Religious exemption goes too far

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion, but in Missouri, Idaho and Arizona, recently proposed bills call into question the limits of that freedom.

The pending legislation in these states would allow businesses and health care professionals to deny any medical service if the worker’s religious beliefs oppose it—a measure that runs dangerously close to enfranchising discrimination. Allowing business owners to push personal religious beliefs on customers infringes on customers’ rights, and courts have repeatedly ruled that individuals are not allowed to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against the non-religious.

The Missouri bill, which was proposed Feb. 13, applies specifically to health care and would allow medical workers to opt out of performing certain procedures—such as administering abortions or providing contraceptives—if they can prove they have sincere religious beliefs that oppose them. There is great potential for abuse: Health care workers could refuse services to anyone on “religious grounds,” which are impossible to test or prove because religion

is subjective. Health care workers could use the law as an excuse to discriminate against anyone whose morals they disagree with, especially LGBTQ persons.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, cities nationwide have implemented human rights ordinances that protect people from unfair discrimination; however, LGBTQ individuals are not always a protected class under these ordinances. In order to shield every citizen from bias that unfairly discriminates because of religion, the human rights ordinances need to include LGBTQ individuals.

Another central issue is providing women with access to contraceptives, a hot topic for many organizations whose owners oppose any form of birth control. In the case of Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, the owners are devout Christians who oppose the Affordable Care Act’s provision that all employers must provide emergency contraceptive coverage. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the company’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in late March, according to the case documents.

If Americans uphold the separation of church and state, religion has no role in business practices. A solution to protect the rights of both the worker and the patient would be to allow hospital and health care clinic workers to opt out of a procedure only if another professional is available on site to perform the procedure.

Religion should never be a haven for bigotry. Americans hold their freedoms dear and are quick to claim the First Amendment when they believe their rights are being violated, but using the First Amendment against itself is counterproductive.