Unfortunately, religious persecution is alive and well in today’s world, and an array of faith traditions around the globe fall victim.
In such a context, it’s deplorable that in the United States we whine about any imposition or inconvenience regarding religion as if it were persecution. By doing so, we make a mockery of real persecution and its real victims.
Take the case of Kentucky’s Rowan County Clerk of the Court Kim Davis, for example. Davis believes same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s will. Some others agree with her. It’s their right to hold that opinion. We call it religious liberty. Granting as much religious liberty as possible has always been a fundamental American value.
But religious freedom, like other freedoms, isn’t absolute. Especially if in exercising my religious freedom, there is a negative impact on someone else’s freedom.
For example, any adult has the right, because of religious beliefs, to refuse to receive or administer a blood transfusion. But a hospital also has the right not to employ in its emergency department a nurse or doctor who, for religious reasons, refuses to administer transfusions. Refusing to employ such a person in that context isn’t religious persecution.
Similarly, a four-star general may suddenly become a pacifist. Indeed, that is his or her religious right. But if, because of those pacifist beliefs, the general refuses to order military attacks, his or her employment should cease. In no sense, in such a case, is the general a victim of religious persecution.
Davis as a citizen of the United States is free to believe whatever she feels God is telling her about the acceptability of same-sex marriage — and about a long list of other government decisions with which she may disagree on religious grounds. She has religious freedom.
But Davis as a public servant is a different matter. She has to fulfill the obligations required by her employment. Her oath of office doesn’t contain an “unless-I-just-happen-to-disagree” clause.
Religious liberty is one of our nation’s most cherished values. But religious liberty gives no one — Davis, you or me — the right to stay on a payroll while, even for religious reasons, refusing to do the job for which we were hired.
The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, and co-host of Friends Talking Faith on WMFE.