Religious queries concern HRC

Two separate reports issued by the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee this year have taken issue with the government’s requirement that job seekers state their religious affiliation on employment forms.

The HRC has stopped short of recommending that government change or eliminate that query. However, committee attorneys have recently noted their organization is generally concerned about the legitimacy of including questions about an applicant’s religion on employment application forms.

In one case reported to the HRC, a Rastafarian man had a clause proposed to be inserted into his employment contract which expressly prohibited him from speaking about his religion. A settlement has since been reached in which the government agreed to remove the clause.

HRC lawyer James Austin-Smith said he believed this particular clause was added only in the case of the Rastafarian’s work agreement, and is not usual in Cayman Islands government employment contracts.

Since the case was resolved, the report did not give an opinion on whether the proposed clause would have violated the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the HRC does point out discrimination on religious grounds would generally be a breach of the convention.

In another HRC ruling earlier this year, Dr. Luis M. Luarca made several complaints including one which claimed the question about religion on the government applications forms was discriminatory. The committee’s decision on that case said the requirement to indicate religious denomination ‘does not, in itself, inhibit freedom of thought, conscience or religion.’

The European Convention on Human Rights was extended to the Cayman Islands in 1953. In addition to freedom of thought, conscience or religion, it grants someone the ‘freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice or observance.’

The HRC did qualify its ruling in the Luarca case. ‘The requirement (that job applicants state their religion) could ….conceivably present an opportunity to discriminate on the basis of religion,’ the committee wrote in its conclusion.

An e-mail sent to the Compass from Mr. Austin-Smith this week went even further in raising concerns about the government’s policy. ‘Save in cases where being of a particular religion is an appropriate requirement for a post; the HRC believes these questions serve no useful purpose.’