February 25, 2009

A Follow-Up Thought

Following up on the thought from the 23rd...,

To grant special exemptions (from the need to obey laws that protect other human rights) on the basis of religion creates a hierarchy of rights in which religion trumps everything else. This is, precisely, a form of establishment of religion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

YES. But that is, for some, the goal. Not religion generally, either. THEIR religion.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear.

Brother David said...

I realize what prompts this "thought," but I am not sure where you wish to go with this.

It seems that to have true freedom of religion, then the religionists would need to have the freedom to practice what they believe. That has gone so far in your country that your courts have granted the Native American Church use of hallucinogenic substances in its ritual. Something which is generally illegal. The line appears to be drawn at human life. No one would be allowed human sacrifice. Even certain sects are constrained by local jurisdiction when the health and safety of their own children are concerned.

I am comfortable with allowing religious institutions to discriminate. If their beliefs are racist, within their organization they can racially discriminate. If their beliefs are anti-homosexual, then within their organization they can discriminate on sexual issues.

Over at Friends of Jake, there was a short discussion on this topic. I did not track with some of what was opinionated. One example involved a janitor employed by a religious institution. The example was that if the janitor married a same sex partner in a state where same sex marriage was legal, and that the religious institution should be legally bound to provide the same sex spouse with benefits. I disagree. In fact I am sure that a religious institution that had anti-homosexual beliefs would have somewhere in their employment practices that they do not knowingly employ homosexuals. The moment the janitor married a same sex partner and applied for spousal benefits, he would be knowingly in violation of the employment policy and no longer employable by the religious institution, making the spousal benefits a moot point.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments.

Dahveed, I think I am generally on track with you. The largely unspoken consideration that plays a large part in the US is tax status. Religious entities that have a status whereby their supporters receive a tax-deduction for contributions already have one significant (and often ignored) restriction: the prohibition on advocating for legislation or elections. As I say, the former is widely ignored (how many times do RC entities speak out officially on abortion issues) but gets dicier in the support of candidates.

The other issue, more to my point, is to what extent is that janitor's life (and that of his husband) relevant to the teaching and work of the religious entity? And how does providing a mandated benefit infringe the church's right to teach what it teaches or believe what it believes? As an analogy (I admit imperfect, but WTH) I am required to pay taxes even though some of my tax dollars go to support things of which I disapprove on religious grounds. I am still free to oppose those things, but not to withhold my taxes. (Though a few people do that as a symbolic gesture, but it seems to me a Pyrrhic one.)

At the same time, that religious body can govern its clergy or leadership, to enforce that they teach and act in accordance with the doctrine of that church -- and could defrock or dismiss or discipline such a leader (i.e., one who entered a same-sex marriage in a state where legal) and I would say they have that right. I mean, the RCC can choose not to ordain women to ministry regardless of the anti-discrimination laws, as this is a "purely religious" aspect of the church as church. But the janitor?

Now, I can see there is a grey area between the boiler-room and the pulpit: school teachers, office workers and personal assistants, etc. And as with all such gray areas there will be some ambiguity. Perhaps a policy statement such as you suggest would clarify this for the state's benefit.

My primary issue is that your rights end where they infringe mine. Thus the state has rightly intervened in some cases where a parent's religious views threaten the life of a child. Threatening someone's life is not protected behavior! I mean, most of our states do not recognize even the personal right to threaten ones own life. What would happen to a church or sect that advocated suicide? I don't think that would fly, even if one could argue that such self-determination is a right.

This post comes out of the discussion of the "compromise" that would allow religious entities to discriminate in the provision of employment and public accommodations, in reference to same-sex marriage. I would have to draw the line at clergy and/or leadership positions -- which is the present state of the law on gender. I don't think there are any religious groups who openly restrict leadership on the basis of race -- the Mormons gave that up some years ago.

Bruno said...

granting special exemptions from laws that protect rights granted by the government to its citizens, weakens the power of religion for the individual. If following religious convictions comes at no cost, then what is the point? If it comes at no personal cost, then to what cause?
The challenge is to live amidst the "chaos" showing forth your faith. Not with words, words are cheap as are actions that are done by the group and protected by law.
Shouting for the banning of abortion is very different than approaching the woman with an offer to take her baby and raise it fully as your own, or offering to form a group to guarantee her the ability to rear it in a healthy home. One is a christian approach, one is a pharisaical approach.
The desire to live in a society that establishes its civic responsibilities based on one's own religious beliefs can be looked at as a desire to be able to go about ones life without challenges, a natural state and understandable, and unrealistic.
We have to look at our desire to have the state accomplish for us the work of salvation, and what this means about our own comfort level with our beliefs. What god do we proclaim when our neighbors actions condemn us also? We have to look at our revelation of who God is when we demand the state set aside protected status for us to do the work we believe we are called to.

Marshall Scott said...

We are reminded often enough (or, perhaps not often enough) that the right to freedom of speech does not include the right not to be offended. I live much closer than I like to Fred Phelps and his clan; and recently read a recent guest editorial in the Kansas City Star about how the ACLU would and should defend even them. If I want the freedom to believe things that offend folks at Westboro Baptist Church, I need to appreciate their freedom to believe things that offend me. Yes, there can be limits to how that is expressed (and, yes, I think they do go too far); but I can't expect protection from their right to say things I find offensive.

We need also to be talking in those terms in this corollary issue of the rights of religious communities. There are appropriate rights to structure our communities according to our beliefs. However, we can't claim protection from all beliefs and practices we find offensive; and neither can those who face us from the other side of these issues.

Brother David said...

In our practice, my sister Alexa (a lawyer), my cousin Pedro (an accountant) and I (a psychologist) work in the field of human resources, assisting mostly family owned businesses to enter the 21st Century with legal employment systems and practices.

We have also assisted a number of Mexican religious institutions to do the same and I always stress the importance of direct and unambiguous written qualifications for employment with the institution, including any so-called moral expectations such as divorce or sexual orientation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Dahveed. I think it is incumbent on any entity to state its limitations or expectations up-front; and I think -- as developed IIRC in a case in England last year -- they face a lawsuit unless they do! One of my BSG brothers is also an attorney specializing in HR issues, and he is a source of much wisdom on the subject -- for me, as an amateur.