Back in 2011 the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences allowed one of its teachers to refuse shaking hands with women because of his beliefs. The Amsterdam mayor Van der Laan opposed this and insisted this teacher should shake hands, as the norm in a public function. The national Commission for Human Rights would probably have argued instead that the religious freedom of the teacher should be protected. This stance should also prevent the university from firing him. The views of the Commission might explain why the university came to its policy. In fact both these views, that of the mayor and the Commission, harm individuals disproportionately.

It is disproportionate to have government demand of every teacher of any belief under any circumstance to shake hands, because this is a (perceived) norm. There are more ways to acknowledge each other and if the organization itself is fine with this refusal, government should not interfere. Individuals and organizations should be free, to a large extent, to set their own policies. Only then there is room for most individuals and groups to flourish.

However, it is equally disproportionate to forbid firing a teacher that does not wish to shake hands, as preferred by the Commission. Making this firing possible indeed harms the person that steps outside the norm. But it protects everyone else that might be seen as a risk. If an organization deems it possible that a job applicant might get extreme beliefs in the future, it might decide not to hire the person as a preventive measure. That is undesirable too as all those that do want to adhere to the norm, but are seen as a risk for any reason, get discriminated.

Essentially it is deciding between two evils: open or hidden discrimination. Mindful the The Market For Lemons it is preferred to choose open discrimination. With open discrimination it is expected that fewer people get shut out from the job market. This means (central) government should not enforce social norms in cases like this and also that organizations can fire someone when they start to diverge from these norms. An exception could be when the divergence from the norm was apparent when hired. This freedom to allow divergence or enforce norms by individual organizations means most people can flourish and none get held back by extremists that happen to be somehow similar to them.

This article is a translated and revised version of this article in Dutch from February 2011.