Religion and sacrifice in a diverse society
Religious people in Minneapolis have asked the city government to respect their right to make decisions about their workplace environment based on their religious beliefs. Sounds like something that conservatives would support, right? They have supported this "right" in the past.
Of course not. Because, as it turns out, these people are cab drivers and Muslims, and they right they are supporting is the right to refuse service to people carrying alcohol. You can read about it from the AP story. Islam forbids alcohol and other drugs*, and the Muslim cab drivers see it as an infringement of their "right of conscience," - if their religious forbids carrying alcohol, it is their religious right and duty to refuse to do so. This is exactly the same "right" that fundamentalist pharmacists ask to be preserved when they don't want to dispense birth control.
What is the reaction of the extreme right to the drivers' argument? Heartbreakingly predictable. Freedom of religion to them means nothing more than freedom of religion for them, and only them.
For the record, I think the arguments that both the Muslim cab drivers and the fundamentalist Christian pharmacists make are ridiculous, from personal, political, and religious perspectives. Personally, if you don't want to follow the instructions of your job, you have the right and the freedom to quit your job and find another one.
Politically, the First Amendment expressly forbids the establishment of a national religion - the most sacred text of our government says that government can't force the nation to respect one religion over another.
Religiously - and I think this is the most important argument I can make - the cab drivers and pharmacists want to have and eat cake. They want to be devout, but they want their devotion to be easy, government-protected, and consequence-free. They want to be free to practice their religion under a guarantee that they will not have to make any sacrifices. And religion takes sacrifice.
What's the point of writing about this? Sure, it's always fun to point out the hypocrisies of the far right, which are numerous and varied. But what will that accomplish, other than making us feel better? The important point I want to make here is that separation of church and state is not just a political issue, not just a moral issue, it's a religious issue. Living in a diverse society makes individual religious practice more important, not less. Separation of church and state benefits both church and state.
*As, of course, do many denominations of Christianity, including the Southern Baptists, but you don't hear them talking about refusing transport to alcohol.