Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why do the religious think they deserve special treatment?

There's been a lot of demands recently by the religious (most recently the Catholics) for special treatment.  For some reason they do not feel the need to obey the laws of our society and think that because they have religious beliefs that they should not have to obey the law. This is utterly ridiculous. Religious belief does not and should not excuse unlawful behavior.

These ridiculous claims for special treatment have arisen today in both the UK and the US. In the UK Catholics complain that rules requiring providing of adoption services for gay couples should not apply to them. In the US Catholics complain that rules requiring provision of birth control under employer insurance plans should not apply to them. This absurd plea for special treatment should not be respected but should instead be ridiculed for the absurdity it is.

We generally do not allow special treatment based on beliefs.  A person who does not believe in taxes still has to pay their taxes (religious institutions in the US noticeably do not pay taxes but this is not due to a lack in belief in taxes but due to a belief in separation of church and state). A person who believes in free access to art is still liable for copyright violations when they illegally download movies.

Even religious belief does not grant special privileges.  Those whose religion requires the use of drugs for religious ceremonies do not get to use drugs. Those whose religion allows polygamy do not get to engage in polygamy. Those whose religion requires the stoning to death of disobedient children are still liable for murder. These things are self-evident, the mere fact that one's beliefs run counter to a law does not grant a special right to break that law because the law applies equally to all.

Laws requiring provision of birth control or provision of adoption services may seem different than laws prohibiting behavior such as polygamy. Rather than prohibiting behavior these laws require a person to behave in a certain way. But if you think about it we generally do not allow personal beliefs to be used to avoid such laws. Racists restaurant owners are not allowed to discriminate against customers and thus avoid anti-discrimination laws merely because they hold racist beliefs. We find it acceptable that society can force these owners to serve people of all races no matter if it contradicts their personal beliefs.

Imagine if we give in to the Catholics and say that a person does not have to obey the law if it runs counter to their beliefs.  First, if we allow the religious to escape the law because of the belief we must allow all to escape the law due to belief. It is unconstitutional to make a law that favors the religious. Thus, an exemption based on religious belief would be unconstitutional. The only constitutional way to allow an exception would be to allow everyone who disbelieves in a law to be exempt. When it comes to laws that require behavior this would castrate the law, no one would follow it but the people who already perform the behavior, and again racists restaurant owners would be allowed to discriminate.

This is the absurd result that the Catholics are arguing for.  Even more absurd is the claim that these laws are religious discrimination. I addressed this issue here. These laws clearly do not discriminate against the religious because they apply equally to all citizens. Discrimination requires singling out a group for special treatment. Thus, the irony is, the Catholics are actually asking for religious discrimination against all other belief systems when they demand to be exempt from the law.

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