When “religious rights” conflict with other’s rights
Last week I engaged in a discussion about Christian rights in America with The Warrioress at life of a female bible warrioress. She provided some examples that she believes proves that Christian rights are being eroded in America, though I disagree with her in several places. If you have not been following the blog posts you can read up more about it here: “Are Christians Losing Rights in America” Part 2.
The topic of religious rights and civil rights in general is very interesting to me, and I have done a bit of Googling to find recent examples where Christians have claimed that their religious rights have been violated. I have compiled a list of such examples, and I am seeing a theme.
For my first example: Town Clerk refuses to sign marriage licenses for lesbian couple.
LEDYARD, N.Y. — Rose Marie Belforti is a 57-year-old cheese maker, the elected town clerk in this sprawling Finger Lakes farming community and a self-described Bible-believing Christian. She believes that God has condemned homosexuality as a sin, so she does not want to sign same-sex marriage licenses; instead, she has arranged for a deputy to issue all marriage licenses by appointment.
Gay marriage has been legalized in New York. Since when have clerks had the right to pass their judgement on citizen’s marriages and decide that they will refuse to personally sign their certificate? Would she expect to get a pass if the citizens seeking a license were previously divorced, and it was against her religious beliefs for divorcees to get remarried? Somehow, I doubt it.
Here is my second example: Christian clerk in Macy’s discriminates against transgender woman
The store clerk, Natalie Johnson, is claiming a religious right to discriminate and suing Macy’s for religious discrimination. She is not claiming a right to discriminate against trans people just because they are transgender. No, she is making a very specific point of wrapping her prejudice in religion. Fine. Let’s take her position at face value and look at it.
There are only two approaches I can see to making such an argument: 1) that certain people have more rights to do whatever they want than others, or 2) that rights to engage in certain kinds discrimination supersede any rights of protection from that same discrimination. In the first approach, the only way this sales clerk can make her case is to deny the humanity and equal citizenship status of the transgender person she insists on treating unequally. That doesn’t fly. She has no special, superior citizenship rights because she professes Christianity. Changing one’s sex does not (at least legally) make one a second-class citizen and reduce one to having fewer rights and protections than others. It is reasonable to view both parties as equals in terms of rights and protections.
As the author of this piece notes, the transgender woman in this case has full rights as a citizen, and no one’s religious rights give them the right to treat her as a second class citizen. That includes the right to use to fitting rooms at a department store. And, fortunately, Macy’s agrees.
Christians have also claimed the rights to interfere with other’s medical decisions under the guise of “Conscience” laws. For a brief background and description of “conscience clause” laws, first check the article from USA Today: Conscience clauses not just about abortion anymore. Then, with that in mind, check out this story from early 2011 where a pharmacist used the conscience clause to refuse an emergency order from Planned Parenthood for medication to stop bleeding: Planned Parenthood files complaint against Nampa pharmacist.
Planned Parenthood officials said the complaint states that the pharmacist inquired if the patient needed the drug for post-abortion care. The nurse refused to answer the question based on confidentiality of health information.
According to Planned Parenthood, the pharmacist then stated that if the nurse practitioner did not disclose that information, she would not fill the prescription. The nurse alleged that the pharmacist hung up when asked for a referral to another pharmacy that would fill the prescription.
So, if the woman had an abortion, she should be left at risk of bleeding to death? Or even if she had had a miscarriage, since that was confidential information that the pharmacist has no need to know? When does someone’s religious rights (since this this is at heart what the “conscience clause” is there to protect) allow them to to withhold medication or medical aid to save a person’s life?
Here is the theme I see: Christians are sometimes put in a position of providing a service to people that they believe don’t have a legitimate right to the service they request. In these cases, the requirements of their jobs conflict with what they personally believe God wants them to do. The woman requesting birth control pills can be turned away if the pharmacist doesn’t believe in it. Her right to control her fertility is taken away if the pharmacist doesn’t believe in contraception. Or even more urgently, the woman who has been raped can be turned away when she requests Plan B emergency contraception, because of the moral beliefs of such a pharmacist. A city clerk can put inconveniences in the way of a lesbian couple getting married, because she doesn’t really believe they have the right to do so.
Can a citizen be legitimately deprived of their rights to made decisions for their own life by another person due to of that person’s religious belief? I think not. And is requiring a pharmacist to dispense prescribed birth control pills, or a town clerk to sign the marriage license for a perfectly legal couple mean taking away their constitutionally guaranteed rights to believe as they choose and worship or not as they choose without interference? I hate to say it, but if your religion forbids you to do your job, you should find another line of work.
For another perspective, can a Muslim man who does not believe woman should be allowed to drive be allowed to refuse to rent a car to a woman in the United States? See: Allowing women drivers in Saudi Arabia will be ‘end of virginity’ Would it not be the same thing?
In short, your right to belief ends where my right to autonomy begins.
For further reading, see the links below.
Town Clerk refuses to sign marriage licenses for lesbian couple
Christian clerk in Macy’s discriminates against transgender woman
Pharmacist “Conscious Clause”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4425603.stm (Pharmacists ‘denying birth control’)
Louisville KY University Hospital Merger with Catholic system limits patient’s choices, especially regarding reproductive choices.
Pew Research Center: Rights of Conscience vs Civil Rights
The Bible and Gender Equality
EDIT (I thought to add these after a discussion on a previous thread): If you think it is ok to have a religious recital at public schools, you should watch these videos regarding the Smalkowski case. I cannot help but see it as the height of religious privilege, indeed Christian privilege, to think that it is ok to have a bit of religious ritual in a public school when it divides up the students in this way. There is prejudice against atheists in a lot of places, and it is not nice to be outed as the only atheist in school in a small conservative town.
Kicked out of school for refusing to join prayer circle:
The Price of Atheism (ABC 20/20 Interview with Nicole Smalkowski)
Pay attention around 3:14 and especially at 7:20 on.