Some continuously argue religious freedom is on the decline in America and cite discrimination cases against same-sex couples as their major support. Reading such arguments causes me to ask how they would define religious freedom. Freedom to obey “the laws of the land”? Freedom from religious persecution? Freedom from being teased about your religion?
Someone recently submitted an article to my school newspaper (The Statesman) and seemed to think religious freedom means if someone teases you for being Mormon, let’s say, they have breached your religious freedom. She pontificated about pessimism towards Mormons due to their bizarre culture. She discussed a few stereotypes of Mormons and suggested they are not accurate or should be overlooked because every group of similar people establish some form of culture that seems bizarre to outsiders. And then she says: “Those who are devout members of minority religions in Utah, or are atheist, should still feel it imperative to uphold the Constitution by respecting their neighbor’s freedom of religion, even though the concentrated LDS religion may feel overbearing.”
I’m confused. How is any of this related to religious freedom?
The Supreme Court defined religious freedom as the freedom to get around laws. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Does one of your employees have a disability (e.g., narcolepsy)? Fire her; it’s within your religious freedom to do so. This may seem like a stretch, but it actually happened. The Huffington Post reported:
[Perich] got sick in 2004, then tried to return to work from disability leave despite being diagnosed with narcolepsy. The school said she couldn’t return because they had hired a substitute for that year. They fired her and removed her from the church ministry after she showed up at the school and threatened to sue to get her job back.
About this case, another Huffington Post author said:
The Supreme Court broadened all religious organizations’ rights to discriminate, saying that both the Establishment Clause (you know — the one that says government can’t establish a religion, despite what some people like to claim during election years) and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibit any limitations on a church’s right to select its own ministers. That means churches can discriminate based on race, age, sex, disability, national origin — you name it — when it comes to ministers.
That’s right. The church didn’t have to have a religious reason to fire her under this new ruling, and that’s what I find to be the scary part. It’s one thing if the church says it fired someone because they broke some religious rule or for some religious reason. But the Supreme Court says they can actively discriminate and give the discrimination as a reason, and still get away with it. Church elders don’t like ministers in wheelchairs? You’re gone. Pregnant ministers? Fugeddaboutit. History of Parkinson’s in the minister’s family? You’re fired.
So, will churches be forced to hire gays and lesbians? No. Can a church (legally) fire someone because of their sexual orientation? Yep. At this rate, Dallin H. Oaks of the LDS (Mormon) Church may get his wish one day. He might just earn the right to withhold public goods and services from anyone he or his church do not like. Yay for religious freedom!