Now let us suppose that it is your genuine belief that the British weather is dictated not as we had supposed, by physics, global warming and meteorology, but by the extent of the Government’s adherence to the Christian Gospel. That is your belief and one you are fully entitled to hold.
The question for your boss, however, will be whether this is one you are entitled to voice publicly, or at least to do so and retain your employment. Marshalled on the one hand are the forces of the right to manifest your religious beliefs at work and of protection for freedom of speech, and on the other, the massed ranks of the (relative) unbelievers who may regard such a views as incompatible with your holding any role in which you require their trust and support. Would your employer be entitled to remove you from your position as a result of public utterances of this sort, or would that be either discrimination against you on religious grounds or an infringement of your European Convention on Human Rights entitlement to manifest your beliefs?
This is of course about UKIP and the repeated assertion by its Counsellor David Silvester that December’s floods and storms and the accompanying devastation and loss of life were all down to the Government’s acting “arrogantly against the Gospel” in its decision to introduce same-sex marriages. UKIP leader Nigel Farage finds himself in a difficult position as a result – on the one hand, feeling compelled to suspend Mr Silvester as an “embarrassment“, and on the other revelling in the press coverage of the matter as showing that “the Establishment, the status quo, the big businesses, the big eurocrats and our three so-called main political parties are scared witless by what UKIP is doing because we are striking a chord not just for ordinary people, but for many elements in the business community as well. They will try to do whatever they can to shoot us down“.
That is also clearly a view which Mr Farage is legally entitled to hold, though in his shoes I would be more concerned about the new spoof @UKIPWeather twitter site set up by those same “ordinary people” in mocking response to Mr Silvester’s statements, which after just three days has reportedly gained more online followers than UKIP itself and is a clear exception to the view that no publicity is bad publicity, even for UKIP.
In the employment context, would the public expression of such views warrant action by an employer? Remember that in legal terms, “religion” is very wide and can easily be interpreted to include Satanism and a number of other equally challenging faiths and views which may take or risk taking the holder into direct conflict with other religious groups or with the general law. That may well warrant intervention by the employer. But in Mr Silvester’s case, we are not talking about any real challenge to others’ religious beliefs or any incitement to civil disobedience or violence. Instead, the consequences of Mr Silvester going public with his beliefs is merely to damage his credibility and that of his party[employer] in the eyes of what must be a sizeable majority of its potential constituents[customers]. The precise nature of his beliefs is actually probably less a cause of this (as I say, he can believe what he wants) than the colossal lack of judgement and self-awareness shown in his not considering first whether voicing them in the local press was really a terribly good idea. When you are in a business whose whole purpose is to secure and retain the confidence and trust of the public, that sort of thing counts for a lot. In my view, such conduct could easily warrant serious disciplinary action against your employee, and the maintenance of your corporate credibility could well even require it. Possibly not dismissal for a first offence unless what he says is particularly extreme or otherwise unlawful, but definitely a carpeting to remember.
Perhaps the final nail in the coffin would be if you were to ask your employee nicely not to repeat his views but he did so anyway. “The instructions I have got from now on is not to answer anybody and not to do interviews such as this“, Mr Silvester told Radio Berkshire to no-one’s very great surprise. “I’m not going to go into why. That’s a private discussion between me and them“. Quite so.