Against religious freedom: a debate

July 8, 2011

Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske have an intriguing essay in the latest issue of Dissent Magazine in which they argue for a rethinking of the concept of religious freedom. Dacey, as you might recall, is a former CFI staffer and author of The Secular Conscience. Koproske is a policy analyst in Washington, D.C. and has an MPhil in political theory from Oxford University.

Here is a taste of their article:

There are two quite distinct ideas that fly under the banner of "religious freedom." The first is that people have the right to practice a faith, consistent with the rights of everyone else. We think this is vital and unassailable. However, as we will contend, it is misleading to label this idea "religious freedom." The second idea is that religions deserve some special accommodations under the law that are not available to comparable secular institutions or commitments. ... Traditionally cherished and unquestioned though it may be, this latter notion of religious freedom is philosophically unsound, legally incoherent, and morally indefensible. To make real progress in the conversation about church and state, we must give it up.

You can also read William Galston's reply here, and Dacey's and Coproske's reply to Galston here.

 

Comments:

#1 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Friday July 08, 2011 at 1:44pm

On the surface, the Dacey and Koproske proposal of “equal liberty,” in favor of “religious liberty,” is not such a bad proposal. However, I suspect that it’s little more than a Trojan Horse, containing all sorts of nasty surprises.

While religion has enjoyed certain privileges in this nation, it has also been experiencing a whole host of liabilities, increasing so. Let me just mention a few:

1.  Here in NYC, recent ordinances have prohibited churches to rent space in the NYC schools, while other groups continue to enjoy this right. Pro-life pregnancy clinics are now required to post warnings – unlike secular groups – that have adversely affected their provision of services.

2.  The Obama administration has repealed some laws safeguarding health-care workers from participating in things that violate their conscience.

3.  There are now two lawsuits pending by Christian students who had been expelled from graduate counseling programs at two different state colleges for refusing to undergo re-education to force them to accept same-sex marriage.

4.  Hastings Law School has successfully disenfranchised a student Christian legal group because they practice religious discrimination – members have to be Christian – while similar groups having their own religious/sexist requirements haven’t been affected.

These examples point to the growing hostility of our secular institutions towards the Christian faith – a favoring of one set of values over another. The growing power and influence of these secular institutions are troubling. It is hard for me to not suspect that the authors are comfortable with their increasing hegemony simple because they reflect their own values/religion.

#2 Ophelia Benson on Saturday July 09, 2011 at 4:37pm

“The growing power and influence of these secular institutions are troubling.”

Not to everyone…

#3 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Sunday July 10, 2011 at 3:31am

Ophelia,

You’re certainly right. For many, these increasingly imposing secular institutions reflect their own philosophy/religion. However, they may not in the future.

#4 jerrys on Sunday July 10, 2011 at 10:46pm

@Daniel

Your description in #4 of the Hasting case is wrong.  The rule in question was one that clubs had to be open to all student. 

According to http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2010/06/supreme-court-upholds-hastings-law.html

“The majority in an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, held that Hastings’ policy is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to a limited public forum for registered student organizations.”

#5 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Monday July 11, 2011 at 3:48am

Jerrys,

Here what US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had stated about this case:

• “It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership. . . To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That’s crazy.”

#6 Michael De Dora on Monday July 11, 2011 at 7:46am

@Daniel, you wrote:

“2.  The Obama administration has repealed some laws safeguarding health-care workers from participating in things that violate their conscience.”

But isn’t this an example of religious belief *not* getting special treatment? Of being treated like every other belief?

#7 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Monday July 11, 2011 at 8:56am

Michael,

I have no problem with others opting out of participating in abortions or prescribing the morning-after-pill if they can demonstrate that this would violate their conscience - just like with conscientious objectors.

However, these issues can be very difficult and span much philosophical territory. For this reason, I don’t think it’s a matter of one-size-fits-all, but instead, each case has to be decided on its own merits.

#8 jerrys on Monday July 11, 2011 at 12:57pm

@Daniel

Scalia’s quote (which I assume is from his dissent) just strengthens my case.  You wrote ” while similar groups having their own religious/sexist requirements haven’t been affected”  and I was intending to refute that. Scalia makes it clear that the rule in question applies across the board. All student groups are affected equally.  A feminist group, for example,  has to accept men as members and as officers.

#9 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Monday July 11, 2011 at 7:14pm

jerrys,

I just don’t see that happening! If you have documentation for your position, I’d be curious to see it. If not, don’t worry about it.

#10 Ben L (Guest) on Tuesday July 12, 2011 at 3:00pm

@Dan- I’ve read articles on #3&4 of the cases you mentioned and all were legally sound. As I remember in the case of the young woman applying to be a counselour she had to sign a document beofrehand acknowledging the schools stance on gender orientation. She then wnet back and accused the school after signing a legally valid waver. Sounded more like a poorly executed scam to get money to me.

As for the christian group they also agreed to abide by school policy, and I believe money was involved in that one too. They could have just as easily picked an off campus sight to hold their meetings and wouldn’t have had to abide by those rules. Private vs. Public rule my friend.

As for me personally, I would be fine with christains coming to atheist groups. In fact, why aren’t christians glad to have the ooprtunity to witness? SOunds like just a bunch of whiners to me.

#11 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 2:36am

Ben L.

I find it difficult to believe that the school had her sign onto endorsing “gender identification” (?). But let’s take the worst-case scenario that she signed a statement endorsing same-sex marriage and then reneged.

This raises an important question - whether a state school can engage in this type of viewpoint discrimination. It places the entire thesis of the OP in a new light. What difference does it make if everyone - religions and individuals - all have the same equal rights if they are going to be limited in this fashion by the State? So what if we are all equally controlled by a totalitarian State? Then none of us have any genuine freedom!

#12 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 3:07am

It comes down to this - While you don’t care whether you are silenced when it comes to speaking out against various forms of sexual sin, we do! Our faith and the way we raise our children depends upon this!!

#13 Michael De Dora on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 11:25am

Daniel—could you provide a link for your third example? I would like to read about it but can’t seem to find anything on the web.

#14 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 12:21pm

#15 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 12:22pm

Michael,

Here’s a link:

#16 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 12:23pm

Michael,

Your site will not allow me to post the link.

#17 Michael De Dora on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 12:25pm

Daniel,

Hm, that’s weird. No worries: the links did show up in the emails notifying me of your comment. Thank you.

Michael.

#18 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 12:38pm

Michael,

Here’s the second one: //www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/jul/10072803.html

• “EMU (East Michigan University) dismissed [Julea] Ward from its graduate counseling program in March 2009 for not affirming homosexual behavior as morally acceptable. Ward would not agree to change her religious beliefs about homosexual behavior or express a message contrary to them during counseling sessions as a condition to receiving a degree.”

#19 Michael De Dora on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 1:30pm

Thanks Daniel. Question: like the health care conscience issue, isn’t this another example of the government simply *not* giving religious preferential treatment? Of treating religious belief equally? Why should someone’s religious belief qualify as an exemption when someone’s secular belief does not?

#20 jerrys on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 3:25pm

The question comes down, as it frequently does, to whether a particular belief or opinion is a moral judgement or a policy judgement.  Religious people will say that whatever their religion requires is a moral judgement and therefore they shouldn’t be compelled to violate it.  But humanists will insist that there must be an articulable moral principal at stake.  And thus there will be a disagreement over whether some policy question such as should contraceptive should be allowed, should be resolved by society as a whole or should include some kind of “conscientious objection”

Unfortunately there is a regress here.  Who makes the decision whether a policy raises a moral question that requires an accommodation for those whose moral sense requires them not to participate. 

There isn’t any easy answer to this.  There are cases where society has reached an agreement.  For example, we allow for conscientious objection to the draft but not to racial non-discrimination.  (And for those that are too young to remember, there were people in the 1950’s and 1960’s who claimed that racial segregation was required by their religion.)

My own view is that objection to homosexuality is more the result of an “ick” factor than of moral reasoning.  I’m happy that society as a whole is moving in that direction.

The key point here is that a religious objection to some policy is not ipso facto a moral objection.

#21 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 7:08pm

Michael and Jerrys,

Clearly, there are a lot of questions on the table here, and I agree with Jerrys that there are no easy answers.

We are also approaching these questions from different perspectives. While you weigh these moral exemptions on the basis of the liberties of religions vs. individuals, I see the issues more in terms of an imperialistic government vs. both religions and individuals.

Secularism of the past isn’t what it is today. Recognizing that it had to build a consensus among many different types of people, it was more ready to accommodate individual differences like COs and pledging to the flag. However today, insipient viewpoint discrimination and intolerance are becoming rampant as evidenced by many Christians who are being fired from their jobs, not because of job performance, but simply because of what they believe.

Already, growing polarization is pulling us apart, and our recent legal enactments are hastening this process. For example, California State Bill 48 was just passed authorizing radical sex-education in primary schools and prohibiting parents to opt their children out. This type of intolerance towards the concerns of parents is so objectionable, that I can only foresee the worst.

#22 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 at 7:23pm

Michael and Jerrys,

Here’s an example that illustrates the new imperialistic secularity. It used to be that a mental health counselor could opt out of treating certain clients. A Christian wouldn’t be assigned a client who is looking for someone to encourage him in his gay lifestyle. Likewise, a counselor who has suffered rape would be able to opt out from a rapist client. Democratic society requires this type of flexibility and sensitivity.

Not so anymore. Christians are now being dismissed from their jobs simply because they believe that certain sexual behaviors are sinful.

#23 Michael De Dora on Thursday July 14, 2011 at 9:23am

Here’s the crux of our entire disagreement:

“However today, insipient viewpoint discrimination and intolerance are becoming rampant as evidenced by many Christians who are being fired from their jobs, not because of job performance, but simply because of what they believe.”

These people are not being fired because of what they believe. They are being fired because they won’t follow the law or other given standards, and won’t do the job that is expected of them.

For example: a pacifist police officer would not last long. Would that be merely because he’s a pacifist or would that be because he cannot perform the necessary duties?

#24 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Thursday July 14, 2011 at 9:41am

Michael,

There are many instances of this. Check this one out:

#25 Daniel Mann (Guest) on Thursday July 14, 2011 at 9:41am

Let me know if you didn’t get the link. It didn’t appear on the blog.

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