Religious Freedom May Be Discrimination

I watched an interview today with two trauma surgeons, one black and one white, who treated the Dallas police officers who were ambushed by the gunman. It was great to hear them say they treat everyone regardless of color, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.  No reasonable person would want these surgeons to refuse services based on their personal beliefs.

We have come a long way in reducing blatant discrimination. We no longer see “colored” and “white” water fountains, separate entrances to businesses, or signs in windows stating “whites only,” which I saw in the South in the 1950s. Many people claimed a biblical basis for those racist and segregationist prejudices and could have defended their actions as representing their “sincerely held convictions.”

Our Constitution protects religious beliefs but allows restriction of religious actions. Plural marriage has been prohibited since 1878 in spite of the sincerely-held beliefs of fundamentalist Mormons and the many examples of polygamy in the Old Testament. If religious action could not be restricted, would human sacrifice have to be permissible? What about execution of infidels or sinners as ISIS and the Taliban advocate? Religion should not be an excuse for immoral or irrational actions that affect others.

How is refusing to bake a cake or print a t-shirt for an LGBTQ person any different than refusing to serve a meal to a black person? Justifying discrimination based on religion does not make it acceptable. We now have company owners refusing to provide health insurance because it covers certain types of birth control. They are not personally providing the birth control or requiring anyone to use it or advocating its use, they are just providing comprehensive health coverage that includes it. Should they also be allowed to reject any health insurance that covers nutritional counseling because it might include food outside their religious dictates? Or should orthodox Muslim owners be allowed to refuse health coverage in hospitals that allow male doctors to treat female patients because that violates their religious dogma? When business owners are allowed to dictate their personal health care choices to their employees, it can lead to unscientific and irrational health care.

Professionals should use professional principles in providing services. My ethical standards as a psychologist require me to use techniques and practices based on evidence and not personal biases and to avoid “unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.” We should all be able to rely on other professionals doing the same. We should be assured that a pharmacist, for example, will dispense medication based on medical principles, not religious ideology or unscientific opinions. Discrimination is wrong, even in the guise of religious freedom.

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