THE BLOG
02/26/2014 07:17 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2014

A Religious Freedom Parable

What follows is a modern-day parable. I think it's important to point that out up front, in order not to cause any undue offense. The scene: the near future, when Arizona (or any other state, for that matter) becomes a bastion of religious freedom by passing laws shielding businesses from penalty for discrimination on the basis of religious belief.

Our heroine, Libby R. Terryan, wakes up to a bright new beautiful world in which citizens and businesses are free to act without governmental restraint upon their deeply-held religious beliefs. Libby breathes in this sweet air of freedom as she gets ready for work. Because of all this intoxicating freedom, Libby finds herself running a bit late.

"No problem," she thinks to herself, "I'll just pick something up at the convenience store on the corner." She walks into the store, a friendly 24-hour national franchise brand, and picks up a few donuts and pours herself some coffee. She is in for a rude shock, however, as she places her items on the counter.

The guy behind the counter, who has always been friendly and polite (and whose accent is normally only slightly hard to understand), greets Libby with a hearty: "Allahu Akbar!" Still being a bit fuzzy-brained (since she hasn't drunk her morning coffee), Libby responds: "Um, OK, good morning to you. How much will that be?"

"Oh, I'm very sorry," the counterperson replies, "but that is not the correct response. I must assume that you are not of the faithful, and therefore I must respectfully refuse you service. Please just leave the donuts here, and I will put them back. Thank you, good day."

"But... but... but..." Libby sputters.

"Today the new law goes into effect, may I remind you," the proprietor says in a voice a kindergarten teacher might use on a slow-witted child, and he points to a new sign behind the counter which clearly states: "We reserve the right to refuse service to infidels."

Libby stares in bewilderment, and then finally walks out of the store, in a state of confusion. Ten minutes later, she arrives at work in a very hungry and cranky mood. After all, allowing businesses to ban those people never meant it would impact her life, did it? At least, she thought, it wasn't supposed to. She puts such thoughts aside and works all morning, getting hungrier and hungrier. As noon approaches, soon she can't take it anymore and walks out to get an early lunch. She goes a few doors down to her favorite deli, where she has bought her lunch for the past four years. As she pulls open the door, she spots her friend Ruth walking up, and greets her.

"I'm starving, I missed breakfast," she admits as they get in line. Ruth sympathizes. As they arrive at the front of the line, Ruth confidently orders a pastrami sandwich and pays her bill. The counterperson turns to Libby, who begins: "I'd like a ham-and-cheese on rye, with Swiss cheese...."

The woman behind the counter, however, has raised a palm face-out, and breaks in, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to stop you right there. Making such a sandwich would force me to break Jewish dietary laws, and therefore I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"But... no... this can't be happening..." sputters Libby, "...how about just making me the same pastrami sandwich my friend Ruth just ordered? Would that be OK? I'm really hungry."

However, her gambit fails. "Sorry, but I see Ruth at our synagogue regularly, but I can easily tell you're not Jewish." She points to a new sign on the wall: "We reserve the right not to serve goyim."
Libby turns to her friend, but Ruth just shrugs and takes her sandwich to a table. Now almost in tears, Libby stumbles out of the deli in shame.

When she gets back to her office, she proceeds straight to the vending machine and raids it of everything that looks remotely nutritious, and takes her haul back to her desk. She starts ripping open the packages and ravenously bolting down the sugary snacks in sheer desperation. Suddenly, she realizes her boss is standing over her desk. She works her jaw to chew and swallow, and attempts to hide some of her junk food binge with a folder.

"Sorry... you'll never believe the day I've been having..." Libby begins, when she finally clears her mouth enough to talk. But much to her surprise, her boss doesn't seem to care, and launches into a roundabout "we've really enjoyed having you here at our company" rambling sort of a speech. Libby, confused, waits through it all until her boss finally gets around to the point he's attempting to make: "Now, I know we've never discussed this before, but I need to ask: are you a member in good standing of the Church of Latter-Day Saints? Because I haven't seen you at services before...."

Shocked, Libby mumbles a reply, "...raised Presbyterian... I've gone to the Episcopalian church down the road a few times, but haven't really...."

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that," her boss breaks in. "Because, as I said, we've really loved having you as an employee for so long. But now that this business is free to act upon our religious beliefs, we're afraid that you'll have to clean out your desk and leave. We'll send you your final paycheck in the mail."

"Wait, what? You're firing me because I'm not Mormon?!?"

"Yes, it's been a tough day for us here -- we've lost several valued employees, but we have no doubt we'll be able to find out-of-work people in our congregation to make up the loss. I'm really sorry about all this, but there's nothing I can do... that is..." her boss pauses, and considers for a moment, "...you wouldn't be open to the idea of converting, would you?" When he sees the stunned look on Libby's face, he sighs. "No? Well, sorry, but I had to at least give you the opportunity. Again, take all the time you need this afternoon to clean out your desk, and we'll be sure to give you a good reference when you start interviewing."

As her boss moves away, Libby can no longer stand it and breaks into tears. As if in a daze, she empties out her personal items into a cardboard box, and notices several others on the floor doing the same thing.

She takes a last look around the place she's worked for the past few years, and then slowly begins her walk home. She begins to wonder what the job market is going to be like under the new law, especially as she sees new signs in the windows of many businesses along the way. While she does see a few signs which ban, you know, those people -- the ones the law was supposed to target, after all -- she is completely shocked by some of the others: "No blacks allowed," and: "If you can't speak English, don't come in," and even, most shockingly of all, a sign in the window of a Jamaican restaurant she has always loved which reads: "No whites."

"This wasn't the way it was supposed to be!" Libby incredulously thinks to herself as she walks along the street. This is interrupted by a shout of "Hey, look out!" and Libby realizes her day is getting even worse, as she is hit a glancing blow by a bus.

When she next blinks her eyes awake, she realizes she's lying on the pavement. She hears: "That did it, she's coming around..." and realizes there are two emergency medical technicians leaning over her with their hands clasped. As they put her into their ambulance, she realizes that blood is still gushing from a wound in her head. "Shouldn't you do something to stop the bleeding?" she manages to weakly ask.

"Oh, no, sorry. Our ambulance company is strictly prayer-only. It's a family business, and we all believe that prayer is the only possible medical treatment allowable -- it's one of our deeply-held religious beliefs."

"But that's crazy -- why would you start an ambulance company if you don't believe in modern medicine?"

"Hey, lady, it's a free country, isn't it? Freedom of religion means there is no religious test for ambulance drivers! What are you, some kind of bigot?!? And all this chitter-chatter isn't helping, because it is keeping me from my duties of praying for your recovery." With a stern look, the man folded his hands again and bowed his head.

Libby slips back into blackness, wondering for the first time if this is all some sort of bad dream. When she next awakens, she seems to be in a hospital, attended by a very stern nurse who is busily digging through her purse.

"Hello?" Libby manages to gasp out. The nurse glances over at her and gives a tight smile, but does not stop rooting around in Libby's purse. "I can tell you my name and what insurance I have, I'm awake now," Libby tries, but the nurse ignores her until she triumphantly holds up Libby's wheel of birth control pills, with a loud cry of: "Aha!"

Libby tries again. "Really, I can give you all my info now... my health insurance coverage is with...."

The nurse turns on her. "I don't care who pays for your immorality, but we're not going to put up with it here! This is Dominican Hospital, and we cannot admit you since you are so obviously not a good practicing Catholic."

"But, wait..." Libby stammers. "I mean, aren't there laws? Don't you have to help me? Can't you even give me a bandage?"

"We've got a new law in this state," the nurse replies, with a cruel smile. "And since you are going to burn in Hell for all of eternity, there is absolutely no reason we should aid you in your sinful life in any way at all. You'll have to leave now, or I'll have to call security to have you ejected." The nurse leaned back and smugly crossed her arms. "Your choice -- you can walk out or be thrown out. And you can send all your complaints straight to the Devil, whom you'll no doubt be meeting soon."

Stunned, Libby R. Terryan walked out of the emergency room and tried to figure out which way home was. At least the bleeding from her forehead seemed to have stopped, but she knew she looked frightful. She ducked in the nearest pharmacy, and picked up some bandages and rubbing alcohol to use at home later. She wandered the aisles in search of some aspirin, but couldn't find any. Finally, she approached the white-coated pharmacist in the back and asked where the pain killers were.

"Oh, I'm sorry, we don't carry those any more."

"What!?! You don't carry aspirin?"

"Well, you see, my deeply-held religious beliefs are that pain is God's message to us all, and to artificially interrupt or block that message is unholy. We originally only believed this about women giving birth to a child -- you know, the punishment God laid on Eve and all other women, for eternity? -- but we've since widened our beliefs and we now hold that all pain medicine is nothing short of pure evil in pill form, and so we've yanked them all off the shelves. I can ring you up for those bandages, though -- we're still of the opinion that bandages do God's work on Earth!" he ended with a sunny smile.

"Just forget it," Libby said, dropping the items on the counter and leaving.

As she made the long walk home, Libby couldn't help but thinking over and over, "this wasn't supposed to harm me!" After all, the law was passed just so those people would be affected. All the legislators said so! They never said a word about delis or convenience stores or hospitals. They never once mentioned that someone could refuse to sell her aspirin. It was supposed to be a perfect world for Libby R. Terryan and all like her -- they had said so over and over! It was only supposed to affect those people and not upstanding citizens like her. They promised that the only discrimination would be on the basis of deeply-held religious beliefs, and they promised religious freedom for everyone.

"This wasn't supposed to happen this way," Libby though, forlornly, as she finally made it home. "This wasn't supposed to affect me." Weren't religions supposed to be about making people's lives better, after all? She stumbled into her living room and pulled out her rather dusty Bible. She held it up and asked "How can this justify discrimination?" to no one in particular. The book suddenly dropped from her hand, and as she looked down at the page it had fallen open to, she read:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

[Luke 10:25-37]

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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