Hong Kong: here is why religious signs have no place in disciplined services

While religious freedom is a basic human right, it is not necessarily compatible with another major principle: equality.

A tramway in Hong Kong’s Central District displaying “Hong Kong, Asia’s World City”. This motto was introduced in 1999 as part of the then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s policy address. (Credits: Flickr)

By- Raphael Blet

HONG KONG- In February, a female Correctional Services officer applied for a judicial review after claiming that she was refused to wear a Buddhist bracelet while on duty.

In her application, the officer is said to have denounced “discrimination” and a violation to her “religious freedom”. The woman justified herself and pointed out the fact that Sikh officers were allowed to wear their turban, which she qualified as an unequal treatment.

For many followers of Sikhism, the turban signifies identity and “love for God”. Other religious beliefs also emphasize on clothing or haircuts as a signifier of one’s religious beliefs and commitment.

However, religious freedom has its own limits as the above bracelet saga shows. By catering everyone’s beliefs and wishes (out of good and respectable intentions), our society falls into a vicious trap of which it is difficult to escape: anger and frustration take place as each person wants its own slice of the cake as it was the case.

Disciplined services are also known as uniformed services: this means that members of such entities (Police Force, Fire Services, Correctional Services, Immigration Department, et cetera) are required to wear a specified set of clothes so as to represent equality and commitment to serve the community.

In other words — by joining the disciplined services — you should adhere to a set of rules that might not necessarily be compatible with your private habits. It is true that a number of disciplined services have adapted their dress codes but this hasn’t proven effective as we can see in the example given.

As a secular and democratic jurisdiction, Hong Kong has a responsibility to insure that the freedom of all religions is insured and that race and religion should not be taken as a factor when applying for jobs. However, it is not the government’s duty to insure that one’s religious beliefs are catered at work, in particular for public servants.

To make it clear, uniformed workers are to make changes in their lifestyle and put their religion aside while on duty. The government shall insure that all of its workers do not have signs that may show their religious background, political beliefs or sexual orientation. This is the only way to go towards a truly equal society. After all, we shall remember that equality and freedom usually begin with certain sacrifices.

While the government should do more to diversify the public service workforce, it is everyone’s responsibility to make a step forward and understand that our overall society holds a set of rules that have to be adhered with.

Nevertheless, certain signs should be allowed during official ceremonial events so as to promote the diversity of our disciplined services.

We shall remember that beliefs are not a reflection of the reality. In January, a man of Indian origins who was wearing a turban was involved in a motorcycle and killed due to serious head injuries. According to the Transport Department, there are 558 persons exempted to wear helmets on religious grounds. Unfortunately, this man’s life was not saved by his belief, it might have been the contrary.

These principles should apply to believers of all religions, cultural and political movements.

Moreover, these sets of rules should apply to other sectors such as education as well as food.

Only by doing so can we go towards a harmonious and equal society. Let’s all put our beliefs aside and share what we all have in common: our hearts.