Patrick M. Hayes (paedraggaidin) wrote in talk_politics,
Patrick M. Hayes

Religion in the Workplace

Saw this story this morning, and it got me thinking.

Macy's employee fired after violating company's LGBT policy

The gist of it is, a Texas Macy's employee refused to allow a male-to-female transgendered customer to use a women's dressing room. When confronted by her manager, who noted that it was Macy's store policy to allow transgendered customers access to an appropriate dressing room, the employee said she would not comply with the policy, and was duly fired. She is now suing Macy's, claiming that the company's policy violates her First Amendment right to free exercise of religion because "her religious beliefs prevent her from recognizing transgender people."

Freedom of religion, as many of y'all know by now, is very important to me. I personally would rate it as the most important of the rights enumerated in the First Amendment. But, like every other civil liberty, it is not absolute. Just as the freedom of speech does not protect the citizen who employs perjury or libel, the freedom of religion does not protect the citizen whose religion practices human sacrifice or child sexual abuse.

This is where I have a problem with religious groups such as the Roman Catholic Church (my own denomination), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, most Southern Baptist congregations, and others that speciously claim that enactment of "gay rights" (e.g. the right to civil marriage, anti-discrimination laws, etc.) infringes on their ability to freely practice their faith. These churches typically try to inflame their followers with fear tactics, claiming that if DOMA is repealed and gay marriage "forced upon the states" (i.e. made, as they should be, subject to the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution with regards to gay marriage as with any other public acts, records, and judicial proceedings) the churches themselves will be forced to perform gay marriages. They claim that anti-discrimination laws will force them to hire and retain gay employees. They claim that anti-bullying laws that do not contain a "religious belief" exemption will muzzle students' religious expression in schools.

All of these claims are patently false. With regards to being forced to perform gay marriages, neither DOMA nor state marriage laws (whether permitting or forbidding gay marriage) require churches to do anything. Even were gay marriage to be legalized nationwide, no church would be forced to perform it. Gay marriage laws are, purely and simply, concerned with civil marriage.

With regards to employment, it's a bit more contentious. Generally, the federal courts have held that religious organizations are exempt from anti-discrimination laws when hiring or firing staff who perform religious functions (priests, ministers, teachers, youth leaders, etc.), but there is a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court now (Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC) involving just this issue, so we'll see. I personally think it is reasonable to allow churches some level of exemption from anti-discrimination laws; for example the Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant churches do not ordain women, and they should never be forced to do so by federal or state law (which would be a violation of the Free Exercise Clause at any rate). I think SCOTUS is likely to uphold the general exemption.

With regards to bullying, anti-bullying laws don't silence religious speech, they attempt to silence harassment, which is different. It's one thing to go up to a classmate and say "I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, and here's why" and quite another to say "God hates [expletive deleted]! You're going to burn in hell for your abominable sins!" Gay-bashing religious organizations in several states would like to amend their state's anti-bullying laws to allow state-sanctioned harassment of GLBT students. (See, e.g., proposed changes to Tennessee's anti-bullying law).

In short, these organizations, and their individual followers, are claiming that their rights are being violated, whilst simultaneously advocating for the suppression of the civil rights of people they do not like. It's the same in this case of the Macy's employee. It's all fine and good that your religion teaches medieval nonsense certain things about transgendered people; if you want to believe such hateful and ignorant drivel, that's up to you. My religion teaches that little bone fragments of questionable origin are "holy relics" possessing what amount to magical healing powers, which will benefit you if you kiss the relic, so I am certainly not judging. You're entitled to your beliefs, period.

But, your right to practice that belief stops when, in the public square and as an employee of a secular company, you try to force someone to stop going about their lawful business. I am not aware of any federal or Texas state law that prohibits MTF transgendered shoppers from using whatever dressing room they deem appropriate, and as a Macy's employee, the lady in question was willingly subject to her company's policies and procedures, openly violated them, openly refused to comply with them in the future, and therefore was properly fired by a company well within its rights to do so.

The lady obviously dislikes and does not want to have to deal with transgendered people, citing her religious beliefs. This, I think, underlies quite a lot of religious anti-gay rhetoric seen these days. "My faith teaches that gays are evil abominations before the Lord and I shouldn't have to see gay couples walk around holding hands in the mall! It offends me! Can't you, like, ban it or something!? Can't you kick them out of here? I might have to *gulp* serve them. THAT'S AGAINST MY RELIGION!"

Yeah, well, I'm sorry to say, but this is 21st Century America, a very diverse place, and over the course of your life you're likely to run into and be forced to interact with lots of people you find disgusting. Crying "religious freedom!" in an attempt to sweep these undesirables away from your pure and holy presence makes a mockery of the very civil liberties you are trying to invoke. I personally loathe the fundamentalist fanatics who stand around the Wichita bus station handing out pamphlets about how Catholics and Jews are hell-bound blasphemers, but I'll defend to the death their right to peddle hateful nonsense. It's the public square, it's supposed to be full of people and ideas we disagree with.

Seriously, get over yourself. If you want a quiet, peaceful life among straights who share your horror of GLBT people, a place where you'll never have to interact with those filthy degenerates ever again, go to North Korea.
Tags: gay rights, lgbt, religion
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