The Truth About Religious Freedom

I keep seeing news stories centered around the protection of religious freedom in America: indeed, there’s a case being heard by SCOTUS right now, brought by the chain Hobby Lobby, who want to exclude the provision of two contraceptive pills from their mandatory health care plan as the owners deem them abortifacients which  violate their religious beliefs.

bible-300x200 The Truth About Religious Freedom

Firstly, if you believe all abortion is wrong, and certain pills enable abortions, then don’t take them. That’s the correct way to exercise your religious freedom — over your own body. What the owners of Hobby Lobby are seeking to do is not uphold their own personal beliefs in their own lives, but to impose those beliefs upon their staff. Last time I checked, one person’s religious freedom was not another person’s mandate.

This case has much wider-reaching implications, however. It seems that ‘religious freedom’ is commonly synonymous with the standards of rich, white, mainstream Christian folk from the right wing. There’s another case which might be about to change that perception, though, as Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, an LGBT-friendly denomination, is right now threatening litigation against the Boy Scouts because the BSA revoked the membership of the church’s scout leader because he’s gay. The church argues that because they have the right to pick their own scout leader, and the BSA is trying to revoke that right, they’re violating the church’s religious freedom. It’s certainly an interesting case, and I rather hope it does eventually go to court.

These cases beg the question, where does one person’s religious freedom end and another person’s right to autonomy begin? I’d argue any individual freedom begins and ends with that individual. The right to freedom and liberty includes the right not to be dictated to by the prejudices of others.

Those fighting these lawsuits to impose their own ‘freedoms’ upon others are also running the risk of having the legislation they force backfiring in a most spectacular way.

What if a company owner is a staunch Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t believe in blood transfusions? Do they have a right to deny blood to their employees, however badly they need it?

What if a company owner is a staunch Mormon, who doesn’t believe in imbibing any form of stimulant (including nicotine and caffeine)? Can they disclaim healthcare for certain types of medical conditions?

The fact is, religious doctrine can be used to discriminate against anything — people who eat pork or shellfish (so can they disclaim medical bills for food poisoning?), people who are divorced (so that’s the maternity bills for a child from a second marriage out), people who have sex before marriage or who are adulterers (good luck getting STDs treated), people who have interracial relationships (more maternity bills disclaimed — yay!), and, of course, LGBT folk.

There’s also the question of private/public interaction. When somebody opens a business, they have to abide by certain non-discriminatory laws, because they’re providing a public service, and the very definition of that is they should provide an equal service to all members of the public indiscriminately. It’s not so very long ago signs saying ‘Whites Only’ or ‘No Negroes’ were a common sight across the United States, yet the lessons of recent history seem to have been very easily forgotten.

Hobby Lobby wants the law to rule in their favour twice over: they want the tax benefits of providing healthcare to their employees, but at the same time they want to circumvent what the law states that healthcare should provide. They want the security of being considered, as individuals, separate from the business they own, thereby indemnifying themselves personally against lawsuits or bankruptcies brought against the company, but they want the company to be considered as an extension of themselves when it comes to how they treat their employees.

The law is very simple. If you open a publicly trading company, you need to trade openly with the public. If you want to reap the benefits of providing healthcare to your employees, then you need to provide your employees with full healthcare, as mandated by the government. The interaction any business has with an individual is contained within the business transaction — provide a product, get paid. Whatever happens outside of that transaction is irrelevant.

It staggers me, as an English gal, to see what a big deal some Americans make about the choices of others. Maybe it’s because I’m from a country which isn’t so zealously religious, or maybe it’s because we don’t like to get all up in each other’s business, but last time I passed an American pharmacy I was stopped dead by an official sign on the wall outlining the state’s law regarding the supply of prescription contraceptives. It’s a culture shock, because where I come from if you’ve got a prescription, you expect the chemist to fulfill it without comment or judgement, and certainly without requiring a law to make them do their damn job.

Why, I wonder, would someone who had a problem with contraceptives — or any other type of medication — go into an industry where they were required to provide those very things? If I had a sincerely held belief that all men were created perfect in God’s eyes and therefore reading glasses were an abomination, I wouldn’t get a job as an optician. I wouldn’t train as a plastic surgeon if I thought cosmetic enhancement was wrong. I wouldn’t get a job at a zoo if I thought no animal should be kept in a cage. I could go on…

The Hobby Lobby case is particularly galling, because the company’s pension plan invests heavily in the self-same companies who manufacture the pills they are right now fighting in the Supreme Court to be allowed to deny to their own staff. Religious freedom matters when it comes to paying out, but clearly not when it comes to cashing in. Never mind that the Bible specifically prohibits the accumulation of interest on money. Clearly that verse doesn’t count, either.

And perhaps that’s what gets my goat the most about these sort of cases: the pure hypocrisy of them. If you have a ‘sincerely held’ belief (whatever that means… I have a sincerely held belief that Destiel is canon, but I’m still waiting to see Dean and Cas lock lips *sigh*) then live your life according to it. All of it. Don’t be half-assed and don’t cherry-pick chapters and verses to suit your own agenda. Don’t hide behind religion to circumvent the laws of the country in which you live and trade. Or don’t go into business where you’ll have to do something you don’t agree with. It really is very simple.

I only hope the Supreme Court sees that, too.

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6 replies on “The Truth About Religious Freedom”

  1. Cara Bristol says:

    I’m an American, but the influence various religious factions in my country have astounds (and worries) me. You make some very good points.

    • Kate Aaron says:

      Thanks for commenting! I do acknowledge these are the actions of a (very vocal) minority, I only wish the majority would stop entertaining them 🙂

  2. John says:

    I’m an agnostic, and I believe that nothing can be known with absolute certainty, so when someone does something in the name of their religion, I believe they should be able to do it *as long as it does not infringe someone else’s right to do so (including those with a lack of religion)*

    Now, until recently, gay marriage wasn’t legal, so a Christian photographer, or cake baker, or wedding planner, could go into these trades and safely practice without having clients who are forbidden by their religion. Now it is legal in many places, these people now have the possibility of cooking for a gay couple, or planning a gay wedding. It’s turned their profession on its head, and forced them to come into contact with those they believe are sinners. In this case, I believe they should have the right to turn away clients for this reason. There are plenty more wedding professionals out there willing to do the work, go hire them.

    I don’t think it’s right, and I believe that most of these people use religion as a cover for their homophobic attitudes, but it *does say homosexuality is a sin in the Bible (as well as a lot of other things)*, and therefore it is a part of their religion whether we like it or not. Plus, why would you want to force someone to do you a service, when that person clearly hates you? Honestly, it *will* be the shittiest and most expensive wedding cake ever.

    Re: The contraception argument. This is a little different from my above statements. Here, we are dealing with a human life. Whether you consider it a life or not is irrelevant. Anyone against contraception considers it a human life and they consider getting rid of anything to be murder. An act, if committed against a body outside the womb, many of us would be more than willing to interfere in order to prevent. I’m not saying it is right (I am okay with contraception, but not abortion though, and I’m not going into that here), but that is the mindset. So to say they are interfering with your lives is an argument that is not going to work. They are not trying to interfere with your life, they are trying to prevent murder.

    • Kate Aaron says:

      Hey John, thanks for your thoughtful comment. A couple of points… 😉

      *The Bible doesn’t specifically state anywhere that homosexuality is a sin, that’s a matter of interpretation, and as we’re talking about a book almost 2,000 years old, written long after the events it alleges to narrate, comprised of a collection of different writings by multiple authors in at least three now-dead languages, collected by others and transcribed hundreds of years later into two more now-dead languages, finally transcribed into English a thousand years later, and revised time and again ever since, I’m not placing any stock in interpretation of pretty much *anything* in it.

      *SSM has indeed been illegal (or at least, not legal) anywhere up until the last decade or so (in recent history: in ancient history, it’s a different matter…), however gay couples have still existed, have still had commitment ceremonies and celebrated anniversaries just the same as they do now they’ve got a piece of paper from the government behind them. So there was always a chance that a baker was going to be asked to make a cake for a gay couple — although I agree, if a baker didn’t want my business, I wouldn’t force it upon them for the reasons you state.

      *Finally, re: abortion as murder, the autonomy of women has been debated ad nauseum by men in politics for centuries. The law of the land has determined the grounds under which an abortion is legal, and licensed certain contraceptive/abortifacient pills for public use, and I don’t think any employer has the right to circumvent both the law and the right of its employees to determine what happens to their own bodies.

      • John says:

        I can’t put any stock in the Bible either, there’s just too many inconsistencies to do so. But these people (or at least some of them) DO take it as the Truth. It is not what WE believe that is the issue here, it is what THEY believe.

        Marriage as a concept is primarily a religious one. The only reason we have secular marriages is because … well, I don’t know why. Though I like the idea, I can’t see what the point is if you are not religious. Anyway, the point is, they consider it to be sacred, between one man and one woman kinda thing. Before, they may have tolerated the lifestyle, but now you’re treading on their turf, and they don’t like it.

        As for your last point, I have to reiterate, it is not what you believe that matters, but what they believe. They don’t consider an unborn baby, an unfertilised egg, or a pool of sperm to be *your* body. They consider it a potential life. A life that should be saved. It’s the same reason I’ll never argue with a vegetarian. Though I do eat meat, and I see nothing intrinsically wrong with it, I understand that vegetarians consider it to be equivalent to murder.

        • Kate Aaron says:

          Marriage as religious? No no nooooooo. Marriage is a secular institution, licensed by the state. No religious officiant can marry you unless the state permits. What religions provide is a ceremony, that’s all. And marriage was originally introduced as a way of determining paternity, and predates every major world religion.

          And while I understand what they believe, and how strongly they believe, that still doesn’t give anybody else the right to dictate what happens to the bodies of others. One person’s religious freedom ends at another person’s autonomy. Outside of that, we have laws to determine what is right and wrong (beyond highly-subjective ‘sincerely held’ beliefs), without which we’d live in chaos.

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