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Dan Bucatinsky

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Crisis of Conscience

Posted: 03/21/2012 10:36 am

It was Thomas Jefferson who, in 1802, first spoke of "building a wall of separation between church and state," and in 1947 the Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education firmly established this wall separating Church and State.

Cut to 2011. In response to existing discriminatory laws restricting the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children, the Virginia Board of Social Services proposed a new regulation protecting against discrimination, as part of an overhaul on adoption policy. They asked for it to include protection on the basis of gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation. But the rancor of religious groups outweighed public support for this move, and the regulation was not passed. And instead? There's now overwhelming support for new 2012 legislation in Virginia allowing private yet state-subsidized (i.e., tax-payer-funded) adoption agencies to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation if, you know, they feel it violates their religious or moral convictions. So much for the wall of separation between Church and State. Get a bucket, people, because the wall is leaking! This new bill is well on its way to being signed into law by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Makes sense, right? It's all part of something known as a "conscience clause," which, in a more far-reaching way, would also allow health care professionals to refuse care or guidance to anyone who contradicts their religious or moral sensibilities. I love that. They call it a "conscience clause," like if you really let your conscience be your guide, you would deny health care or, say, the possibility of having a family to someone on the basis of whom they loved. Wouldn't the benefits to the adopted children outweigh any argument for the freedom of religion? In fact, nobody is restricting the rights of any individual to practice their religion. In this legislation, the religious beliefs of the individual are being allowed to restrict the rights of a specific demographic on the basis of their sexual orientation. It is the very definition of government-sanctioned discrimination.

Let's put this in terms that some of the discriminators could understand, perhaps. If I wanted to have a dinner party in the privacy of my own home, with food paid for by me, I could invite whomever I wanted on the basis of whatever I wanted. I could invite only men, or only women. I could invite only Caucasians, or only African Americans. I could invite only people who wear peacock-feather hats, or only those who know how to do the Funky Chicken. I could purposely keep out anyone too fat or too thin, or anyone I thought was kind of a jerk because they called people "bro" or said "it is what it is" too much, or anyone who talked about The Secret. I would definitely want to keep out anyone who was stupid and closed-minded and bigoted, but that's just me. And that would be my right, as an American, as a taxpayer. I would never think of asking anyone to pay for the food or to take time out of their busy days to use their expensive gas to drive people to my dinner party. It also wouldn't occur to me to ask taxpayers to subsidize my private dinner party.

I'm not a religious person, but I imagine that if I were, I'd feel like my religious practices would bring me closer to God. And if I believed, ostensibly, that God loves all of us, I imagine that I'd also believe that despite our respective differences, he'd encourage all of us to find a place at our dinner tables for everyone, a place of love, acceptance, mutual respect. Right? I imagine that God would want us to treat everyone with respect and kindness and wouldn't necessarily make a decision about whether we belonged in heaven or in hell until that day came when he was ready to make that decision. Go with me here.

Imagine that I felt it was my moral obligation to open up my dinner party to people who were starving and didn't have enough money for food. And let's say that in order for me to feed so many of these new guests at my dinner party, I would want to make a case to my government that I was providing a social service and would like them to help me out. I would want a stamp of approval from them and maybe even some tax dollars to help buy some of the food, as now the dinner party is getting kind of big, and I don't want to pay for it all by myself. And why should I have to? After all, I'm now providing a service for those who need my help, right? I'm doing what's best for those in need. I think all would agree that it would be in their best interest to come to my dinner party. And so I wouldn't be surprised if the government said, "Hell to the yes! You are doing such important work in feeding the hungry. Of course we'll give you money, and not just our money, but some of everyone's money, because we were elected by all of you to make decisions that would be in everyone's best interest. So, where do we sign?"

But then what if I decided that some of the people who needed my help were, I don't know, doing things I didn't agree with. Or let's just say I didn't think my God would approve of the ones with dark hair because, I don't know, I believed that they weren't enough like me, I didn't trust them, I didn't believe in what they did or who they were, and I certainly didn't want to encourage them to bring more dark-haired kids into the world, so the last thing I wanted to do was help feed them. Hell to the no! I would demand the right to stop helping those individuals. But what if my religion mandated that I not only reject these people and their children but also try to stop them?

My daughter just had her seventh birthday party. She's my daughter because I happen to live in a state that allows a woman to choose a same-sex couple to adopt her unborn baby if that's what she feels would be in the best interests of her child. And then my daughter's birth mother placed a second baby, our son, with us. And we love them and cherish them more than I ever knew was possible. And we respect them -- more, I would venture to say, than do some of the straight parents who, for example, think it's appropriate to have their children berated and humiliated on national television on shows like Dance Moms. But I digress. I told my daughter she had to invite all the girls in her class and not just the ones she felt closest to. My husband and I want our kids to make decisions based on what we feel is right, just, and kind. And while we want them each to develop their own moral compass, their own opinions and beliefs, we also want them to learn to respect even those who don't share those beliefs. That's what we call having a conscience. And that's what she did. She invited everyone in her class. Because she has a big, open heart.

My daughter did not invite the governor of Virginia, however.

 
 
 

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