers. His example of this extreme his tongue-in-cheek proposal of a “Gay Black Jedi Police Association”. So we need to be careful that any provisions we make for sub-groups within the community are compatible with such extremes.

After all, I could make the case for my family’s birthdays being sacred to me. (I won’t, but it is no more ridiculous than any more common religious observance.) Does this entitle me to take those days as holidays in lieu of Easter and Christmas?

The obvious answer (please tell me if I’m missing something) is yes. In a society that doesn’t privilege one religion over others, any individual’s declaration of faith, however idiosyncratic or apparently ridiculous it seems to others, deserves the same legal privileges as any other individual’s. This should hold whether the belief is shared by nobody else or by everybody.

As a result, one is forced to be much more canny about what privileges the more popular beliefs get. Do religious dress codes trump professional uniform codes? Do people get to exempt themselves from tasks they find distasteful on account of their beliefs? How about cubicle decorations? (The line between okay and not-okay is always a vague and controversial one.)

So what is the lesson from the pagan holidays for police officers? Well, it seems to me that the employers in question have struck the right balance. They are not privileging pagans over others; they are not privileging others over pagans. They are not (so far as I can tell) diverting public resources to support sectarian beliefs of any kind.

Well done them.

Image credit:

The Pentacle, a common symbol of Pagan beliefs, is from Wikimedia Commons, posted by user Nyo. Public domain.

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2 Responses to “Pagan police”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Terry's statement is taken from here:http://www.secularism.org.uk/pagans-join-growing-number-of-re.html

  2. Timothy Mills Says:

    Thanks – I've made a note of it in the main post too.

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