Religious Freedom and Discrimination
Last week I listened to the church’s press conference about balancing LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. One thing stood out in particular that really troubled me. Giving examples of when religious freedom should come first, Elder Holland said:
For example, a Latter-Day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function.
I feel concerned by this because I think there is a fundamental divide between the two examples he gave. I agree that physicians who believe abortion is wrong should have the right to say they will not perform them. However, in that case the problem is the procedure itself, and so doctors who object refuse the service to everyone equally. Other doctors may draw the line elsewhere — perhaps he or she is comfortable performing abortions when the fetus has no chance of survival, or when the mother’s life is endangered, but not when those conditions are not met. Again, I think this is fair because the line of when the doctor will perform an abortion is defined by medical circumstances and is applied equally.
The decision, however, to refuse artificial insemination to lesbians is not in the same category. In such a case the doctor would be making the decision not in terms of medical necessity, or objections to the procedure itself, but out of an objection to the perceived sin of the patient. Where then is the line? If the doctor has the right to deny medical attention based on a belief that the person has sinned or is actively sinning, should all sins be subject to such penalties? Could that possibly be just?
I am eight and a half months pregnant. I see my doctor regularly. This week I had an ultrasound to check on the baby’s growth. Then I met with my doctor who conferred with me about my mental and physical health. As usual, she tested my urine, checked my blood pressure and answered my questions. Yet this week I have done things that are certainly against my religion. I do not know what if any faith she belongs to, but suppose she were LDS and thus held the same religious values?
This week I have judged other people, both aloud and in my heart. This is a sin that Christ openly and severely condemned and has also been denounced by modern-day prophets and apostles. I have gossiped. I have been slothful. I have not opened my scriptures a single time, despite the the fact that this is a commandment, and is frequently reinforced by church leaders. I have been guilty of gluttony repeatedly. On Sunday evening I seriously contemplated going to Dairy Queen and only decided against it because my nausea made me change my mind, not because I was fully committed to observing the Sabbath regardless of my cravings. I have no doubt that I have many other sins to account for that are not coming to mind right now. This week my sins seem a bit petty and small, and I have repented but realistically, I’ll make most of these mistakes again. In the course of my life I have done far worse. So have we all. Yet despite all of this, despite my clear and repeated violations of God’s commandments, there was no question that I might be denied some or all of my doctor’s services. I feel confident that if I had an LDS doctor the outcome would have been the same.
According to church teachings, participating in a homosexual relationship violates the law of chastity and is therefore sinful. While my own beliefs are more liberal, the church’s official stance is pretty clear. My problem is this: If a doctor accepts the church’s definition of homosexuality that makes acting on same-gender attraction a sin, what makes that a worse sin than anything else? All sin distances us from God. The exact nature of the sin does not really matter, because any sin is rebellion against God.
If I, a sinner, can yet receive the very best medical care our town has to offer, without reference to my past or current sins, then what makes other sinners different? Is it okay to refuse to perform an appendectomy on someone who drinks coffee? Drinking coffee is a violation of the Word of Wisdom and will keep you out of the Temple just as much as any violation of the law of chastity. As members of the church, we condemn coffee drinking and do not do it. Should religious freedom dictate that we have the right to deny service to coffee drinkers, based on our beliefs?
In the past I taught history courses at our local university. Should I have refused to grade the papers of students who broke the Sabbath? What about students who shoplifted? Or gambled? What about students who abused their partners or children? As a mandated reporter I would have a responsibility to share any information on abuse I had with the appropriate authorities. The university might strip my students of their standing for a variety of reasons, but until and unless such actions took place, I would not have the right to deny them my services as a teacher on my own authority. I had no right to fail students for reasons unrelated to class performance, however much I might personally dislike them or their life choices. It wouldn’t be just. Their violations of my moral framework do not mean I can selectively deny them service on that basis.
I am concerned when I hear church leaders or members use the rhetoric of religious freedom as justification for discrimination. God has commanded us to “do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:8). God is just. Our Heavenly Parents want us to try our hardest to follow their examples. When we fail to do so, it should be by accident and not by design. If our religious beliefs seem to validate acting unjustly, then somewhere along the line we have misunderstood what God wants from us.