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Freedom of religion

This story is actually a couple months old now, but I just heard about it.  Once again, people misunderstand what it means to have the right to practice religion freely.  As you probably know, same-sex marriage has been legal in New York (the whole state) since July of this year.  What does that mean?  That means that anywhere in the state, a gay couple can go to the clerk's office and get a licence to marry, and then proceed to get married through whichever method they seem best.

One town clerk, in Ledyard, has decided to refuse to issue any licences to gay couples, on the principle that it is against her religion.  She claims that she has the right to keep her job and to remain faithful to her religion (by not issuing licences to gay couples).  Let's examine the issue in more detail.

Under the new law, it is a misdemeanor to refuse to offer licences to any couples, including same-sex couples.  Now let us see how the freedom of religion applies when a different law is in question.  Suppose that Ms. Belforti (the town clerk in question) belonged to a religion that taught that God hated people who paid taxes and therefore paying taxes of any form was sin.  Would she then be justified in not paying taxes in the name of religious freedom?  Of course not, because failure to pay taxes is illegal.  What would happen if she refused to pay taxes and claimed that if she was forced to pay taxes then the government was infringing on her right to practice her religion?  The argument would be dismissed, since it is ridiculous.  Therefore, she has no right to disobey the law (requiring her to issue licences to gay couples) even though her religious convictions say that homosexuality is immoral.

Now, let's look at this not in a legal light, but just in the terms of her job description.  Let's suppose that she belonged to a religion that taught that use of telephones was immoral.  Let's also suppose that she was a receptionist.  Should she be allowed to have her job in light of the fact that she refuses to answer the telephone?  It would be impossible for her to do her job without using the phone.  Is her employer infringing on her religious rights by asking her to do something that's against her religion?  Of course not, the employer's only asking her to do her job, nothing more.  The same principle applies here.  As part of her job as town clerk, she is required to issue licences to gay couples.  If she has religious convictions that don't allow that, then she should resign and find a new line of work--one that will allow her to practice her religion as she sees fit.

So, what is the real issue?  She's merely showing her own bigotry by refusing to issue these licences, and she shouldn't be allowed to continue as town clerk.  Suppose that she believed that interracial marriages were immoral and therefore refused to offer licences to couples who were not of the same race.  How would people respond to her?  They would call her racist and say that she should issue the licences anyway.  So, why is this homophobia tolerated?  Why is she still in office?

Is removing her from office a violation of her right to freely practice religion?  Of course not.  She's still free to practice her religion, and to believe that homosexuality is immoral.  She's free to refuse people who wish to be married in her own church (or, at least, the minister of her church has that right).  But, if her religious convictions are getting in the way of her doing her job properly, then she must choose between the two.  The receptionist who can't answer the phone based on religious principle isn't being persecuted, she's just incapable of completing her duties as a receptionist.  Same here, removing her from office isn't religious persecution, it would simply be because she's incapable of completing her duties as town clerk.  Not only that, but she's also breaking the law.  Does her religion encourage crime?  Is that what Jesus would do?

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