Equality Oath – a good idea!?

In one mainstream media article it is clear at least one person with influence thinks it is: “Sajid Javid proposes ‘British values oath’ in wake of Casey review of social integration”.


The article continues: “Public office-holders should take oath on values such as democracy and equality, says communities secretary. Communities secretary Sajid Javid said an oath ‘would go a long way’ to helping new arrivals embrace British values. Every public office-holder should swear an oath of allegiance to British values, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, has said. The loyalty pledge would be expected to cover elected officials, civil servants, and council workers. Javid’s proposal comes in response to a report on social cohesion by Dame Louise Casey, which said some sections of society did not accept British values such as tolerance… He said he was “drawn” to Dame Louise’s recommendation to bring in an oath of allegiance because it was impossible for people to play a “positive role” in public life unless they accepted basic values such as democracy and equality. Writing in the Sunday Times, Javid said: “If we are going to challenge such attitudes, civic and political leaders have to lead by example. “We can’t expect new arrivals to embrace British values if those of us who are already here don’t do so ourselves, and such an oath would go a long way to making that happen.””

Not all think it is a good idea. In the same Guardian newspaper one writer expressed her view: “I wouldn’t swear an oath to British values – not all of them are good” concluding: “Identity politics is pluralist by definition; the politics of patriotism is not. Javid’s attempt to shore up democratic values with a show of power is, likewise, a misappropriation, taking the principles of equality as garb for a divisive authoritarianism. These conservatives are like reverse Santas, constantly coming down our chimneys to steal our stuff.” One Christian writer wrote: “Equality Oath would be ‘slap in the face’ for Christians” making among others the interesting point:  “Equality sounds nice but it is in the name of equality that Ashers Baking Company has been taken to court, B&B owners sued and a faithful Christian registrar forced out of her job.” The article concludes: “An editorial in The Independent also strongly criticised the Equality Oath, saying it would deny the right to dissent. It said: “Why should anyone have to sign up to some officially approved list of moral rules if they don’t believe in them? This is effectively the case if their livelihood depends on it. “If a soldier or a teacher doesn’t believe in equality, should they be forced to say they do just to hang onto their job? Would it make them better or worse citizens?

When I shared the aforementioned article on my Facebook page I got various, sometimes opposing, responses and I thought I should come clean with what I really think. Going back to the turn of the millennium, when I began my professional community activist career, I soon realized when dealing with officialdom the importance of equal opportunities policies. The people I needed to convince were keen to see my project committed to this and a number of templates came my way to adopt. In at least one instance I felt I could not fully subscribe to what was set before me, even though I felt I was fully onboard with the notion of treating everyone, whatever their age, sex, sexuality, (dis)ability, race or religion, equally etc. What I could not subscribe to was the idea that mixed sex marriage and same sex relationships was equal anymore than Christianity and Islam was. To sign up to that would be telling a lie and go against my conscience. In the end this turned out to be an academic exercise and while all stakeholders were happy with the policy we produced, it never became an issue after that.

My worry as I have shared before is as a nation we no longer have shared values and the government going by their record is the wrong people to set them. If the idea behind the oath is to counter issues like extremism (often Islamic but it is politically incorrect to say so) the government is going the wrong way about it. Getting public office holders to sign an equality oath could, if it is not worded correctly, put off the very people we need to occupy these positions. For many, it is simply a matter of simply going with the flow but for others it is a matter of principle and an unwillingness not to sign up to something they cannot agree with and would go against their conscience, and these are the sort of people we need to take up these positions, because more likely they will have integrity. It should suffice to expect employees to obey the law and fulfil their contract. While I quite accept that expectations of behavior for officers of the state need to be high and it is right to expect them to deal equally with all, I suspect Javid’s proposal will hinder more than it will help.


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