The Limits of Religious Freedom

How far do we have to accomodate religious differences?

All the political harbingers point to 2010 as being a devastating year for Democrats as American voters spew out all the high-octane statism they've been force-fed for the last year.  Just because Americans don't like current Democratic policies doesn't necessarily mean that all Dems are doomed, though; being a skillful politician, expert glad-hander, and diligent constituent-servicer as many of the classic liberals like Ted Kennedy were can often salvage even the most desperate situation.

Once in a while, we see the opposite, a politician who can mess up a safe situation.  If there is one Senate seat in the country which ought to be an absolutely 100% certain lock-in for Democrats, it's Ted Kennedy's.  The benighted people of Massachusetts would probably vote for Adolf Hitler if he ran as a Democrat against Abraham Lincoln, or so the joke goes.

Nobody's laughing any more except at Democratic senatorial candidate Martha Coakley.  There have been many inept and ridiculed campaigns in American history, from George McGovern to John McCain, but Ms. Coakley is digging new depths of blatant idiocy.  What sort of Massachusetts politician ridicules the sacred precincts of Fenway Park?

The same one who insults the one-third of Massachusetts voters who are Catholic by taking a potshot at nuns!  The Washington Times reports on the following interchange between Coakley and an interviewer:

Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don't want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (..uh, The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn't work in the emergency room.

Wait... what?  Yes, the Pope teaches that birth control is a sin; yes, Catholics are supposed to follow the Pope's teachings; yes, from time to time patients come to the emergency room requesting emergency birth control, yes providing it would violate the conscience of a devout Catholic.

Therefore, quoth the candidate, a devout Catholic probably shouldn't work there?  Has she not heard how many entire hospitals are run by Catholic organizations and whose emergency rooms are just loaded with caring, knowledgeable nuns doing good to the needy?  If there's one organization in this country which knows how to minister to the sick, it's the Catholics.

Needless to say, Coakley is coming under fire for her blunt disregard of religious freedom.  She's an easy enough target especially when considered in the light of her many other moronic and un-American utterances, but it has to be said: logically, she has a point.

Rights, Privileges, Duties, and Honesty

Consider another section of the Bible, Habakkuk 2:15:

Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also...

The passage does go on to muddy the water about drinking alcohol quite a bit.  It's pretty obvious that a great many Christians (particularly Catholics) don't interpret the Bible as flatly banning the drinking of alcohol, but it's equally obvious that there are a fair number of Christians that do interpret it that way.

For an individual who takes this verse to mean that God commands the godly not just not to drink themselves, but also not to assist others in doing so, it would violate their conscience to serve liquor.

Should such a person take a job as a bartender?

After all, religious discrimination is illegal, is it not?  Clearly, that sort of Christian would have a perfectly valid argument of conscience as to why they could not serve booze.

Yet, the whole point of being a bartender is to serve booze.  Can they really demand that an employer pay them to stand around and wash the glasses but not serve any actual drinks?  That would be absurd except to a member of our bureaucracy which forces businesses to make "reasonable accommodations" to workers with special needs!

It's not quite so cut and dried for Catholic nurses.  There are a great many non-sinful ways a devout Catholic can contribute to the medical care of patients.

Similarly, the overwhelming majority of drugs sold in pharmacies carry no moral stigma; it's only a relative handful, like birth control and abortifacients, that could cause qualms for the religious.  Yet Massachusetts, as well as seven other states, have passed laws requiring pharmacists to ensure that legal prescriptions are filled regardless of the pharmacist's moral views.  For a devout Catholic, that would, indeed, ban the profession of pharmacist from being a valid career option.

This sounds like an infringement on religious liberty, but there are lots of careers not open to the religiously devout.  A devout Catholic isn't going to be a successful prostitute, pimp, or hit man - which is not to say that countless non-devout Catholics have not done very well in these professions.  A devout Mormon will be ineffective as a Calvin Klein underwear model.  A devout Hindu would probably not be found working at McDonald's.

For that matter, your humble correspondent would be ill at ease employed by ACORN, since providing tax dollars to purveyors of child prostitutes offends his conscience.  Are such situations examples of religious discrimination requiring a government bureaucracy to prevent?

The Government is Here to Help!

When most Americans were more or less Christian, this wasn't such a problem.  In today's world of diversity-to-the-max, this type of conflict is not just inevitable, it's routine - and the consequences are increasingly awkward.

Minneapolis airport ran into a very practical disconnect when the majority of their airport taxi drivers came up Muslim:

About three quarters of the 900 cabbies serving the airport are Muslim, and many have been regularly refusing passengers carrying beer, wine or liquor.  In the past five years, 5,400 would-be taxi passengers at the airport were refused service for this very reason, said the Metropolitan Airport Commission, or MAC.

Now, in America, one of the primary functions of cabs is to give drinkers a safe ride home.  Here we have a group of Muslim cab drivers exercising their religious freedom to avoid performing one of the major responsibilities of their profession!  Where does it end?

It doesn't.  As untrammeled immigration permanently confounds American culture and politically-correct opposition to the melting pot allows everyone and anyone to have and retain whatever views they wish on whatever subject, and forbids any sort of inconvenience to any of them, it's only going to get worse.

A commonsensical hospital director is simply going to make sure that not every last nurse in the hospital is a Catholic so that when a patient needs birth control, the atheist nurse can take care of it without offending anybody.  Martha Coakley, in her infinite stupidity, would rather enforce a far-left version of the melting pot where anyone who doesn't agree with her liberal view gets thrown off the edge of the world.

Leave it to the politicians to make an already bad problem worse!

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
And a commonsensical airport manager won't use 100% Muslim cabbies...though I am not sure why airport passengers are hauling booze around openly: they certainly didn't buy it on the airplane, nor are there liquor stores in the the terminal.
Your use of terms like "untrammeled immigraton" begs the questoin of what is "trammeled"... and do you really think people should not have whatever views they wish on any subject?
Or would that you prefer they always agree with you?
Careful what you wish for, and what you write.
RE: "When most Americans were more or less Christian, this wasn't such a problem.
You're joking?! Puritans pretty much hated anything that was related to the Church of England; Quakers thought Puritans were God forsaken heathens; Catholics were excluded in all circles.
An excellent secular society is consistent with making personal choices on individual behaviour, so that abortion doctors may practice without fear of being bombed or murdered, and Muslims can refuse open carryng or intoxicated patrons.. and Mr Pertrarch can opine without persecution, and the Christians or any determined religious group can maintain their orthodoxy and moral high ground.

January 19, 2010 9:12 AM
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

It would certainly be within the constitution for a state government to forbid Catholics from being nurses, however stupid it may be. Just as Massachusetts made it illegal to not provide legal prescriptions.

However, market forces would ensure that there were always plenty of pharmacists willing to provide birth control. I would assume there is a good market for birth control and as such I'm fairly sure that a pharmacy would have significantly more business if it sold it.

We have no for laws forcing something that the market can do on its own. If the market can't do it on it's own that means there isn't enough demand for the product. Where there is demand there will be supply.
January 19, 2010 11:24 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...