Before we go any further, know that I unequivocally, unabashedly, and without reservation support the rights of individuals to praise and worship the deity or deities of their choice. We are, as has been noted in many arguments, a nation built (at least partially) on religious freedom. Thomas Jefferson said, “The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.” I agree, but – there’s always a “but” – religious freedom is, as also noted by Jefferson, a private matter between the believer and the believed.
It is becoming vogue for states to start implementing laws they are calling “religious freedom” acts. My own state of Georgia has one that is making its way through our legislature with little to no impediment from the religiously liberal or non-religious citizens of the state. These laws, emboldened by the “Hobby Lobby” decision of the US Supreme Court, give a person an excuse or reason to ignore or opt out of state and federal laws they think conflict with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” And there is the problem with religious freedom laws. What are “sincerely held religious beliefs”? Who is the arbiter of those beliefs? Who has the authority to determine if the beliefs are religious in nature, or sincerely held?
There is a case in Ohio where Lee Yeager claims he was fired for refusing to take part in his employer’s requirement of using direct deposit. The case made its way through the EEOC and Ohio Civil Rights Commission where it was dismissed. Yeager has now filed a federal suit alleging that his fundamentalist Christian beliefs prevented him from having his paycheck directly deposited by his employer. I will wager that the court will dismiss his claim, but what if they don’t? Yeager’s religious beliefs will become admissible in court. His beliefs will be questioned and scrutinized, and eventually the court will decide if his beliefs were, in fact, violated.
I see two possible equally problematic results. First, the sincerity of one’s religious beliefs will have to be tested in court. Second, we will just have to accept that the person really does have these beliefs. Either we turn our faith over to the courts, or we let faith trump our civil laws.
We are about to have a tangled web of objections based on religious beliefs. For instance, there are Christians who vehemently oppose marriage equality. They are quite adept at backing up their sincerely held religious beliefs with chapter and verse. But there are also Christians who are strong supporters of marriage equality. They, too, are quite adept at backing up their sincerely held religious beliefs with chapter and verse.
The answer to this is clear. Religious beliefs do not take precedence over civil law. The end. Again, from the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Your religious beliefs extend to you, your religious community, and your deity of choice. In civil society we are all bound by the same civil laws no matter what our religious beliefs are.
That is not discrimination. It is not an infringement on your free practice of your faith. It is the level playing field we all want. It is religious freedom.0