Maybe it is just the cyber-neighborhood that I hang out in, but around here there has been a lot of talk about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Is it a tool of raw bigotry?
Is it a guarantee of due process before one can be forced to do something that he finds religiously objectionable?
Probably the answer is "Yes." to both questions. Or to be more specific, "It depends."
Unadulterated, evil, malicious bigotry does exist. Far too often it wears the clothing of religion--to my horror, and perhaps shame, too often the robes of Christianity. Those intent on getting their way, and keeping "those other people" from getting theirs will use whatever weapon they find handy to enforce their "standards." I'm sure there are Hoosiers who fit that description. They are everywhere. It is equally clear that "Religious Freedom" is being redefined into oblivion.
- Ross Douthat of the New York Times warned about this a couple of years ago.
- He weighs in on the current debate with some thought provoking questions here.
- Al Mohler gives "evidence for [what he calls a] massive and dangerous shift" here.
- Here is a lovely article that helps put the matter in perspective, and, perhaps, provides a model for civil behavior, as opposed to civil suits.
Religious freedom is being redefined in two ways.
- It is being seen as a purely private matter. One is free to be religious as long as it does not effect others in any way, emphasize the any.
At this point the redefinition is a matter of degree. Some of the religions and philosophies of the world have held as one of their basic beliefs the superiority of their kind to any other people in the world. In extreme cases such religious beliefs include the right to, or even the obligation to, kill all others "who aren't like us." We rightly defeated Nazism over such a doctrine. I'm glad to say that no one (except perhaps abortionists) can successfully defend themselves against murder by pleading, "My religion made me do it."
In today's climate, though, no slight to a representative of an oppressed class is too small, to be seen as greater than any breach of conscience of one who objects, "I can't in good conscience do that."
Let's not forget that we are not talking about lives being taken, or genocide, or whole communities being deprived of education or other basic services. The recent cases are about cake, pizza, and pictures, all of which can be easily obtained elsewhere.
- As the above would indicate, religious liberty is now seen as a right in small print, at the bottom of the list, below other far more important rights.
Society says, "It's not important. Get over it!"
I recently watched a TV show in which there was a mock trial pitting the rights of religious people to discriminate against the rights of others to not be discriminated against. It was interesting. Good arguments exist on both sides. You may find it hard to believe but there is a right to discriminate. My older son's former career was management in poultry processing plants. Two of the plants he worked in provided food products for specialty markets. One plant would periodically do a run of Halal chickens. "Halal" is the word used by Muslims to describe the kind of food that they regard as clean. Among the other requirements for a chicken to be Halal is that it must slaughtered by a Muslim. Another plant where Chad worked provided poultry for the Kosher market in the New York City area. The staff includes many rabbis, the birds are killed by shochets, a person who has been specially trained and licensed to slaughter animals and birds in accordance with the laws of shechita. The facility has a place for the shochets to take a ritual bath before their shift begins. In both operations there were jobs that my son could not fill. Because the companies were involved in providing products for people with high religious motivations they had to discriminate in their hiring practices.
Historically, courts and governments had a mandate to balance the right to discriminate against the right to be treated equal.
What is happening today is one side of the argument is being removed by force.