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No place for discrimination by religion


Published:   |   Updated: March 28, 2014 at 03:25 PM

The current ploy by right-wing Christians to impose their beliefs on the rest of you, as exposed in the current case before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and an associated case, is their insistence that unless they get their way on public policy it is an infringement on their religious freedom.

This has even less legitimacy than their discredited notion that since America is “a Christian nation” the Founders weren't referring to them when they wrote the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

Thirteen states, including Arizona, whose governor vetoed a similar bill, have considered or are considering legislation that would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as justification to deny meals, transportation, accommodations and other services to same-sex couples and presumably anyone else not complying with their orthodoxy. Laying this off on “moral conscience” is simply cover for their deeper homophobia.

Once you go marching down the road of intolerance there's no end to such lunacy. What about couples “living in sin?” Or interracial couples? Or atheists? Could a Muslim cab driver refuse to pick up a woman traveling alone? How about a conscientious objector restaurateur denying a meal to a uniformed soldier?

This same insistence that personal religious viewpoints trump public antidiscrimination policies, to say nothing of human decency, is at work in the debate over the provision that church-affiliated employers or their insurers must provide contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Some church officials claim these rules breech the First Amendment's separation of church and state by infringing on their doctrinal objections to artificial birth control and emergency contraceptives like Plan B. But religiously affiliated social service organizations like Catholic Charities, as opposed to actual churches, receive millions a year from taxes. Baptist, Catholic and other church-connected hospitals and nursing homes collect billions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Religious colleges rely on government research grants and financial aid for their students.

There's no constitutional right to public contracts and no one's forcing religiously affiliated organizations to accept them nor employ or serve nonmembers. But once they do, they are obligated to observe the same rules that apply to any recipient of government funds losing their right to discriminate.

What's really at the heart of this dispute is a basic misunderstanding of the Constitution. There are very few absolutes in the document, from voting (convicts, and in Florida and 10 other states, ex-convicts, are denied the right); to free speech (there is no right to slander or plagiarize; no shouting “fire” in a crowded theater) to bearing arms (there are still a few restrictions left — no machine guns!).

The same is true of the freedom of religion. Its “free exercise” is not absolute either. There are no more human sacrifices, no polygamy, no Biblical beatings of wives regardless of your religious convictions.

Similarly, you don't get to discriminate against those in the public marketplace whose behavior may be personally abhorrent but who are exercising their legal rights. Not in this democracy.

Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.

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