Human rights takes a bizarre twist

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Cultural differences will inevitably rise to challenge us. But in the case of a male student seeking to skip a class project to avoid contact with women, the administration at Toronto’s York University tiptoed around the issue.

The student recited religious reasons – with the religion unspecified due to privacy concerns. The professor, Paul Grayson, rejected the request and the student went on to join the co-ed project as required. But in a bizarre twist, the administration afterward ruled in favour of the student.

The ruling has raised fierce criticism.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay, for example, said, “This is what we’ve tried to combat in places like Afghanistan.”

True enough. Many Canadians will feel that way, possibly even the administrative staff. We don’t know this student’s position, but he might not share enthusiasm for Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Grayson was stunned by the university’s stand. Many have called it a slight to women. Others ask whether it means a person could use race as a reason not to meet a requirement.

Such are the whims of religion is one simple response.

It certainly is a matter of human rights to respect a person’s religious beliefs.

But let’s remember this is an individual who sought the services of a western institution. No one would expect him to share the cultural observances of those he associates with, but he should expect to follow the standards and norms of such an institution.

What’s next? What happens in a place of employment? Do we make accommodations for someone who claims not to be able to work with a fellow employee for religious reasons?

It would have been encouraging to see support for the prof, who stood his ground and made a reasonable call. The administrators are dressing their response in a number of reasons, such as human rights and the requirements of the course. But to a lot of observers, it’s looking like they caved, not wanting to stand up to the issue.

Geographic location: Afghanistan

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