Wednesday, February 26, 2014
A column at the Chronicle of Higher Education illustrates the issue by discussing an conflict at Ontario’s York College:
A university official overturned a professor’s refusal to grant accommodation to a male student who had asked to be excused from a group assignment. According to the professor, J. Paul Grayson, the student argued, “Due to my firm religious beliefs, … it will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women.” Believing that granting the student’s request would make him “an accessory to sexism,” Grayson declined to cooperate, leading Canadian academics to debate the extent to which claims of religious privilege should be accommodated in secular institutions.
We may agree that tolerance and acceptance are good values to have, but where religious beliefs are concerned, just what is it that we are supposed to tolerate and accept? Is it simply someone’s right to have certain beliefs? For most people, that is easily done. While we may question the content of a person’s beliefs, we do not normally deny his or her right to have them.
But is there more to it than that? Are we also required to respect and accommodate the beliefs themselves?
If possible, I would have accommodated the student on the principle that it’s better to avoid a conflict until it is inevitable—particularly when religious convictions are involved. Of course, there are limits. Here, perhaps, the professor could have reconfigured the composition of the groups. Save the hard decision for another conflict that is more intractable. Others may disagree.