Religion at York: the tyranny of the majority?

The question of how much institutions should cater to the needs of different religious groups is a divisive issue to say the least.

Should we, as a liberal democracy, go out of our way to make sure the University provides and funds facilities to enable free and easy worship for all faiths, or should we embrace our status as a completely secular state, where people are free to practice their religions, but not imposing the cost of religious practice on non-believers?

It is a national topic that has been difficult to avoid of late, with the French banning any religious attire in schools, and more recently their outright banning of the burqa; yet the issue has now reared its controversial head in our campus bubble.

I feel I first must stress how strongly I am of the belief that the recent action by the French government was deeply flawed and nothing more than racism, thinly veiled as some inconsistent version of liberal toleration. The burqa, while symbolising oppression of women and cultural isolation to many, is also a traditional part of the Muslim faith and no government has the right to dictate the cultural and social choices of their electorate.

inconsistency of facilities for different faiths is nothing short of unfair

While the issues currently facing Jewish students on campus are not to quite the same scale, they nonetheless illustrate a similar reluctance by the University to fully embrace the multi-cultural nature of society. With Jewish students now without facilities to maintain their kosher traditions, and even a separate prayer space, as has recently been opened to Muslims on campus, it does not reflect well on an institution supposedly open to all faiths.

While I am not advocating that Commercial Services should be providing an entire kosher empire on campus, the inconsistency of facilities for different faiths is nothing short of unfair. The provisions for Christians and Muslims at York far outweigh those for Jewish students, showing a very callous attitude on the part of Commercial Services in reducing their already limited religious and kosher kitchen space. It should make little difference how many Jewish students need these facilities; just because they are a smaller group does not justify their needs being ignored completely. In fact, I believe that was what Alexis De Tocqueville would have termed a ‘tyranny of the majority’.

Providing students choice and freedom to practice their religion should not be something thrown to the wayside in an attempt to save money. After all, if the University continue to refuse to cater for a variety, there is a risk that all will be left on campus is religiously lacking people such as myself. And how bland is that?


  1. “It should make little difference how many Jewish students need these facilities…”

    Of course it should make a difference. With a limited number of resources, you have to divide them according to need. There are (apparently) over 4000 religions worldwide. Should the university attempt to provide for all of them ? At the last census, more people put down Jedi Knight than Judaism as their religion, so I’m looking forward to the lightsaber practice training facility being set up in the sports centre…

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  2. I am a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and I have asked the University repeatedly to ensure that I could eat spaghetti with meatballs at every meal.

    The courtyard might offer Meatball pasta, but they’re Linguine, and that’s just heresy really! And who cares that I’m the only one, it’s my belief, and that’s always a carte-blanche for stupidity.

    More seriously though. If you can only eat Halal or Kosher meat, become a vegetarian. Both of these requirements involve killing the animal in unethical ways (you would face prosecution if you slaughtered an animal, for consumption, in this way without doing it for religious reasons) and has been condemned by many animal welfare groups. Again, if I decided I could only eat animals if they had been catapulted alive first, the solution is NOT to catapult animals, it’s for me to become a vegetarian. Changing the laws of your country to suit some minorities who need their animals tortured before they can eat them is definitely not ‘tyranny of the majority’.

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  3. 14 Oct ’10 at 12:58 am

    learn some respect

    I’m a christian yet even I can appreciate the importance of judaism as a binding religion from which the Islam and Christianity are grown from. Its a major world religion with one of the most important of all religious history so to group it with such examples is insulting and demonstrates a distinct ignorance. Well written piece. Glad someone pays attention to such issues.

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  4. Ramen!

    One could argue that the majority of animals consumed in the UK is unethical, since most of it is not even free-range…

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  5. 14 Oct ’10 at 3:39 pm

    Chris Venables

    Jewish students do not need a prayer room. Jews can pray anywhere.

    The Kosher facilities are the same as they have always been. The only loss is Jewish accomodation, an unused facility.

    Get your facts straight!

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  7. @again…

    i don’t think that means chris can’t have an opinion. indeed, why not refute his ideas through debate rather than shouting? do jewish student need a prayer room? sure, the facilities should be there. do we have the capability to make them? i’m not sure, though with the ever expanding space on Hes East, I’m sure such a possibility won’t be too far away.

    at the centre of all this really is when does a minority group become big enough to be warranted special permission and favours? The vast majority of students wouldn’t use jewish facilities, but they would use a regular kitchen or a space for table tennis. Should a small group on campus take such opportunities and developments from a large majority that might use the space more frequently and in larger numbers? It’s tricky, cos there are such spaces already around. It shouldn’t be the University’s job to interfere with religious groups or views though, just as we don’t have a church on campus. The University should treat everyone as equal and give them equal opportunity to study and learn well – that is their mandate.


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  8. Justify kosher culinary practice in secular terms, then I’ll start listening.

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