Friday, January 29, 2010

Freedom of Conscience

The senate special election in Massachusetts brought yet another example of the conflict between freedom of religion and the perceived rights of some. One of the accusations Martha Coakley made against eventual winner Scott Brown was, “1,736 WOMEN WERE RAPED IN MASSACHUSETTS IN 2008. SCOTT BROWN WANTS HOSPITALS TO TURN THEM ALL AWAY.” That was sent in a mailing to voters with that statement in big letters on the cover. It is completely untrue. Brown never said any such thing. It was based on a gross exaggeration of his record.

What Brown did was sponsor legislation to allow some emergency room personnel to follow their conscience and avoid involvement in “Plan B” contraception for rape victims. It would not have turned rape victims away from the hospital. It would not even have prevented hospitals from providing that treatment. It simply would have allowed people with religious objections to follow their conscience and leave that decision to others. I believe that should be permitted.

So you know where I’m coming from, I oppose abortion but have no objection to “Plan B” for rape victims. In fact I believe it is permissible for rape victims to have an abortion (though they should think carefully about it, preferably with the help of a competent counselor). However I am not willing to force someone else to go against his conscience except in extreme circumstances. If someone’s religion forbids Plan B, there are others in the hospital not so constrained. The laws forcing people with such beliefs to violate their consciences have the effect of denying them the freedom to practice their religions.

There are other examples of disdain for religious freedom. In Minneapolis, Muslim taxi drivers are required to take passengers with dogs or alcohol, contrary to their religion. Elsewhere, pharmacists are required to dispense contraceptives, even Plan B, against their religious beliefs. A New Mexico photographer was ordered to take pictures at a homosexual wedding though it violated his conscience and other photographers were available.

Anyone who refuses to take an action that is legal but against his conscience is likely to be accused of forcing his beliefs on others. That is backwards; those trying to force their beliefs on others are the people who want to force others to violate their consciences. The people ordering the photographer to take the homosexual wedding pictures forced their beliefs on that photographer. Those ordering Muslims to transport dogs or alcohol are forcing their beliefs on those taxi drivers.

In fact this sort of thing is a case of misplaced objectives. The supposed objective in the case of Plan B for rape victims is so the victim won’t have to carry the child of the rapist. That objective is easily achieved by just letting someone else provide the information and pill. Instead, many such as Coakley want to force particular people to provide it. Their objective appears to be forcing their ideas on everyone. You are free to disagree with them as long as you do what they say.

The Muslim taxi driver situation is similar. It would be easy for those drivers to post something in their windows indicating that they will not take dogs or alcohol. That would be a boon to other drivers who would get more business, and it would achieve the ostensible objective of providing taxi rides for those who want them. However it would not force the Muslims to bend to the wishes of those who don’t like their religion. I have to believe that the real objective was to restrict Muslim freedom of religion, not to provide transportation for dogs or alcohol.

Those who want to force others to go against their conscience are demonstrating an intolerant bigotry. They ignore the constitutional protection for freedom of religion. They claim others can believe as they wish as long as it doesn’t affect how they act. In that they ignore the fact that the first amendment protects the free exercise of religion, not just religious belief. How can a Catholic have freedom to exercise his religion if he is forced to violate its teachings to keep his job? How can a Muslim have freedom to exercise his religion if he must violate its teachings to keep his job?

Ironically most of those trying to force their views on others today call themselves liberals. Their liberalism does not extend to allowing others to live according to their consciences. They believe that has the freedom to agree with them. However they are not willing to tolerate disagreement. That is a corruption of what the word “liberal” once meant. It is also a corruption of human tolerance and of the constitution.

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1 comment:

Bobkatt said...

While I tend to agree with your points of view in this post I don't think it is as black and white as you portray. With the Muslim cab drivers is it OK if I as a cab company owner refuse to hire a Muslim because I don't want to limit who I can pick up? Is it OK to discriminate against a blind person with a service dog? Can we refuse to let Muslims drive ambulances because they might have to transport a drunk person? I one case in Minnesota 3/4 of the cab drivers licensed to work the airport were Muslims. If I'm Muslim and refuse to transport dogs because I view them "unclean" can I also refuse to haul Jews or Blacks?
Plan B-many hospitals are owned and operated by Catholic groups. Must they be forced to go against their beliefs and provide abortions and Plan B pills if it offends the administrators of the hospital or does it only apply to the actual dispenser of the drug or service? What if there is only one hospital in entire area?