Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whose Rights?

A big news item this week is the Justice of the Peace in Tangipahoa Parish who refused to marry an inter-racial couple. For the record, I have no objection to inter-racial marriage, but this JP did find it morally objectionable. He refused to marry them, but directed them to someone who would. Now there are calls for his removal from office. My question is: "Where do your rights to do what is lawful end, and my rights not to do what I consider immoral begin?"

I'm not a member of some new strange cult. I don't follow some guy who last week declared himself the authority on all things. I'm a member of and believer in a 2000 year old religion; a religion that has spread throughout the world, a religion that has had a major influence on Western Civilization. That religion says that it is immoral to kill unborn babies, it is immoral to use artificial birth control, it is immoral to have sex outside of marriage and it is immoral to have sex with members of the same gender. Until recently, our society in the US mirrored those beliefs. Abortion was outlawed, or at least limited in most states until 1972; until the 1930's, US laws forbid the spread of birth control information; unwed mothers were socially shunned until recently, and their children had less legal rights than those born inside marriage, and some states still have (or have only recently abrogated) laws on the books forbidding homosexual activities. Now laws or Supreme Court cases have stated that people have a right to do those things. What about my rights not to support them?

Some would say "If you don't believe in abortion, birth control, non-martial sex or homosexual activity, then don't have one, use it, have it or do it". Of course that is an option, but I don't want to support you in your choices to engage in that behavior either. I'll be the first to admit that for me to take a job in an abortion clinic and then say "I don't believe in killing unborn babies, so I'm not going to help do so" is stupid. Much as I disagree with the existence of abortion clinics, their purpose is pretty clear. Planned Parenthood isn't a place for me to work either, since I disagree with their main premise, their reason for existence; but what about a pharmacy? They dispense abortaficient drugs and birth control, but that's generally not their main function. What about a pharmacist's right not to dispense what they consider to be immoral drugs? Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college, used to have a health insurance plan that did not cover contraception or sterilization (and until a few years ago, so did my law firm). The courts have just told them that if they are going to have health insurance, they have to cover what they consider to be immoral acts. Belmont chose to drop health insurance rather than compromise their principles. Should they have had to make that choice? Birth control isn't free; if it is covered by your policy, then you are paying for it, if not for yourself, then for others. Right now there is big push for homosexual marriage. If laws pass allowing it, will civil authorities be required to marry homosexuals, even if they find the behavior morally repugnant?

How do we as a society protect my rights not to participate in or support things I find immoral, even if we allow you to do them?


  1. Although I understand what you are saying- I do not understand how it can be tied to a bigot. He refused to marry someone to another because he does not like what they could produce as a couple. How is THAT Catholic? Do you really want to tie the church's belief in the things you say (which I also believe)- the belief in marraige as a sacred union and children all a part of God's world- to an act of outright racisim?
    This is the most confusing post I have ever read from you.

  2. The question isn't whether I support his belief, it is whether he has a right to that belief, and to what extent he should be allowed to practice that belief (misguided as I believe it is). He believes inter-racial marriages are immoral; our society says they are not, and is castigating him for refusing to participate in what he considers to be immoral. What if a gay couple goes to a JP in a state that allows gay marriage. Should the JP be required to marry them? Should a pharmacist be required to dispense bcps if s/he believes they are immoral? Should an ER doctor be required to offer morning after pills to all alleged rape victims, even if the doctor is morally opposed? Should a teacher be required to teach evolution as truth if s/he believes it is not?

  3. There are teachers who still believe that it is immoral to teach black and white children in the same class. Should they be required to do it if it is the law? How about the public school teachers who feel that children who cannot sit down and be quiet should be flunked out- as it was in the 50's? Where would we be? I can see your point- but it seems you are comparing real morals to bigotry...and I don't see the connection. He stated that children of such marriages are doomed- really? Do you believe that? Should he be allowed to say that in this country and practice it as a PUBLIC servant?

  4. That's the question I'm asking, what should be required, as opposed to what should be allowed? When I first heard about this story, the first thing that popped into my mind was gay "marriage". If a state passes a law allowing gay marriage, should all civil marriage officers be required to marry homosexuals?

    If I lived in this guy's district, I'd vote him out of office at the first opportunity; however I'm a little hesitant to say he should be removed by other means.

    By living in a pluralistic society, as opposed to one like the Muslim countries, we are to some extent saying "live and let live"; however often that means "I can do what I want, and if I need your help, you have to cooperate, but you don't have to choose to do it yourself".

  5. +JMJ+

    I find myself leaning more in RAnn's direction on this one.

    Her reflection reminds me of an exchange in A Man for All Seasons, the play/movie about St. Thomas More.

    Sir Thomas has just been defending certain rights everyone has under the law, and an incredulous someone remarks, "So now you give the Devil the benefit of law!"

    He replies: "This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down . . . do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

    If a school teacher believes it is immoral to teach children of different races in the same classroom, I will defend her right to resign her job. If several such teachers form their own school, I will defend their right to segregate their classes. All "for my own safety's sake."


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