16 February 2023
Earlier this month, Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) Board Members Ian Saunders, Equality Lead and Paul Odle, National Lead, Race, Religion and Belief Equality Groups, led the first Religions and Beliefs Webinar for members.
The virtual event saw several guest speakers representing Paganism, Scientology, Church of Latter Days Saints, Jewish Faith and Christianity coming together to share valuable insights and to help educate others to better understand each other, diminishing misconceptions of certain faiths.
Andy Pardy of the Police Pagan Association explained some of the barriers that Paganism face within policing: “There is a considerable lack of understanding around the faith itself, it is highly misinterpreted within the media and the public
“Important days such as Samhain, which is around Halloween, can be one of the busiest times for policing due to anti-social behaviour. Yule, which is close to Christmas, sees higher operational drink driving campaigns running and these both make it difficult for Pagan officers to take time off to celebrate these holidays.
“There is also a concern around police officers revealing their Pagan faith; some fear that they will lose out on promotions or will be penalised in certain policing roles.
“Symbols associated with Paganism can be mistaken for right-wing affiliation, but our symbols are law abiding and generally positive.
“Unfortunately, disclosure of our faith is still very low within policing.”
Also on the speakers panel was Dan Gilmore from Lincolnshire Police, who spoke about his experience of being a Jewish officer within the force: “I am lucky that I have experienced very little impact and have not had any issues being a Jewish officer. It’s a very good fit, as it shares similar values as policing. There is nothing that cannot be managed, especially around food, shifts and head coverings.
“Working on the Sabbath, from Friday to Saturday night, is forbidden, so it’s is sometimes questioned how you can be a police officer if you cannot work a Friday night. But it can be done - flexible shift patterns can be put into place to allow for that.
“When it comes to providing food, vegetarian options should be available. As for uniforms, head coverings for men and some women, shouldn’t be an issue.
“Unfortunately, police culture can still be an issue and inappropriate jokes are still made, which is unacceptable. It would be good to have some sort of welfare support, especially when on the receiving end of hate crimes driven by religious issues.”
Paul Odle, representing the Church of Latter Day Saints (also more commonly known as the Mormon Religion) described his own experience working in the police as an active member of the religion:
“Our faith is all about family orientation. We have what is known as a family home evening which takes place on Monday evenings. This ensures that we bond and have quality time. Sundays are Sabbath and a day of worship.
“At first, I kept my faith to myself. We do not drink coffee or tea, coke or alcohol, but when in a team setting at work, you want to go and socialise and join in. It was difficult for me at first. I wasn’t into drinking alcohol because of my beliefs, and it made my team feel they couldn’t trust me initially, and that I didn’t want socialise with them, I had to explain to them that it’s no reflection on you, this is who I am.
“That isolated me a little within that arena. My colleagues had the right to have their own perception of me, but I had to explain it wasn’t personal toward them.
“On the Sabbath we do not conduct worldly business, such as working out finances. It’s all about worship, spirituality and faith. Being an officer, I would be working shifts and would have to work Sundays. I would have to approach my sergeant who was in charge at the time, hoping they would understand. One sergeant would allow me to go off and take sacrament. Other times, I was too fearful to ask.”
By bringing everyone together in an open forum, PFEW hopes to create a feeling of understanding and tolerance within forces, by simply hearing about and respecting each other’s values and beliefs. This type of ongoing activity makes the police service stronger as a whole.