Religious accommodation or ‘accessory to sexism’?

In a nutshell:

A male student at York University in Ontario did not want to do a group assignment with females. He approached his prof and asked for a religious accommodation.

The prof was not comfortable with this, and asked for opinions from both Jewish and Islamic religious scholars. They were all of the opinion that there was nothing in either religion to stop a student from doing group work in a public setting with females.

The prof then asked his female students a “hypothetical” question about this same thing. The reaction from them was quite negative. They did not like this idea at all.

He then denied the student a religious accommodation for his request. By his account, the student “cheerfully” accepted his decision.

Case closed, right? No. The professor’s dean was not happy. He instructed the prof that he MUST grant the religious accommodation. He said that the main consideration was that the male student was SINCERE in his belief - so the religious scholars had nothing to say about it. The dean said that nobody would be harmed by this accommodation, if only the prof would NOT TELL the female students what was going on. Then there would be no harm done.

Link to news article
Comments in the newspaper are bogged down in racist comments, stupid comments etc (as per usual). So what does the SDMB think?

My opinion is that the professor was caught between two hard choices and made the right call. There is no valid religious reason for the male student to not want to work with females. Therefore this boils down to a student wanting his prejudices and biases respected. I say, too bad for the student. Let him go to an educational institution that is male-only if that is his desire.

The professor made the right call-the repercussion if the prof had granted the request and word had leaked out would have been very nasty for the school.

I don’t see why groups can’t be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. OK, “everyone” may never work but if there is only 1 student that wants a change I would grant it regardless of the reason. I would want my groups to be able to work freely together.
Unless of course unless it is some type of social class where the learning is about working with diverse groups. Usually groups are because there isn’t enough lab equipment or teachers time to go around.

Do we know that? The article doesn’t cover the student’s motives, beyond "due to [his] firm religious beliefs … it will not be possible for [him] to meet in public with a group of women.”

Then his firm religious beliefs make it impossible for him to function in polite society and he should consider this a calling from god to become a hermit.

It’s a classic example of how you can’t avoid offending everyone, all the time. If a radical Muslim male doesn’t want to get close to female students and a female student is offended by a male student refusing to work with her, they can’t both get what they want.

My religion requires that I be given an A in this class. Religious scholars may disagree by it’s my sincere belief.

The professor did ask religious scholars from both Judaism and Islam. Their opinion was that there was no religious basis (for these two religions anyway) for the request. There is nothing in these religions that forbids a male from working on a school group project with females.

Now the male student may have sincere beliefs. But do we have to accommodate every single “sincere” belief? Even if no religion holds that belief?

If someone did not want to work with black team group members because they have a “sincere” belief that the bible tells them that other races are inferior - what then?

Student is attending the wrong school and his expectations are unreasonable. While he is taking what appears to be an online class, there are expectations that the students meet to collaborate on classwork (projects). I imagine the curriculum would specify the expectations for the class. When he registered for the class he implicitly accepted the conditions. Additionally, it can’t have been a big deal since he accepted the school’s ruling to deny his request and met with his classmates.

Right (I assume, I’m no scholar of either), for those two religions. Is the student Jewish or a Muslim, though? The article doesn’t say.

The university has a standard which I find reasonable:

Considering that another student was allowed to not participate in the same project due to being far away, apparently this project isn’t essential for the course’s academic integrity. I fail to see how one person not being in a group harms the others’ experience. So, it seems to me that the dean made the right call. This student’s religious beliefs cannot be vetoed by scholars who may not even share his religion.

Did the student in question say what religion he believes in, and which religious leader’s words he follows? I find it odd that he would be so vague as to prompt the professor to ask both Jewish and Islamic scholars about the issue. (“I’m an Abrahamic monotheist, guess the specifics yourself.”?) However, I’ve certainly seen quotes from media and other public figures who will say they asked certain questions of “Jewish leaders” and the attributed statements definitely indicated that they weren’t asking Orthodox rabbis.

I’ve also once asked someone for a religious accommodation based on something my Rabbi told me I should do. That person asked a local Chabad Rabbi, who said that what my Rabbi told me was not necessary (although in the end, he was nice enough to accommodate me anyway). My point being that even if the professor thought he was asking within the right sect, it’s important to know who this student goes to for personal religious questions.

I’m guessing the professor guessed the student was either Jewish or Muslim based on his name or national origin.

There’s a limit to all things.

On the one hand, if you’re preparing to be a chef at a secular restaurant, and claim you can’t ever try pork because you’re Jewish, you may need to find a chef school that’s more appropriate to you. On the other hand, if you’re Jewish in a class on History of World Cuisine, and the professor out of the blue brings some pork chops in to try, I think you’d be fine to refuse.

I feel like this situation is the former. The kid is probably just sexist and covering for it with his religious beliefs. The reason I think this is that when he was called on it, he agreed with the professor. The dean had no business getting involved (indeed, how did the dean find out?).

If the university policy is “sincere belief” and there’s no check to see what “sincere” means, the policy might as well be “do whatever you want as long as you claim your religion requires it”.

It’s possible he actually has a bona fide religious objection but isn’t a complete asshole, you know. The dean found out because the professor reported it.

I would say that it should be contingent upon the student to provide evidence of the “religiosity” of his/her beliefs. For example, they should be able to point the professor to some sort of religious authority who will back them up. It should not be up to the professsor or institution to guess which authority is appropriate.

It’s a religious accommmodation after all. If all it is based on is a student’s “sincere” beliefs, then you might as well take “religious” out of the equation alltogether. Students should be able to get an accommodation to not write exams at any time other than midnight, because they “sincerely believe” that this is what their religion instructs them.

A line must be drawn somewhere for authentic “religious accommodation”, and I think this particular student’s request crossed it.

What is curious to me is this professor ran it by the female students to get their opinion on the legitimacy of the fellow’s religious beliefs.

Indeed. The professor reported that the student “cheerfully accepted” his initial decision not to grant accommodation

I understand he did this as a “hypothetical”. He wanted their opinions, but did not disclose the details, like the male student’s name.

The prof really was between a rock and a hard place.

And I disagree with the Dean’s opinion that “as long as the female students did not know, then they were not harmed.”. Right. Just hide the sexism, and all will be well.

I assume he didn’t ask the same class.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the professor’s decision, he seems to have bungled the process. Guessing the student’s religion (if that’s what he did) and consulting scholars thereof, going to the other students about this person’s religious beliefs, ignoring the advice he solicited, from the dean and the director of the university’s Centre for Human Rights…these are bad decisions.