A story is told, the drama unfolds, and newspapers are sold…

Or at least read online for free.

Sometimes I like looking at a variety of sources to read their coverage on, shall we say, an “incident” regarding displays of faith. Last week, British papers got wind of a good one. Former soldier (only the Daily Mail thought that was important enough to mention) Colin Atkinson is an electrician for Wakefield and District Housing in West Yorkshire and has had an 8″ cross, woven from palm leaves, in his work van for years. He’d been called to a disciplinary hearing with the Housing Authority and was at risk of losing his job if he didn’t remove the thing.

The Telegraph reported:

his supervisors at publicly–funded Wakefield and District Housing (WDH), West Yorks, demanded that he remove it on the grounds that it may offend people or suggest the organisation is Christian.

Mr Atkinson has refused to comply.

WDH – which claims to be a neutral organisation – has said allowing him to display the cross would demonstrate favour towards Christians. But employees who adhere to other faiths are allowed to wear headdresses and turbans.

Headdresses and turbans are built into those religions based on doctrine and rules passed down by their holiest people. Those who follow those faiths are required to wear that stuff. Crosses are merely an affectation and an easy way for Christians to display their beliefs but it’s not written directly into Christianity that they must be using them or they’ll go to hell or something. There’s no mention of Jesus jewelry in the bible, after all. Jesus never asked people to hang crosses around their necks to symbolize anything. When did that start, anyway?

I suspect WDH’s argument (and rightly) is that the van is owned by the company and heads are owned by the people walking under them. If Atkinson wants to wear a cross on his person, they probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. According to the Sun and others, that’s the case:

He said on Palm Sunday yesterday: “It’s a nightmare. The treatment of Christians in Britain is diabolical.”

WDH said staff can wear symbols but must not put them on its vehicles.

Diabolical? Really? Clear evidence of the devil’s interference? Really? Having it prominent in the vehicle was the issue here, not the beliefs themselves. Have the beliefs, wear a cross, but don’t display your cross in a vehicle you don’t own. Where’s the issue, and what caused this whole mess in the first place? According to the BBC, it’s because a tenant complained.

Not counting the Sun, all the papers point to clues that his boss might be a godless Marxist, which almost gets touted like it should be the bigger worry. From the Mail:

Despite the company’s treatment of Mr Atkinson, the boss of the depot where he works in Castleford has been allowed to adorn his office with a poster of the Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara.

Denis Doody, who is WDH’s environmental manager, also has a whiteboard on which are written several quotations by the Marxist guerrilla leader, who was a key figure in the Cuban revolution in the Fifties.

Colleagues said staff and even members of the public who were visiting the depot would be able to see the poster and whiteboard through his office window.

And inserts a picture proving it. Maybe I’m in the minority, but if I’d walked by that picture, I wouldn’t have known who it was. The Telegraph at least notes that other quotes from other people are also in the room, so it’s not like Doody’s office is a shrine to the man or anything.

If you’re curious about the result of the hearing, from the BBC:

WDH, which has yet to formalise an agreement with Mr Atkinson, said: “We are pleased to announce that after prolonged negotiations with Colin, we are on the verge of reaching an amicable solution, allowing Colin to be close to his faith whilst maintaining WDH values.”

Which probably means he’ll be allowed to keep his cross in the van.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the CLC, said: “This case shows what can happen when Christians refuse to give in to threats of intimidation and, when faced with a calm rationale by Christians, many right-minded employers will see sense.”

I think it’s more likely that they wanted to avoid more bad press and caved under heavy pressure from outraged letter-writing Christians. I’ll bet a cookie they got more than a few notes about the hell they’d be facing when they die if they kept persecuting this poor Christian soul. And it’s not just the Christians that were bothered by this; the Mail also reports on the outrage followers of other religions had over this business:

Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs added their voices to the uproar.

Niranjan Vakhaira, President of the Hindu Charitable Trust in Leeds, West Yorks., said: ‘Everybody has the right to preach their own religion.

‘I don’t see how anyone can take offence at this cross, the employers are definitely in the wrong.

‘Every human being has the right to follow his faith, as long as it doesn’t harm anybody.

‘If it hasn’t harmed anybody then I don’t see the logic in telling him to remove it.’

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, of the Muslim Institute, said: ‘I can’t see any problem at all in displaying this symbol.

‘I can’t see how this would offend anybody.

I think most people will agree that faith displays of this nature aren’t harmful or overtly offensive. But obvious displays of a belief system can be annoying if it means being trapped in a van with a guy who won’t shut up about Jesus. (Atkinson claims he only brings it up if people ask. Stop asking, people!) Even so, that doesn’t make the employers wrong. Had Atkinson been able to see the cross from their perspective instead of jumping to the erroneous conclusion that his whole faith was under fire, this whole debacle could have been avoided. He would not have been at risk of being canned, therefore he would not have had to alert the media to inform them of yet another (imagined) case of persecution. They could have filled that space with more updates about William and Kate instead. You know. “Real” news.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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