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.

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Comments

I find the increasing appeals to "conscience clause" an alarming development in American civic life and I do not see that our legal system is removing zealots. I see that religious freedom is persistently exploited to allow exclusion and also denial of services. For example, male riders on a public bus route that serves a largely Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn demand that women boarding the bus ride in the back, and the drivers do not intervene. Public restaurants in a largely Muslim neighborhood also in Brooklyn have separate curtained booths for the veiled women. These acts of exclusion should not be tolerated under any false appeals to religious tolerance. Any civil servant who places a religious commitment to inequality above his/her public duty to support equality should forfeit employment. I don't see public inequality immediately dismissed in American public life and I would like to learn of legal measures to prevent religious belief from dictating civic life.
Anonymous, try to remember that the original Pledge did not have that "under god" part until 1954 (?), when a Christian coalition managed to pressure Congress into changing it. As for your idea of "well, just don't say it, nobody's forcing you," try to convince an 8-year-old that it is okay to stand out like that in a public classroom. It's a stigma, an unfair one, and people (atheist and religious alike) are legally correct to bring this issue to court (to have the phrase removed, not to eliminate the pledge altogether, as you claimed). It doesn't deny people the freedom to say the pledge as they see fit, it ensures the neutrality of the public school system in regards to religion. It's hardly extreme, except in the minds of the offended Christian believer. I'd really like to hear how you think a secular form of public schools, legal, and political systems that are neutral on religion is "forcing non-religious beliefs" onto people. The entire point of a secular government is to ensure that our political system does NOT force a belief doctrine onto the people. You really seem to miss the point of the article; religious people in government employee positions are making decisions, based on their own personal religious beliefs, that affect other people who do NOT share those beliefs. That is blatantly illegal and ethically repugnant. When an atheist fireman refuses to help put out a burning church, because it offends his sensibilities, THEN you have a reasonable comparision.
No one is forced to believe anything they don't want to. But, you will be forced to go to hell if you make the "choice" not to believe. Christians would just like to help you make the right choice, but no one is holding a gun to your head.
If they are private individuals conducting business or practicing their profession in their own store or endeavor, then perhaps they can cite religious reasons to deny services to a customer or client. We may not like, but a reasonable argument could be made for it. It is, after all, their business, and it will thrive or die according to their own actions and decisions. On the other hand, employees within the public school system, the legal system, or our government cannot deny services according to their whims, whether religious or not. Governor Cuomo got it exactly it. But try telling the true believer this. They simply will not, can not, and must not accept it. Ever. Our only real comfort is in knowing that our legal system will keep the odd zealot in check.
While this is true, forcing your non-religious beliefs on people is not freedom from religion either. While the separation of Church and State is a fine line to walk, some people tend to take it to the extreme. For example the Pledge of Allegiance. Many Atheists refuse to say "under God', but nobody is making them do it. The choice is say it as written or you do not not have to say it at all. Nobody is taking them to court to force the issue. While on the other hand some people take the extreme road and bring school systems to court to make sure nobody gets to say the Pledge. If this is not infringement on others freedom I do not know what is. When it comes to doctors not prescribing birth control or pharmacists who won't fill them, there are plenty of other doctors who will, go find them. If your car insurance is too high you go and find another company. That's what freedom is about, choices. Make you own and let other make theirs. Merry Christmas...
"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." Signed- How can we actively work to spread this message?

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