Why Religion Should not Exempt Compliance

Over the years various religious groups have objected to mandates by either the state or federal government on the basis of religious freedom. When couched in those terms it is hard to object. When we hear this we think of a house of worship and the first amendment being breached with rules changing what can and cannot be done.

Rights are not Absolute

Everyone is probably familiar with the phrase one is not allowed to yell fire in a crowded theatre. This is one of many limits on “free” speech. There are factually many limits. One is not allowed to libel and slander another, one may not conspire to commit a crime or to overthrow the government, and one cannot incite others to break the law. This is nothing like a complete list of course.

The right of religion to be free of state interference is pretty broad, but any religion that seriously put people’s lives in jeopardy, or was suborning violence would find that there are definitely limits. Still, the right of a religion in the exercise of the religion is pretty absolute.

Religious Institutions are not limited to Houses of Worship

If these exemptions only applied to how your local priest, rabbi, minister or imam ran their spiritual house I don’t think many would object. Rather they might be subject to those who would like to change it, but it wouldn’t be much of an impediment.

However, major religions often run universities, hospitals and other institutions and there they cross a rather major line in my opinion. They are now employers and are therefore responsible to provide for the welfare of employees, many of whom likely do not belong to the religion and who deserve decent treatment.

If I step into Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, MA, I should have every reason to believe as either an employee or a patient that my gender identity will be honored if the state has passed a law. Hiding behind a religious exemption is not a reasonable position. It is the difference between a sin of omission and commission.

If they had to do something active to  make this happen perhaps I could see their point, but all they need to do is to do nothing. By contrast, an abortion requires a doctor willing to perform the procedure as well as the institution being willing to have it done. I’m not happy that these institutions hide from this on religious grounds but I have to grant that it is a different moral issue.

Religious Exemptions are often too broad

Providing religious exemptions may provide these groups to perform other acts of discrimination beyond their initial intentions. Really who’s to say they won’t suddenly have an allergy to people of color or those that don’t speak English well. Bigotry by any other name.



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