Friday, May 3, 2013

What does Religious Freedom Let you Do?

In America, the Radical Right has tried to expand the concept of Religious Freedom to mean anything any preacher has ever said. 

They love to use he words "sincerely held religious beliefs" as a get out of following the law card.  The problem is you can make up your own religion, putting in any crap you want - like the right to kill people portray your god in a photo/video - or even just cut your off in traffic.   They try to fix this obvious flaw by putting in limitations to prevent the most obvious abuses.  Obviously this leaves the less obvious abuses in place, and they think we are too stupid to notice.

At a lower scale, it would be possible to claim "my religion says it is a sin to pay taxes", or just "my religion says it is a sin to have any business relations with black people".   Don't like gays?  Have a preacher somewhere say that homosexuality is evil, then use it as an excuse to violate their rights.   Same for abortion, or healthcare in general.

Freedom of Religion definitely has limitations.  Obviously Freedom of Religion does not let you kill people that cut you off in traffic.   In addition it is NOT just the most obvious abuses that are limited.  We have a reasonable test for what is really a sincerely held religious belief and what is just made up bull.

So lets talk about what Religious Freedom actually means, starting with some definitions.

  1. Reasonable Accommodations.   This is a key legal concept not limited just to religion.  For example, the same concept is used in the Americans with Disabilities Act.   With regards to religion, it means that you force people to ignore their religion when a simple and obvious solution exists.  You can't make them work Saturday, taking Sunday off if their religion says they need to take Saturday off.   In effect, this rule says no to silly technicalities.
  2.  Religiously Required activities.  Here are things your religion requires you to do - take one day off a week, Confess your sins, observe the Sabbath, have a Seder on passover (including drinking alcohol and eating matzoh.).  These are extra important and need more protections
  3. Religiously Forbidden activities. These are things the religion expressly forbids you from from doing.  They may be sins, they may be a dietary restriction - such as kosher or Halal, or they may simply be rules - such as the Catholic Church's rules on condoms.  Again, these are extra important.
  4. Religious attitudes.  These are things that are not expressly forbidden, but are frowned upon.  For example, most churches frowns on excess nudity, but don't have actual rules forbidding it.   The Catholic Church may dislike strippers, but nudity itself not a sin, instead it is claimed the profession thrives on and creates the sin of lust.  As per the Catholic Church, if it is done without lust, it is not a sin - which is why parents may remove the clothing of their infants to bathe them.   By itself it is not a sin, even if it is RELATED to sinning.   Attitudes are not important - not to the law, and honestly not to the church.
Religious Attitudes are not sincerely held religious beliefs.   They look a lot like them, but are something far less important.   Compare them to the Required and Forbidden things.

  • Things that are truly required and forbidden are OFFICIALLY WRITTEN DOWN.   They are distributed to all churches/clergy as dogma, not merely discussed on the pulpit.  If it is that important, then we want to get it right, and leave nothing to chance.  We don't simply talk about it, the holy people get together and write down exactly what is forbidden or required.  More importantly, they are sure to put down exceptions (such as Orthodox Jews being forbidden from start fires on the Sabbath - unless the fire is needed by a sick person/someone freezing to death).
  • It is also written down BEFORE any laws about it were even discussed, let alone created.   While some 'religious' people play fast and loose with dogma, churches are not trying to game the legal system.   They are truly concerned about the spirituality of their flock and need to clarify things ASAP.  Long before someone writes a law, they write down the religious rules. 
  • Religious attitude are heavily argued and people that belong to the exact same religion/church will have different opinions on it.  If some want to make it forbidden/required rather than merely a religious attitude, a schism happens and a new church breaks off, with one group retaining an attitude, while the other WRITES DOWN the new differences and declare themselves a new religion.  Why do they write it down?  To show the world how they are different from the other one.  (See the multiple Episcopalian pro-gay rights right Conventions.)
  • What may only be a Religious Attitude in what religion may be a a Religiously Forbidden/Required act in another (obviously from the above statement).

Religious Attitudes are clearly not sincerely held religious beliefs.  If someone else in your church believes disagrees with you and you don't yell out APOSTATE and kick them out (or leave), then you have personally demonstrated that it is not a sincerely held religious belief. Instead it is a a religious idea that you are thinking about turning into a sincerely held religious belief.   Catholic priests may say anything they want, but only the Pope is infallible.

More importantly, it makes for a very easy test to pass.  If you sincerely and honestly believe it, then you are free to start your own church.   Nothing stops you from doing that - except social pressure, which should already be applied if you are trying to use your religious beliefs to break a law.

OK, now for the meat of the argument.

Reasonable Accommodation does not mean anything you want you get. If your religion requires you to spend 5 minutes praying every time you kill an animal, don't try to get a job at a slaughterhouse (at least not one that does not cater to your religion).

That also means if you religion does not let you fund abortions, then don't try to go into the insurance business - unless you expressly only insure people that believe in your religion.   Guess what - that includes self-insurance.  If your religion expressly forbids you from funding abortion, fine, you don't have to do so - your insurance company does.  That means you may have to give up the monetary savings of being self insured.  That is part of the price you pay for having your particular religious beliefs.   Religions have a long history of requiring their members to sacrifice freedoms.

What you expect OTHER people to pay the price for YOUR religious beliefs?  No.  You pay for your own religious beliefs.  You can't make me (or anyone else) pay for your beliefs.

If it isn't written down then it is NOT forbidden/required by your religion.   By not writing things down you are intentionally keeping it vague to prevent reasonable accommodations.  For example, orthodox Jewish rules expressly state that you can hire non-Jewish people to light fires.  This makes it quite clear what a reasonable accommodation would be for a Jewish business that was required to light fires every night for testing purposes.

So guess what - refusals to due business with gay weddings is not a religious right, it is just a prejudiced person attempting to use the false claim of religious freedom to over-ride other people's civil rights.  If was actually a religious belief you would have it written down someone.  That is not a very hard test to pass - write it down or shut up about it.

More importantly, once you write it down it gives actual evidence to the court.   They can examine it for loopholes (such as hiring other people to have contact with gay people.). More importantly, they can also examine it for consistency.    That is - if it lets you hire a gay man that is married to watch your kids but won't let you pay someone else to cater their wedding, the court can rule your beliefs are clearly designed to negate the law and are not sincerely held personal beliefs.

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