With all the talk lately about “religious freedom,” you might think that there would be some agreed-upon definition of what it is. But of course, you’d be wrong. American Civics is no longer taught, and few people have the slightest idea of what freedom of religion is. More and more, I am noticing that it is increasingly difficult for opposing parties to engage in dialogue, because they cannot agree on basic terms. Legally incoherent though it may be, Madonna’s brother’s recent remark highlights the problem:

“The county clerk in [Kentucky] deserves about as much support as you would give her if she were a Muslim [woman] who insisted on covering her face and refused not only gay marriages licenses, but divorce, accusations of rape and driving a car without your man’s approval,” he wrote.

(Well, I’d give both of them about as much support — none — but I guess I’m old fashioned.)

There are innumerable religions with innumerable beliefs, customs, rules, and prohibitions. In theory, the state is supposed to stay out of it completely, and remain neutral, neither supporting nor opposing religion in general or particular religions.

Whether marriage licensing is an appropriate matter for the state is of course debatable, just as it is debatable whether the state should license businesses such as bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. But once there is a licensing system in place, with bureaucrats employed to run it, it strikes me as inviting absolute chaos to allow the individual religious views of the bureaucrats to trump their given duties.  There’s a lot of focus (and silly outrage imo) now being directed against a clerk now enjoying her 15 minutes of fame for refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses despite the fact that the law requires her to do that as part of her job. While I suspect she is determined to become some sort of martyr (and I think it was stupid to arrest her instead of simply firing her for non-feasance), I’ve still been scratching my head over how so many people have come to believe that religious freedom would give a government employee a right to violate a legal duty.

While I am unaware of any specific prohibition of same sex marriage in the Bible, I don’t see how that is relevant. Lots of things are prohibited in various sacred texts. Jesus spoke against divorce in no uncertain terms.  Clearly, this would mean that Christians who are against divorce have every right to oppose divorce, to refuse to divorce, but would that mean that a court clerk has a “religious” right to refuse to allow couples to file court papers seeking divorces?

Or is it unreasonable of me to venture that if your religious views make it impossible for you to stamp court papers in divorce cases, maybe you shouldn’t work as a court clerk? Or that if you are against women being allowed to drive for religious reasons, perhaps you shouldn’t work behind the counter at the DMV?

If Muslims and Jews are forbidden to eat pork, would that give a Muslim or Jewish Health Department functionary the right to refuse to give a food or restaurant license to an applicant who planned to sell or serve pork in his establishment? Ditto, alcohol licensing. There is religious freedom to be against consumption of alcohol or pork, but by what stretch of the imagination does that extend to preventing others from consuming it? How is that so many people are imagining that having a particular government employee’s religious views dictate government policy is “religious freedom?”

Is “religious freedom” becoming into a right to have that belief enforced on others? If so, then my drinking booze and eating pork violates other people’s religious freedom.

I think the problem goes beyond religion, and stems from a stubborn belief that doing something other people don’t like is itself an imposition on others.