TAG | Religious Privilege
Credit where’s credit is due: I am not exactly a member of the Jerry Brown fan club, but the California Governor’s decision to sign his state’s cautiously drafted assisted suicide law (perhaps too cautiously: to take one example, those with Locked-In Syndrome might still be left trapped in their hell) deserves some praise, not just for his signature, but also the reasons he gave for it.
Gov. Jerry Brown of California gave a deeply personal explanation on Monday for his decision to sign legislation allowing terminally ill patients to obtain a lethal dose of painkillers from a doctor to hasten their death. When the law goes into effect next year, California will become the fifth state, after Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont, to enact and retain aid in dying or physician-assisted suicide laws. Many other states are considering similar laws; they ought to follow the example of these pioneers.
The California law has robust protections to protect patients from recklessly taking their own lives. Two different doctors must certify that the patient has six months or less to live before prescribing the drugs, patients must be able to swallow the medication themselves, and they must be of sound mind and not under coercion from their families. Hospitals and doctors can decline to participate.
Governor Brown, a Democrat, said that he had carefully read the opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and champions of disability rights and had considered religious arguments that shortening one’s life is sinful. He also consulted with a Catholic bishop, two of his own doctors, and former classmates and friends, who took a variety of positions.
In the end, he reflected on what he would want in the face of his own death. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he wrote. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
Well done, Governor Brown. That said, it remains troubling to read that, even after the vote in the California legislature, Brown thought it worth considering ‘religious arguments that shortening one’s life is sinful’. Much as I might disagree with them, there are good practical arguments to be made against assisted suicide, but why, beyond a certain point in the democratic process in a nation with a constitution providing for the separation of church and state, religious arguments should be given special consideration escapes me.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how ‘religious liberty’ is under attack in the US, but that’s a stance that can easily turn into an insistence on religious privilege, an altogether less praiseworthy objective. Under the circumstances, the determination of various churchmen to ensure that all Californians should be forced to submit to the prescriptions of a faith that they might not share was more than a touch ironic.
And for all the other arguments that those churchmen make, that infamous slippery slope and so on, in the end their objections are religious, based, at their core, on the argument that the rights of their God trump those of the profoundly sick, an argument made none the more palatable by attempts to elevate ‘suffering’ into some sort of sacrament.
I posted a bit about this phenomenon the other day, but clear signs of a morbid cult of suffering can be found in an article in America magazine by Jessica Keating, the program director of the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame. It was written in response to the assisted suicide of Brittany Maynard in Oregon earlier this year.
For those who cannot see beyond the material horizon of death, suffering that does not appear to have proximate material benefit is emptied of the possibility of meaning.
Indeed, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are as much about unseemliness and fear of suffering as they are about death.
With the advance of utilitarian idealism and medical technology, it seems that nothing but a peaceful death will be acceptable, wherein peace is reduced to the absence of pain, emotional and physical suffering or the loss of cognitive and physical abilities.
To describe the wish for a peaceful death as ‘utilitarian idealism’ is telling. Fundamentalism is what it is.
There is another narrative that is routinely neglected or, worse, rejected out of hand, a narrative grounded in the logic of the Cross. This is a narrative in which suffering unto death can be penetrated and transfigured by the mystery of love—particularly in cases like Ms. Maynard’s, when one is surrounded by loving family and friends. This transfiguration occurs in hidden intimacies. Choosing to die early forecloses such possibilities. Had she not taken her own life with the assistance of a physician, she, like many who suffer terminal illness, almost assuredly would have been stripped bare of her abilities, perhaps even her mind. Indeed, there was nothing material for her to gain in suffering, only loss. Almost assuredly there would have been no inspiring recovery story to tell at the end. Rather, Ms. Maynard might have become unproductive, unattractive, uncomfortable. She would just have been. But she would have been present in a web of relationships. Even had she fallen unconscious, she likely would have been read to, washed, dressed and kissed. She would have been gently caressed, held and wept over. She would simply have been loved to the end.
That was a destiny that was hers to choose or to reject. ‘The logic of the Cross’, backed by coercion, would have denied her that freedom, that autonomy, that dignity, that relief.
As I said, ‘religious privilege’.
While there is something more than a little unattractive about the relish with which the jailing of Kim Davis, the errant county clerk (a Democrat, as it happens) unwilling to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, has been celebrated by some, she has both abused her position and provided a useful reminder of the fact that many of those now calling for ‘religious freedom’ (a good thing) really want religious privilege (not so much). So far as Ms. Davis is concerned God’s law (as she understands it) not only trumps the law of the land, but is something that she is prepared to impose on others. But Thomas More is, mercifully, long dead. That sort of thinking is more commonly associated these days with the realm of Shariah than the West.
And those in the US pushing for an expansive definition of what they call religious freedom should pay more attention to stories that illustrate the direction in which things are going, stories like this:
CNN: A Muslim flight attendant says she was suspended by ExpressJet for refusing to serve alcohol in accordance with her Islamic faith. In a bid to get her job back, Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday for the revocation of a reasonable religious accommodation.
She wants to do her job without serving alcohol in accordance with her Islamic faith — just as she was doing before her suspension, her lawyer said.
“What this case comes down to is no one should have to choose between their career and religion and it’s incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely,” said Lena Masri, an attorney with Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Stanley, 40, started working for ExpressJet nearly three years ago. About two years ago she converted to Islam. This year she learned her faith prohibits her from not only consuming alcohol but serving it, too, Masri said.
“Noone should have to choose between their career and religion?”
Masri and Davis are pointing the way to a sectarian, Balkanized America, a path that will not end well.
Davis should resign. And so should Stanley.
– A man is suing Costco for religious discrimination.
He tells Eyewitness News exclusively that when he refused to work with pork, the major retailer sent him outside to gather carts.
“Just because you have a different belief, that doesn’t give anybody the right to treat you different,” said Jean Camara, suing Costco.
That’s why Jean Camara says he’s doing what he’s doing, suing Costco for religious employment discrimination. The devout Muslim says he was working as a cashier’s assistant at the Costco in Sunset Park Brooklyn in September of 2012 when pork came across the conveyor belt. It’s against his religious beliefs to touch either pork or alcohol.Camara says after telling his managers this, they transferred him outside collecting the shopping carts.
Camara says they never told him why he was reassigned.
“I think that as the case progresses in the trial we are in now, I think the facts are going to come out and they’re going to speak for themselves,” said Chauncey Henry, Camara’s attorney.
Camara says he asked his managers if he could work in the electronics department, but his requests were repeatedly denied.
He ended up filing a human rights complaint against the company. 16 days later, he was fired for insubordinate conduct.
“We all share different beliefs so we all should be treated equally no matter what belief we have,” Camara said.
Writing in the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin wonders where the Hobby Lobby decision might lead:
The great Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that important Supreme Court decisions “exercise a kind of hydraulic effect.” Even if the authors of such decisions assert that their rulings will have limited impact, these cases invariably have a profound influence. So it has been with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which is less than six months old….
Justice Samuel Alito insisted, in his opinion for the Court, that [the] in decision [in Hobby Lobby] would be very limited in its effect. Responding to the dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called it “a decision of startling breadth,” Alito wrote, “Our holding is very specific. We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.’ ” Ginsburg, though, wondered where the guidance was for the lower courts when faced with similar claims from employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others).
The problem is not (necessarily) what was decided in the Supreme Court but how that decision will be interpreted in lower courts where, for the most part, it will stay:
A sampling of court actions since Hobby Lobby suggests that Ginsburg has the better of the argument. She was right: the decision is opening the door for the religiously observant to claim privileges that are not available to anyone else.
One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet…
To repeat a point I made in an earlier post:
It ought to go without saying that religious freedom is part of the bedrock of American liberty, but so too is the notion of equality before the law. There has to be unum, so to speak, as well as pluribus.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said Sunday the Catholic church remains opposed to ObamaCare in large part because it requires businesses to offer health-insurance plans that include no-cost contraception.
Dolan, the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the church’s position is a difficult one, considering it has supported universal, affordable and comprehensive health care since the early 1990s.
“We bishops have really been in kind of a tough place,” Dolan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That’s how far we go in this battle. We’re not Johnny-come-latelies.”
He also warned President Obama that the contraception mandate in his signature health care law might “push aside” some of his biggest supporters.
“We want to be with you. We want to be strong, and if you keep doing this, we’re not going to be able to be one of your cheerleaders,” said Dolan, several days after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the mandate by the Christian-owned retail chain Hobby Lobby.
So the Roman Catholic Church wants universal healthcare, paid for by taxpayers. That’s a debatable point of view, but far from outlandish. But then the church wants to opt out of those parts of this supposedly universal healthcare that it does not like. Everyone else, of course, has to lump it.
That’s religious privilege, not “religious freedom”.
Cardinal Dolan, absurd:
“The threats to our “first and most cherished freedom” are abundant, but let me list just two. One comes from those called secularists, who will tolerate religion as long as it’s just considered some eccentric private hobby for superstitious, unenlightened folks, limited to an hour on the Sabbath, with no claim to any voice in the public square.”
Notwithstanding the efforts of fanatics like that sad bunch of atheists opposed to the 9/11 cross, this is nonsense. America’s “public square” is filled with religious voices. That’s fine. That’s good. And to claim that it is under threat is ludicrous.
The rest of Dolan’s speech is worth a serious look. This passage caught my attention:
“Government has no business interfering in the internal life of the soul, conscience, or church.”
Putting to one side the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has been active in trying to persuade government to adopt positions that give profound offense to the beliefs of quite a few (restrictions on assisted suicide might be one example, the church’s support for the ‘right’ to universal healthcare another), the idea that the church is somehow immune from laws that applies to everyone else can, if taken beyond a reasonable understanding of the First Amendment, be a proposition somewhat difficult to reconcile with e pluribus unum,
There is a fine line between defending religious freedom and supporting the creation of religious privilege. I wonder if Cardinal Dolan recognizes that it exists.
From the New York Times:
This weekend, hundreds of pastors, including some of the nation’s evangelical leaders, will climb into their pulpits to preach about American politics, flouting a decades-old law that prohibits tax-exempt churches and other charities from campaigning on election issues.
The sermons, on what is called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, essentially represent a form of biblical bait, an effort by some churches to goad the Internal Revenue Service into court battles over the divide between religion and politics.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit legal defense group whose founders include James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, sponsors the annual event, which started with 33 pastors in 2008. This year, Glenn Beck has been promoting it, calling for 1,000 religious leaders to sign on and generating additional interest at the beginning of a presidential election cycle.
“There should be no government intrusion in the pulpit,” said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., who led preachers in the battle to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. “The freedom of speech and the freedom of religion promised under the First Amendment means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say.”
Of course they should, but they shouldn’t get a tax break while doing so.