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Charles Negy, Ph.D.

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Corrupting the Concept of Religious Freedom

Posted: 09/24/2013 3:25 pm

I continue encountering news stories that address cases in which business owners claim they have a right -- based on their religious convictions -- to deny services to same-sex couples who request the business to cater their same-sex wedding, or photograph their same-sex wedding, etc. Even some lawsuits are now in place as a result of this type of dispute (New Mexico Supreme Court just ruled against one of these business owners).

Obviously believers have a right to practice their religion and believe however they'd like. But they do not have a right to pick and choose the customers to whom they will provide services. I am reminded of the case in the '90s when Muslim taxi drivers in Minnesota began refusing passengers if the passengers were carrying alcohol. For a short time, City Council (in Minneapolis) was actually considering how to accommodate the Muslim taxi drivers' religious convictions (by placing special lights on top of their cabs to communicate to others that they are Muslim and would not transport passengers with alcohol). Luckily, City Council came to its senses and established that employees in any business cannot deny services to customers who do not conform to employees' religious values.

Imagine if employees in all settings were given such license to discriminate against others who do not conform to employees' religious values. Society would become chaotic. Vegetarian Hindus who work at restaurants could refuse orders from customers who order meat dishes. Christian medical doctors could refuse prescribing Viagra for men who are not married (based on doctors' religious views that sex is only within marriage). I could bar students from enrolling in my college courses if the students do not share my agnostic views of the world. Pretty scary scenario.

Let's hope that people in the U.S. recognize that although all individuals can believe and practice a religion in their personal life, no one is ever permitted to discriminate against customers who do not conform to employees' or business owners' religious convictions. That's the beauty of the United States. Unlike many other countries, we recognize the unethicality of denying services to others based on skin color, gender, and so on, and sexual orientation must be included.

 
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