A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Freedom of Religion and Stating the Obvious

I cannot tell you how many times I have had to say things to my children which I think I shouldn’t have to say.  In near blizzard conditions I should not have to utter the words “you need to wear a coat.”  It doesn’t seem like “keep your feet off the table” should be a necessary part of dinner conversation.  And yet these are just a couple of phrases on my ever growing list of “things I shouldn’t have to say to my children but do.”

In my mind the recent discussions regarding “religious freedom” fall into a similar category.  I know others see things differently but I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the logic of that other point of view.  It seems obvious to me selectively restricting employees health coverage to fit one's own religious beliefs is not exercising religious freedom.  Forcing others to abide by your beliefs or pay a price for not doing so is not exercising religious freedom.  It doesn't seem like we should even need to discuss this.

Likewise with the recent outbreak of bills allowing one to refuse service on the basis of religious beliefs.  I realize my beliefs about homosexuality differ from many of my neighbors (read more about my beliefs on this issue here.)  But even if one thinks homosexuality is a sin, still these bills make no sense to me.  Discriminating against others is not exercising religious freedom.  It comes down to that old saying about “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”  You can believe what you want and act on those beliefs until doing so infringes on someone else’s rights.  If this were really about religious beliefs shouldn’t we also have Christian hotel managers petitioning to deny rooms to adulterers and Christian restaurant owners petitioning for the right to deny service to gluttons (and how many of us would be eating at home?)?

I wonder how this conversation would be different if Christians were a little more aware how many of the people who provide our goods and services are Muslim, or Jewish, or Atheist or Pagan or Hindu or Christians whose beliefs differ radically from our own.  Doesn’t it seem like these bills set a dangerous precedent at the very least?

I have read several articles which point out all this seems contrary to Christianity's call to serve our neighbors.  Others have pointed out Jesus associated with known sinners of all kinds.   I could write similar things in this space but such things are so at the heart of my own faith that it would seem like stating the obvious.

If I write a blog about why Christians should serve our neighbors and treat them with fairness and mercy then I would feel like my next blogs would have to be entitled "Why You Shouldn't Sit on the Cat" and "Reasons to Wear a Coat When it's Cold Outside."  Seems like it shouldn't be necessary.

I guess I just don't understand.



Laurie said...

Good points.

Anonymous said...

There is one part of your blog I would like to react to. You state: " It seems obvious to me selectively restricting employees health coverage to fit one's own religious beliefs is not exercising religious freedom. Forcing others to abide by your beliefs or pay a price for not doing so is not exercising religious freedom. It doesn't seem like we should even need to discuss this." What if a private institution is "forced to abide by" the STATE'S stance or "pay a price for not doing so"? What if someone intentionally chooses to work in/attend a religious institution (private university or hospital, for example) and then demands that that institution go against its own stated code of conduct or beliefs? Should that institution be obliged to financially support lifestyle choices that are diametrically opposed to the stated beliefs or code of conduct of that institution? If an individual doesn't want to abide by those beliefs/codes, they are not forced to work or attend there; why should the institution be obliged to alter its principles or code of conduct for that individual? There are many, many secular institutions that do not have to take into account faith issues. But faith-based institutions are increasingly being forced to abide by the state's beliefs, some of which are diametrically opposed to their faith. It seems to me that things are becoming so skewed towards a certain point of view that people who disagree have fewer and fewer rights even to publically disagree, let alone function according to their belief system . That's when it does become a question of religious liberty. Also, it is true that Jesus associated with sinners--sinners who recognized their sin. He did not shrink from speaking about sin, nor did he ever encourage those living sinful lifestyles to go on living those lifestyles, let alone to insist that the temple accept or pay for their life choices.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Anonymous, thank you for engaging in conversation on this topic. Even though we disagree, I am grateful you took the time to enter into discussion. Wow, there is a lot here. I am not sure what to say first. Institutions need to abide by the rules of governance in order to protect the rights of others. Should someone who happens to work for a religious institution be forced to give up the right to health care? The right of the institution to live according to a set of beliefs ends where those beliefs infringe on the rights of others. If institutions get to choose what the money they pay to employees goes to fund, we are all in trouble. Health insurance is part of the payment an employee receives. To imply someone can just go get a job somewhere else is not especially helpful. It is not like we all get to choose where we work. Jobs are limited, locations are limited and family circumstances limit our choices. A little context might be helpful here as well. Religious institution does not mean just little church run charities. Some of these “religious institiutions” are billion dollar institutions who employ huge numbers of people. To get a sense for the scope we are talking, here is the first article which came up when I googled this issue http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/biblical-medicine-how-religious-corporations-are-gobbling-healthcare-facilities So, according to this article, in certain counties %100 of hospitals are owned by religious institutions. What if you are a nurse who happens to live in that county? How much choice do you have? If this is even close to accurate you can see how few choices some may have. Living in a rural area I know there is often one hospital and that if you are lucky. We are not talking about the “temple” here. These are money making institutions. Also, what principles are these institutions being forced to violate? The principle of some of the money they pay their employees possibly going to something with which they disagree? No one is being forced to take birth control. No one is being forced to do anything beyond paying their employees according to the law of the land and allowing their employees to make their own health care decisions.

I am curious also who has been denied the right to publicly disagree? People disagreeing back or even calling someone names does not deny anyone the right to publicly disagree. You must be talking about something of which I am unaware.

Thanks for taking the time to write. I hope I have made some sense and illustrated my point of view without sounding harsh or anything. Sometimes it is difficult to disagree in writing without sounding condescending or something. Please believe my heart toward you is positive even if I messed up my words so they don’t sound that way.