Thursday, December 29, 2011

Religious Liberty

Al Qaeda has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that current airline regulations regarding what passengers can bring onto an airplane violates its constitutional right to religious liberty.

According to lawyers for Al Qaeda, the first amendment prohibition on Congress impeding the free exercise of religion implies that it has no authority to prevent Al Qaeda operatives from hijacking American airplanes for destructive purposes. These acts constitute the religious practices of this sect and, as such, Congress has a Constitutional requirement not to interfere with those practices.

Lawyers for Al Qaeda argue, "This is our religion, and Congress is impeding our free exercise of that religion."

Okay, there is no such lawsuit.

However, there are religious organizations in this country and around the world that are trying to defend a concept of religious liberty that, if we take them seriously, would make this type of argument appear sound. These organizations say that anything that their religion tells them to do constitutes a "religious practice" that is immune from government restriction - even when that practice brings harm to the interests of others who are not members of that religion.

If we accept this implication as valid, and since attacking infidels fits this definition of a religious practice, the logical conclusion is that Congress shall not pass any law that restricts this religious practice.

The current form of the argument is one in which Catholic bishops in Illinois claim that "religious freedom" means that the government must turn a blind eye to the organization's practice of actions harmful to the interests of other citizens when acting as agents of the government executing a government policy with government funds.

The policy that they are protesting prohibits money allocated for organizations that facilitate adoptions and foster care going to organizations that discriminate against homosexual couples. Because these Catholic organizations are all about hateful bigotry against homosexuals, they have been forced to make a choice. They can continue to act as government agents and give up the practice of conducting their affairs in ways harmful to the interests of homosexual citizens, or they can give up the practice of acting as government agents (and the government money that comes with it).

Forcing them to make this choice is, they say, a violation of their religious liberty.

( See New York Times Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion)

The fact is that their religious liberty is not being interfered with.

Nobody is going to arrest members of this sect simply because they are members of a hateful and bigoted religious sect. No attempts are being made to outlaw the sect or make membership a crime. The right to freedom of religion protects sect members from this type of action.

Nobody is going to arrest members of this sect for preaching their brand of hateful bigotry to the public. While the potential victims of their primitive superstitious hatreds have a vested interest in shutting them up, the rights of those who belong to this sect to freedom of speech and religious liberty prevent others from silencing them.

Nobody is going to prohibit members of this sect from engaging in private actions that express their primitive, irrational bigotry. In their private actions, they remain free to refuse to shop at businesses that are owned by gay couples and to refuse to watch shows with gay actors or that have pro-homosexual themes. They may freely use their hateful bigotry as a criteria in determining who gets their vote and who gets the benefits of their acts of private charity.

As citizens, they have a right to vote and to have a say in determining what government policies are. They have an opportunity to support candidates of their choosing and to lobby the legislative and executive branches for laws that they favor. They have the right to get these prohibitions on the use of taxpayer money to promoted bigoted policies repealed.

However, there is no prohibition on the government that gives people a right to engage in religious practices that are harmful to the interests of others - particularly when one is acting as a government agent charged with carrying out government policy. Those other citizens have a right to demand that the government - and agents acting on behalf of the government - treat them with the dignity due to peaceful citizens, even if certain primitive superstitious refuse to do so.

If these types of religious practices are given constitutional protection, then why not the Al Qaeda operative who wants to fly an airplane into a building filled with infidels? Or the anti-abortion opponent who thinks it is permissible to kill a doctor that performs abortions? It seems sensible that they, too, can argue that they are engaged in religious practices that the government must not interfere with.

Interfering with a gay couple's opportunity to adopt a child may not be in the same category as shooting them or blowing them up, but it carries a common element. They are harmful to the interests of others - such as the interests that homosexuals have in adopting a child. As such, it is not something that deserves special protection as a religious practice - not at the expense of those citizens who would be its victims. Particularly when these sect members are being paid to act in the capacity of government agents.


Frederick M. Hemker IV said...

I'm having trouble see how not facilitating adoptions based on fundamental moral distinctions is similar to blowing-up airplanes. Is not doing something similar to doing something?

Certainly there are other groups that will perform adoptions for gay couples? Why can't gay couples go to that group instead?

You throw out that the Catholic organization's behavior constitutes a harm, but what's the actual harm? This claim seem unacceptably vague to me. Indeed, is the harm, once you've defined it, at all comparable to killing multitudes of people?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Frederick M. Hemker IV

First, the "bomb" example was meant to refute the claim that the Constitution grants an unlimited right to religious practices - regardless of what those religious practices are. For that, I wanted a clear and unambiguous case.

Second, there clearly is a distinction between blowing up people and denying adoption to homosexual couples. We would oppose people crashing airplanes into buildings even if they restricted themselves to private airplanes launched at a private airstrip. In contrast, a private adoption agency that takes only private contributions can apply its own standards to the adoption process so long as the safety and well-being of the children (a legitimate state interest) is secured.

The difference here, then, is on the use of government funds. Does a government have the authority to direct its funds in ways that may conflict with the beliefs of any given religion?

Of course it does.

No matter what the goverment does or try to do, somebody can invent a religion that is opposed to those actions. A policy of prohibiting government policies that conflict with any religion is entirely impractical.

Governments cannot function is they are required to conform to every bizarre belief that every citizen might want to call their "religion". And being forced to do so would give everybody with an interest in avoiding a law an interest in inventing a religion "oppressed" by that law.

The government policy is - in this case as it should be - one that recognizes and respects the peaceful and harmless interests of peaceful homosexual citizens of this country. Some people may have a religious interest in doing harm to those interests. However, as long as those interests are grounded on scripture rather than empirical evidence of a real risk to real individuals, there is no reason to compel the government to take them seriously.

Josh said...

Agreeing with Alonzo, the adoption issue is about public funding.

For a different example, denying gay couples the right to marry and everything that comes with it... that is an actual harm, an infringement on the rights of another due to bigotry. It's morally wrong just as with the adoption example, but individuals have the right to be against it if they wish. The government does not, because when a law is passed which prohibits gay couples from marrying, it IS a violation of civil rights.

Josh, iamSkeptic

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Drake Shelton said...

Alonzo, Define "right", in the context of civil rights.