Religious Freedom is Anything But Free
by Grace Norton
The spate of so-called “religious freedom” and “religious freedom restoration” laws being passed by a number of state legislatures are, in fact, nothing more than discrimination-promotion legislation. The language of the bills purports either to prohit government from interfering with individuals’ religious freedom or else to “restore” religious freedoms allegedly being interfered with by government actions. The first purpose is unnecessary because the First Amendment of the Constitution already prohibits government interference with freedom of religion throughout the United States and its territories. The second purpose presumes that substantial interference with religion actually exists. Some factual basis is supposed to be established credibly by that section of legisltion known as “legislative purpose.” These laws fail the credible basis test.
What the Constitution protects in the First Amndment is, first, unrestricted freedom to believe something (e.g., that there is a God, that the earth was created in seven days, etc.) There is no constitutional requirement that the belief be rational, that it conform to fact established by legitimate evidence, or that it conform to social norms. The First Amendment also protects the “free exercise” of religion, but it does that on a somewhat restricted basis. For example, a parent may not require his child to handle poisonous snakes to prove the child’s faith. Nor must government permit someone to blow up an abortion clinic no matter how strongly his religion opposes abortion, or gun down a group of people no matter how strongly he believes in Islamic jihad. The free exercise of religion, particularly outside the context of an actual religious ritual occurring in a place of worship, ends at the point where it interferes with the fundamental rights of others.
The bills that legislatures have produced so far are, for the most part, vague and otherwise badly written. All of them appear to empower the employees of governments and/or businesses to pick and choose what items on their job descriptions they would perform and for what customers they would perform them. All that appears to be necessary to exempt an employee from doing part of his or her job is for the employee to claim that he/she has a “sincerely held religious belief” that doing some part of the job is immoral. That is little short of utter insanity guaranted to subvert the purposes for which any workplace exists.
Government agencies exist to serve members of the public by providing some good or service. Governments license businesses to transfer goods and services it is lawful to transfer from the company to customers legally entitled to purchase them and able to pay for them. Governments and businesses pay employees to facilitate the transfer of goods and servicess from the agency or business to the customer. When a government agency or a business hires someone to do a job, that person is informed about what the job duties are; and, by accepting the job (and the compensation), the person assumes an obligation to do what is on the job description.
People who either create a business or take a job knowing that they may not be able to perform its functions for each and every customer are behaving unethically and/or immorally unless they informed the licensing body or the employer up front about any and all impediments to performing as expected. An employer has a right not to hire someone unwilling or unable to perform what the job requires. Historically, if some condition arises in which an employee feels he or she cannot, in good conscience, do some aspect of the job or follow an order, the expectation has been that the employee resign–not that the employer and custormer have to put up with self-righteous non-performance. The burden should be–and historically has been–on the employee to either do their job or resign from it.
Does anyone really “sincerely believe” any of the following?
1. If your church disapproves of gay marriage, it is immoral for you to serve pancakes to a same-sex couple.
2. It is an immoral act for you to set a plate of pancakes on the table of a gay patron.
3. It is an immoral act for you to talk to a gay patron to take his order for pancakes or process his payment for his bill.
Since when are activities such as serving food in a restaurant, selling wedding rings in a jewelry store, or recordng a certificate of marriage in as clerk’s office either a “religious belief” or an “exercise of religion? “Religious freedom” legislation tacitly acepts the false premise that these ordinary job activities are one or the other.
The truth is that these laws are being passed to facilitate discrimination. They have nothing to do with “freedom of religion” or its “free exercise.”