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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Religious Freedom as Coercion

I have been following the debate, if we can call it that, regarding religious freedom and liberty since before the Hobby Lobby decision. Since that decision some public servants and private individuals have taken it upon themselves to refuse service to gay couples, supposedly for religious reasons (primarily bakers and pizza restaurants, although why wheat should provide such a catalyst remains a mystery to me.)  The part of the First Amendment known as the Establishment Clause that prohibits the state from favoring one form of religion over another seems to get lost in the shuffle.

I was particularly struck by the Rowan County Clerks admonition to her six deputies that they would not be allowed to provide marriage licenses to gay couples.

"After the Supreme Court decided in June that states must allow same-sex couples to marry, Davis had announced that she and her staff of six deputies would no longer issue marriage licenses to anyone. Barring any couples for getting licenses in Rowan County, Davis claimed, would protect her religious rights without discriminating against anyone."*

Aside from what is clearly a violation of the establishment clause, not to mention a totally undemocratic action, it seems to me that what she has done is to force her deputies to adopt her own religious position at the expense of the beliefs of her deputies.  She claims the state is forcing her to violate her religious beliefs, yet she is doing precisely the same thing with regard her deputies.  And, it seems to me, that precisely what Hobby Lobby was trying to do to its employees, i.e. get them to adhere to their own religious position in a rather coercive manner. (The Obama administration screwed up by even permitting a religious exemption that opened this can of worms.  What you do yourself with regard to contraception is your own business;  it's not your right to force it on everyone else, no matter how insecure you might be about your own beliefs.)

Just imagine the howls of rage that would emanate from these types had some abortion clinic decided that abortion should be protected under the religious freedom exception.

*Quote from Garrett Epps' excellent review of the situation in the Atlantic

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