Forcing your beliefs on others is not religious freedom

First it was doctors who wouldn’t perform abortions and pharmacists who wouldn’t fill prescriptions for contraceptives.

Several years back a Chicago police officer sought an exemption from an assignment to guard an abortion clinic. And most recently, a town clerk in New York state refused to sign the marriage license of a lesbian couple who had every right to marry under the recently passed state law.

In these cases public servants claimed religious exemptions from doing a part of their job under the guise of so-called “conscience clauses”. In each case, “religious freedoms” of public servants have trampled over the rights of the people they took an oath to serve.

Many of the country’s conscience clauses were established after abortion was legalized to allow the religious to abstain from administering the procedure. But the slope has gotten more and more slippery as other public servants have attempted to expand laws that were once confined to health care issues, to all spheres of public life. And the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of the biggest proponents of expanding the coverage of “conscience clauses.”

Advocates of the clauses believe they safeguard their religious freedom — that forcing a town clerk to issue a marriage license to a homosexual couple is a violation of the clerk’s rights as a religious person who condemns homosexuality as a sin. It’s a disingenuous interpretation that allows for anyone who wants to force their beliefs on others to call it “religious freedom.” And it’s dangerous.

These conscientious objections—not only in health care, but all spheres of public life—are not a simple matter of individual religious beliefs and rights, because they always affect someone else’s access to care or services.

While these individuals have the right to consider their religious beliefs in determining their own personal medical and social decisions, those personal beliefs cannot be forced on the public, as they pick and choose which services to provide.

As Americans we are guaranteed the right to freedom of religion, but that freedom is limited so that it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others to do the same. The reality is that the individuals who claim “conscience clause” rights are discriminately denying the patient or individuals to whom they are denying care or services to, the right to practice their own freedom of religion—or non-religion. By denying public access to legally allowed services, they are forcing their beliefs on specific members of the public who don’t share their religious views.

For those who have been denied services, it’s downright insulting and can be humiliating. Such refusals of service may lead to additional costs in time and expenses to the patient or individual who must find a way to obtain the service or care another way. It is simply unacceptable for any one person’s religious view to infringe upon the rights and lives of others, whose choices they may not agree with — especially true in circumstances of public employees or organizations that accept any form of public funding.

New York Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, had it right in his response to the town clerk who refused to issue the marriage license to the lesbian couple. He said, “When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose.”

It’s that simple. If your religious beliefs infringe on your ability to do parts of your work, then it’s time to find another job.

Religious freedom does not mean that you can ignore portions of your job, administer only the portions of the law that you like, deny services to the public based on your personal beliefs or infringe on the rights of another.

What conscience clause advocates need to understand is that freedom of religion is for everyone — not only those who share their religious views.

34 Responses to Forcing your beliefs on others is not religious freedom

  1. It's such a tough call in some cases and I can sympathize at times with both sides. Part of the situation is, in my minde, whether the activity is a significant part of the job, and whether it can be easily worked around. Employers are, after all, required to work around limitations imposed by physical disabilities; putting the officer in the above example on a different beat would not seem to be too great a problem. The town clerk may be more of a problem, though if he/she is willing (and it's legally valid) to let the mayor sign, for example, maybe that could work. If not, then it's really part of the job and it may be appropriate for that person to take a different job. At the other end of the spectrum, I see no reason why a private contractor (photographer, caterer) should be *required* to accept a job they don't want, regardless of their reason for turning it down. And really, would you want your affair catered or photographed by someone who really did not want that job?? I too see the concerns of conscience. I don't think I could ever be a police officer, because there are whole categories of law that I could not enforce in good conscience, indeed as a private citizen on a jury, I could not vote to convict someone under a law that I conscientiously disagree with.

  2. Thank You! I could not have said this better!

  3. Hilter couldn't of said it better, "New York Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, had it right in his response to the town clerk who refused to issue the marriage license to the lesbian couple. He said, “When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose.”" So when the law says to kill one group of people! This article is saying you should, because of the law. Some thinking pattern that Hilter used to kill millions of people, and it was the law!

  4. I suppose people with a conscience working for Hitler should have resigned and found more suitable work?On the otherhand the bible has, and probably still does, require believers to kill – as do other holy books.

  5. If I didn't do my job I'd be fired. There are plenty of people willing to take the jobs of those who won't do their own. It's pretty simple, really. A vegan shouldn't take a job at a butcher's shop then whine and try to claim conscience.

  6. When Hitler stops being the focal point of right wing debating procedures (Fundie debate 101) perhaps some measure of common sense will prevail. Oh wait. We're dealing with religious assholes. Forget it.

  7. just so we are all aware hitler was a catholic until sometime around 1941 by his own admition and while the church did eventually work on excommunicating him it wasnt until WELL after he had been mass murdering jews.

  8. EXCELLENT. And 1 million points for use of the word disingenuous. You perfectly described the situation.

  9. But isn't forcing a person to do something against their religious beliefs just imposing an alternative ideology on the person claiming "right of conscience?" If I have a moral/ethical problem with performing a service for someone else, then I should be able to abstain from participation. If the activity the person seeks is legal, there will most certainly be another service provider willing to provide the service. This way, both ideologies are respected. The person who legally seeks a benefit is free to pursue it, and the person who genuinely has a conscience issue is free to live in peace with their decision to abstain. I believe this is respectful to both people.

    • If you have a problem with performing the basic functions of a job, then you should not take that job. Should a vegan be able to take a job at McDonald's, then refuse to serve anyone meat?

      • avatar TE from Virginia

        Hello Mike, Thanks for writing back. It is true, I could choose not to work at McDonalds if I was vegan and had a problem with serving meat. I could seek employment with a restaurant that serves a vegan menu or mostly vegan menu. However, this doesn't mean that a customer should necessarily demand that I serve them a hamburger at the vegan restaurant. They could go to McDonalds and buy their hamburger. In the same way, if I am pro choice, I can choose to work at Planned Parenthood, a place that people can go to have legal abortions. However, if I have a moral conviction about participating in abortion procedures, I might choose to work for a crisis pregnancy center, which has a policy not to perform them. There's no reason why the patient must demand that I perform an abortion at the crisis pregnancy center. They are free to go to Planned Parenthood. If I were a doctor working with other physicians, some of whom were willing to conduct abortions and others weren't, what is the harm in directing the patient to a physician who doesn't have a right of conscience issue?

        • I could choose not to work at McDonalds if I was vegan and had a problem with serving meat. I could seek employment with a restaurant that serves a vegan menu or mostly vegan menu.

          My point exactly. A pharmacist is licensed to dispense medication per prescription, and is hired to do so. That's the job. Don't want to do it, don't take the job. Don't work at McDonald's if you don't want to serve burgers. If a pharmacist doesn't wish to dispense prescriptions as written, she should find another line of work, or perhaps take a job at a Catholic hospital that doesn't stock birth control. Plenty of doctors don't perform abortions, and no doctors are forced to perform abortions. So, I'm sorry, but your example doesn't hold water. A better case would be to say, "If I'm a pharmacist, and I don't want to dispense birth control, why can't people just go to another pharmacist who will?" In large urban areas, with many pharmacies, this may not seem a problem. In fact, pharmacies in large urban areas who have taken this course of action found their businesses failing. In rural areas, the pharmacist may be the only one accessible to a customer. So, the pharmacist can effectively prevent a patient from getting the medication prescribed by her doctor. Further, a pharmacist is licensed to dispense medications per prescriptions, not to decide for patients what medications they should be taking.

          • As well, we must also consider that a McDonald's job is not a "public office." It's not a tax-funded position.

    • Uhhuh….keep on telling yourself that TE and then come up to northern minnesota where such services are few and far between.

  10. Severa years ago I made a sign for my office wall that, for my way of thinking, is all you need to know: " Your right to practice your religion does not trump my right NOT to practice your religion."

  11. avatar TE from Virginia

    Overall, my sense of the tone of this article is not one of seeking to find agreement and a solution for people of differing viewpoints, but an insistence that people with a "right of conscience" dilema be forced to suppress their objections. This is not promoting integrity. I would rather that someone tell me they have a problem doing something for me and direct me to an alternative, than to make them do something that goes against their conscience. This seems to be a more respectful and honest option. One more thing. It seems like the author is pointing to issues that would genuinely be "right of conscience issues." These are issues that speak to deeply held religious beliefs concerning life, death, marriage, etc. I think the argument here, that is, a concern that people will just pick and choose what parts of their jobs they want to perform is an unfair characterization of the heart of the issue with "right of conscience" type issues (which tend to be the biggies). Oops, I gotta go…I'm a student and I'm procrastinating my studies…but fun to write a bit. :)

    • And if there is no alternative? The way I see it, TE, the McDonald's argument sums things up perfectly. If you don't want to enforce the law, don't become a law enforcement officer. If you don't want to dispense medicines as prescribed, don't become a pharmacist.

  12. Bravo! Well said.

  13. In the example of the clerk who didn't want to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple, this person likely had no idea that he/she would ever be asked to do such a thing. Likely when they took the job, it was not a legal option. So, the McDonald's example doesn't really fit this particular instance. I think the appropriate action for the clerk would have been to ask another clerk to issue the license. I also think there is, or at least should be, room in the world for religious people and for secularists without hurling insults or looking for reasons to feel oppressed.

    • The clerk would never think it necessary to process paperwork? Suppose an interracial couple wished to marry and the clerk were against interracial marriage. Would it be OK for her to refuse to process that paperwork, too? How about a Christian marrying a Jew? What if she thinks that's wrong?

      • FANTASTIC POINT MIKE! (Yes, all-caps is on purpose.)

      • This is a matter of legality, not just opinion. It is, and has been for some time, perfectly legal for persons of differing race or religion to marry. As far as I know, it has never, ever been legal for persons of the same sex to marry. This is a very new concept, and understandably hard for some to accept. How about some tolerance for people who just can't change as fast as you'd like them to?

        • Janet, we are not talking about someone being forced to officiate at a religious ceremony. We are talking about someone whose job is to process paperwork. I see no reason to "tolerate" a taxpayer-paid government official refusing to process paperwork that it is her job to process because she doesn't like it. Refusing to do one's job is grounds for termination. As for legality: Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, as decided by the democratically-elected (and largely Republican) Legislature. It has been legal in several states and countries for some time. Your argument about "legality" is therefore irrelevant. Would you have advocated "tolerating" a white teacher who refused to teach black students during desegregation in the 1960s? After all, it was "new".

    • Then the person should do his damn job and realize that his rights to not like gay marriage ends where he ends. He's not being asked to stamp his personal approval on it…he's being asked to do his job and apply the law.

  14. So, Janet, because I have moral objections to the ever widening income gap I should be able to refuse to deal with bank documents that I have to deal with that benefit the rich with getting more money right? Or when I worked for a law firm that was defending companies involved in asbestos claims I not only should have been able to refuse to do my job but I would have had the right to publicize their legal files without getting in trouble, right?

  15. Let's get to the brass tacks here. Should an ER nurse who is a conservative Christian have the right not to treat a gay man who is brought in to the ER suffering a heart attack? If she cites Leviticus 20:13 ("If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.") as her basis of belief, should she be protected by religious conscience clauses from treating the gay man? Do we draw the line and say that the right to life mentioned in the Bible trumps the right to conscience? If so, should a Catholic hospital be forced to provide an abortion to a woman whose pregnancy is threatening her life? Should a conservative Christian ER doctor be required to do the same if his inaction would mean the woman would likely die? And will conservative advocates of conscience clauses support liberals who invoke them, such as the example mentioned by Kieres above? Or do only conservative Christians have consciences?

    • Think they'd support an atheist doctor refusing to operate on a conservative Christian patient? Or should a white doctor who's a racist SOB be able to refuse to treat a african-american patient? Oh I know. Can a liberal doctor refuse to treat the Koch brothers, Janet? Or for that matter, can a conservative Republican doctor refuse to treat the current President of the United States? Can a southern baptist doctor refuse to treat the Pope? Sorry, Janet, you do your job. If you can't do your job because of some supposed moral objection then find a new job. The only exceptions to that is things that fall under whistleblower protections and certain other rules pertaining to, mainly, lawyers.

      • But a clerk handing taking care of marriage certficates does not get to go "Oops, well that may be the law but I dont like it so **** you." Oh and by the way I say this as a Christian who has no love for abortion: It would be a very good idea if the so called "pro-life" crowd gave as much attention to seeking to protect the rights of the ones already living. Instead of constantly going "Well we care about the right to life as long as life isn't born yet…but after that **** it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>