Employers who ignore Christmas because they are worried about offending Muslim and Jews are infringing the “religious freedom” of Christians, the government’s equalities chief has said.
David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), said business should bring back explicit references to the Christian holiday, and be proud to have festive parties and say the Lord’s Prayer.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and it shouldn’t be suppressed through fear of offending”, he told The Sunday Times.
“Lots of employers have now become really worried about doing anything discriminatory regarding their Muslim or Jewish staff.”
Continuing, he said employers were sometimes driven to “extreme and disproportionate behaviour” which “could… produce some sort of resentment about special treatment”.
Mr. Isaac also slammed those who speak euphemistically about the “winter holidays” in an attempt to appear culturally sensitive.
“It is okay to hold a party and to send Christmas cards. Most Muslims and Jews that I know adhere to their own religious beliefs of course, but to some extent acknowledge that Christmas happens and to some extent, with a small ‘c’, celebrate it. This is people’s lived experience and we need to reflect it.”
Specifically, Mr. Isaac attacked the cinema chains that banned a Church of England advertisement featuring the Lord’s Prayer, insisting corporations should not “suppress” freedom of religion.
He said there were many employers who misunderstood the law and clarified that they did not need to bend over backwards to accommodate minority need such as halal food for Muslims.
Employers could decide, “to provide facilities for special religious diets” and is not “unlawful” not to provide “two microwaves for different kinds of food” such as pork, he said.
The EHRC view was: “You have to have a balanced debate about what is proportionate. You don’t need to have two microwaves”.
He also explained there is no requirement to give employees time off to pray during work hours or to allow them holiday if they demand to go on a pilgrimage.