In their determination to champion designated victim groups, rather than apply coherent principles, human rights activists are regularly forced into doublethink.
In an open society, the state’s powers should be limited and contingent, the individual’s expansive and residual. To put it more prosaically, the government shouldn’t boss us around more than is absolutely necessary. It certainly shouldn’t tell us what to wear – as, for example, the Taliban and French regimes do (the one requiring burqas, the other banning them).
An open society also implies free contract. You may apply for work where you please. Likewise, if you own a company, it’s yours. If you want to employ only graduates, that’s your own silly fault. If you want to impose a uniform code on your staff, that’s between you and them.
These things were taken as read until a generation ago. The idea of passing laws specifying what people of different faiths might wear would have seemed like a throwback to the era of the Test Acts. Left-wing secularists would have been loudest in their condemnation, and they’d have had a point: the demerger of our civil and religious spheres is one of the things that made possible the miraculous advance of the West.
The trouble is that lobby groups in the 1970s approached the issue as one of minority rights rather than of conscience. Because new laws were initially demanded on behalf of immigrants – Sikhs not wanting to wear motorcycle helmets, Muslims wanting to wear veils – the debate was framed in terms of race rather than creed. For many Lefties, anti-racism is the highest card in the deck, trumping everything else.