Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When faith collides with convenience

I'm both saddened and intrigued by a situation in England. The Daily Mail reports:

A Jewish couple are suing their neighbours in a block of flats, saying an automatic security light is keeping them prisoner in their home because it forces them to break their Sabbath rules.

Dr Dena Coleman and husband Gordon claim they cannot leave their holiday flat on the Sabbath because when they do they automatically trigger the light in the communal hallway - contravening a religious ban on turning on electrical items from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday because it constitutes 'creating fire'.

They say their human rights are being breached and are now suing the flats' management company - their neighbours - for failing to accommodate their religion.

The other 35 owners of the seaside flats are liable to pay court costs if the claim is successful.

Dr Coleman, a 56-year-old headteacher at a Jewish orthodox school in London, has been visiting the £200,000 holiday flat in Bournemouth, Dorset, with her husband for six years.

The management company fitted the motion-sensing lights six months ago in a bid to save energy and money.

The Colemans have offered to pay for an override switch to disable the light sensors during the Sabbath.

But the Embassy Court Management Company - which represents all residents and whose three directors also live in the block - said this would set an 'unacceptable precedent'.

. . .

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: 'It has caused quite a stir here, there have been a lot of arguments.

'There has been a meeting about it and many of the residents aren't happy.

'There's a feeling that things shouldn't be changed just to suit people in one flat when everyone else is happy with it.

'I don't think the rest of us would think twice about the lights but they're going to great lengths to get it changed so they must feel very strongly about it.'

The couple say they only moved into the flat in spring 2003 on the understanding that movement sensors would never be installed in communal areas.

They have now issued a county court writ against the management company, saying they have discriminated against them on the grounds of religion.

The claim also accuses the company of breaching their rights under the Equality Act 2006 and Human Rights Act 1998.

There's more at the link.

Frankly, if the couple were given an assurance when they bought the property that motion sensors would never be installed, they must surely have a case in law - but was such an assurance given? If so, was it given in writing? Without some evidence, their assertion probably can't be proved in court: and if it can't be proved, their case collapses. The issue then becomes a matter of their rights as orthodox Jews versus the rights of all other residents, who don't share their beliefs, and in such a case, I have to believe that the individual rights of one resident can't trump the individual rights of the other residents.

Of course, there's the factor that in this case, secular interests are in the majority compared to religious beliefs. On the other hand, if this were a Muslim couple, complaining because some aspect of the property's management or facilities violated their religious beliefs, it's more than likely that the property management company would have caved in already. Certain religions wield more 'political influence' than others. In the same way, there are many towns and counties in the USA which are legally 'dry': alcohol can't be sold there. This is because certain religious denominations campaigned against it, got their members to vote accordingly, and imposed their will on the entire community. The fact that in the process, they trampled rough-shod over the rights of those who don't believe as they do, is something about which they just don't care. This is the same mentality that imposed Prohibition on the entire USA for several years, until it collapsed due to widespread public rejection.

Whenever one religion - or secular philosophy - is allowed to exercise more 'clout' than another, all sorts of nastiness can ensue.



Wayne Conrad said...

My religious views require that lights be turned on and off automatically.

Game on!

Anonymous said...

and that hummingbird farts perfume my way.....

YoelB said...

If the Colemans had gotten the no motion sensor guarantee in writing -- which, given its importance, they certainly should have done -- I suspect the homeowners' association or whatever it is would be saying "how can we work this out" instead of "we'll see you in court. Unless there's bad blood between the various households involved.
Otherwise, if there are no witnesses to the promise, the Colemans made a bad mistake and they shouldn't be trying to make other people pay for it.