Considerable ink has been spilled and breath expended over whether or not faith-based institutions (Loyola High School; Trinity Western University; Catholic schools in Ontario; all religious schools in Manitoba) should have any say regarding their students' sexual activities or their employees' off-duty conduct.
But institutions of faith are hardly unique in showing concern about their employees' off-duty conduct, or their students' sexual behaviours. And employees (or students) at such institutions are hardly the only ones who agree to restrictions on their personal autonomy.
Many organizations delve into some of the most sensitive areas of their employees' personal lives and require them to do or abstain from doing any number of things, in ways that many of us would find intrusive or offensive. And their employees' not only agree to such rules—they willingly accept them as a condition of employment and as a legitimate way of contributing to the overall reputational and operational integrity of the organization.
The public sector very closely scrutinizes and even regulates certain employees' assets, investment portfolios, and business, personal, and financial relationships to prevent the slightest possibility of a conflict of interest that could threaten the perceived objectivity of the public service.
Financial institutions, whose ability to earn and maintain individual and commercial clients' trust is crucial to their success, may also dig deep into employees' financial situations and off-duty personal and business dealings to ensure those they employ have the utmost integrity and are worthy of clients' trust.
Not-for-profit organizations that are committed to particular causes will not abide off-duty conduct by their employees that is fundamentally at odds with the organization's raison d'être or public persona.
Each of these recognize that an individual's off-duty conduct can have profound implications not just for workplace relations, but also for the employee's and the employer's (or the school's) reputation in the community. Adopting policies and codes of conduct that may seem intrusive, offensive, or unreasonable does not and should not disqualify such organizations or their employees from participating fully in society. Nor should it reduce them to single-issue institutions, as religious institutions are so often reduced.
Thankfully, religious institutions are about much more than codes of conduct. They are for so much more than they are perceived to be against. They are often about instilling or reinforcing a sense of calling rather than just occupation, a mindset of service to community rather than simply earning a pay cheque. They can provide counter-cultural insights into our understanding of law, justice, the economy, consumerism. And it is time to recognize the positive contributions they and their employees and graduates can make to society.