Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What is Religious Discrimination?

House speaker John Boehner apparently doesn't understand religious discrimination.  Religious discrimination occurs when someone discriminates against another person based on their religious beliefs.  Thus, if I choose not to hire someone because they are religious I am discriminating against them.  Likewise if the Federal government makes a law forbidding Jewish people from marrying then the government is discriminating.

It is not religious discrimination when the government makes laws to protect the population.  If the government says it is illegal to use drugs this forbids everyone, religious or non-religious, from using drugs.  It may have the incidental effect of preventing religious practices that involve the use of drugs but this does not mean the law is discriminating against the religious.  Any law may have an effect on the ability to practice a religion; such prohibitions are not discrimination because they apply equally to all people.

Thus, when the Federal Government requires all health plans to provide contraceptives they are not discriminating against any religion because all health plans must provide contraceptive whether or not they are run by religious individuals.  The mere fact that this law may offend Christians does not make it discriminatory.  We live in a democracy where we will not all agree on every law passed and any law may offend some.  The proper way to contest laws is to use our democracy to change the law.   However, House speaker Boehner recently complained about this new requirement saying: "This attack  by the federal government on religious freedom in our country must not stand and will not stand . . . "

The requirement to provide contraceptives does not attack religious freedoms.  The religious are still free to believe what they wish.  Religious freedom in the United States has never meant that the religious are allowed to behave in any manner required by their religion.  The Bible in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 commands parents to have their disobedient children stoned to death by town members.  Would it be religious discrimination to charge a christian parent with murder after stoning his child to death?  Obviously not, because though our society respects religious belief and the freedom of ideas we feel the right to step in and prevent behavior that we deem immoral or improper.

It appears that Boehner is really just trying to use inflammatory language to prove his point.  By invoking the discrimination gambit Boehner attempts to tap into the powerful outrage that Americans feel when confronted with discrimination.  This outrage is a crafty trick to convince people to oppose the law out of rage rather than carefully analyzing the law for what it really attempts to do.

Since Boehner likes to use inflamatory arguments let me close with one of my own.  Boehner has attacked the right of the government to make laws that protect us but also might have an effect on religious practices. Boehner is implicitly arguing that Christians like himself should not stand for State murder laws blocking their religious right to slaughter their disobedient children.  So vote for Boehner, he'll fight for your right to kill your kids.

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