Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Far Does Religious Liberty Go?

An argument that people cite against marriage equality where they actually have a point would be religious liberty. People who are unfamiliar with law, politics, or the organized marriage equality movement, are so afraid that their precious churches and pastors will be forced against their will to marry those vile and repugnant gays (this isn't true, as it is already law that churches and clergy are not required to perform any marriages they do not wish to perform). Everyone should be allowed to practice their religious beliefs (within reason of course; we don't human sacrifices), but they should not be used to trod on the rights of others, including their right to not have religion forced upon them.

Author Rob Tisinai of, gives a scenario then poses a question.
Suppose an on-duty police officer sees a known homosexual getting stomped to death in an alley by two men shouting, “Die, faggot, die!”  He does nothing to stop it, and he lets the thugs escape, because he believes in Leviticus 20:13:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
His religious beliefs make it impossible for him to intefere with what he views as God’s will, or even to hold the assailants responsible.
Should this officer be penalized?  Or would that violate his religious freedom?
This is such a good line of questioning, because it really gets down to the meat of the issue. There are many people who use 'religious belief' to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Usually, that is legally ok, if you are a private citizen. You cannot be forced to let a gay person into your home, or be invited to a private event. But what if you are not just a private citizen, but a public employee, or you perform a public service? Should you be allowed to let your religious beliefs trump your civic duties?

He then introduces us to the first 'victim' of the marriage equality bill in New York, identified by NOM. I'm going to repost the rest of his post, because honestly, he does a much better job explaining than I do.
Barbara MacEwen, the town clerk in upstate Volney who is responsible for signing marriage licenses in the town, said she’s morally opposed to same-sex weddings and does not intend to affix her signature to any marriage documents for gay or lesbian couples.
“If there’s any possible way to not do it, legally, then yes, I would not want to put my name on any of those certificates or papers,” MacEwen told POLITICO. “That’s their life, they can do it, but I don’t feel I should be forced into something that’s against my morals and my God.”
This taxpayer-supported public servant wants the right to choose which taxpayers she’ll serve. NOM, apparently, sympathizes with her.
That’s why I have to wonder about the limits to NOM’s notion of religious liberty. Personally, I’m no big fan of government coercion. You know that New Mexico photographer our opponents keep talking about? I think he should have been free not to photograph a same-sex wedding. Just as I think a gay photographer should be free not to shoot a wedding in a church that works to strip him of his marriage rights.
But Barbara MacEwen is a public employee. She’s an elected government official demanding the privilege of not following the law.
Who’s asking for special rights now?
What other “rights” does NOM think Barbara MacEwen should have? The right to withhold licenses from interracial couples? From a divorced person who wants to remarry? From a Catholic and a Baptist planning to marry in a Baptist church?
All those unions have been considered immoral by someone’s religion. Where does NOM stand on these items? Because as far as I can tell, NOM conception of religious liberty include the right of public servants to ignore laws they don’t like.
At this point, I was going to bring back the police question I asked at the beginning, but I thought of another I like better:  A number of states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, so…
…if NOM wants to let town clerks pick and choose the laws they’ll recognize according to their religion, then shouldn’t clerks from gay-friendly faiths be able to issue same-sex marriage licenses regardless of state law?
So tell us, NOM. Tell us exactly which religious liberty protections special rights you’d like to have.
Unfortunately, it looks like these 'special rights' have found their way into the Rhode Island Civil Unions bill that was passed by the State Senate this week.


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  2. Wow, Brant this was so well said. I absolutely agree that religion is no excuse for bigotry in the public sphere. Public officials who "can't" uphold the rule of law should step down and find a job within the private sector instead of taking tax dollars to pay their salary. Regardless of personal religious belief the US is a democracy not a theocracy.